Friday, April 4, 2008

40 years from Memphis

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

King was just 26 when he became the national face of the civil disobedience campaign for racial equality that changed the way Americans lived with one another. He was gunned down as he stood on a balcony outside Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., in the early evening of April 4, 1968.

CNN has produced an excellent documentary, "Eyewitness to Murder: The King Assassination," as part of its Black in America series. I watched it at 2 a.m. this morning. I was up working on this weekend's column, and I found myself writing only during the short commercial breaks because I simply couldn't look away from the program. How much do you know about the assassination, or the conspiracy theories surrounding it? Test your knowledge with the questions on this page, designed by CNN as a companion piece to accompany the documentary for use in high school classes.

What if King had lived, asks CNN in this piece that speculates on both where King's path might have led and the impact his life -- and death -- had on those close to him.

Also on the web site, you can read this commentary from former Associated Press reporter Kathryn Johnson, who spent hours with Coretta Scott King at her home in the hours after King's murder as the family struggled to grasp what had happened. The atmosphere in the home was "eerie," she says; also eerie is her haunting recollection of the events of the evening. Yes, the bar for objectivity in this piece is nonexistent, but I doubt that it would have been possible for Johnson to have been unmoved by all she saw and heard that night.

Finally, perhaps as evidence of King's legacy, this study reports that 76 percent of Americans believe that the United States is ready for its first black president. Three out of four Americans: that's a lot of progress from the America of King's day. But it isn't four out of four. In that way, the study tells two stories, indicative of all that King and his work accomplished but also the work left undone.