MLK50 recap: Rev. Jesse Jackson and singer Al Green move the crowd

On Wednesday, April 4, 2018, the temperatures may have been steadily decreasing in Memphis, Tennessee, but the exhilaration from the people was on the rise. The 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination was most certainly an emotional and nostalgic moment in Memphis but it was undeniably a triumphant commemoration of his legacy. Even during the walk toward Mulberry Street, everyone could feel the excitement in every step. Sidewalks filled with vendors selling “I Am A Man”-branded paraphernalia, the very phrase sanitation workers protested with in 1968 during the strike that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had come to support before his assassination.

Supporters gathered with pride anticipating the celebration. There was a chill in the air but that didn’t hinder the people from coming together at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel — the very place where Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago. This was where Dr. King was motivated to protest for the Black sanitation workers’ equal rights and ultimately the last time the orator would deliver a speech on April 4, 1968.

Crowds of people of many hues and ethnic backgrounds gathered to celebrate Dr. King’s accomplishments. Seats filled with iconic figures, such as notable comedic actor Chris Tucker, who was expressive and grateful when acknowledging the achievements of Dr. King.

Choirs stood before the crowd and sang Negro spirituals and uplifting hymns. As the crowd swelled, there was a line leading from Beale Street to enter the National Civil Rights Museum, which was adjacent to the stage where keynote speakers honored Dr. King’s legacy. Rev. Jesse Jackson was one of the many notables that honored Dr. King. His emotional recount of the day Dr. King was assassinated touched the crowd since he’s the only survivor who accompanied Dr. King the day he was killed. “My friends, today, the hope is in the resurrection. From this balcony, we decided not to let one bullet kill a movement,” Jackson said as he recalled his last moments with Dr. King.

As the speakers took turns remembering Dr. King, the crowds chanted and exhaled. Photographers and supporters took pictures of Room 306, the exact room that Dr. King resided in the day he was assassinated. Below the actual door hung a satin black drape.

From professors to Buddhists, the stage was graced with many diverse speakers. Roland Martin, a renowned journalist who is Dr. King’s Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brother, addressed the crowd. Former Polish ambassador Ryszard Schnepf traveled from Poland to explain how inspirational Dr. King was to the world. He said, “I have certainly learned from Dr. King that the oppressor should be matched with nonviolent strategy.” Other members of Dr. King’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, also paid homage with a black and gold reef covered with daisies.

The audience was deeply moved when the wives of Echol Cole and Robert Walker delivered a tearjerking speech about losing their loved one during a time of hate and prejudice. Cole and Walker were sanitation workers who were crushed to death in a garbage truck’s compactor that malfunctioned while they were working during a storm on Feb. 1, 1968. Their deaths sparked a series of events that ultimately ended with the assassination of Dr. King. When their wives recounted memories of their husbands, it sparked a melancholic temperament throughout the crowd.

The tribute concluded with the ringing of the bell from the historic Clayborn Temple. It rang at 6:01 p.m. CST, the exact time Dr. King was assassinated. The crowd watched in silence as the bell rang 39 times for each year of Dr. King’s life. When the bell stopped ringing, legendary soul singer Al Green came on stage and sang “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Green was accompanied by many guests on the stage, including Jackson. When Green decided to say farewell to the crowd, Jackson suggested he sing one last song. Green complied and sung his beloved song “Let’s Stay Together.” The crowd rose from their seats, came closer to the stage and sang in unity. –nefertiti royale

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