It’s been 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was struck by an assassin’s bullet on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel In Memphis, Tenn. But for Ambassador Andrew Young and Rev. Jesse Jackson, two of the men who were there that day, it’s as if it had just happened.
“I was talking to him, telling him he needed a coat and he sort of raised his head to test the weather, and…” Young’s voice trailed off, while Jackson whispered, “Pow.”
Before the shot rang out, striking King in the chin and putting an end to his life, Young said he was in a good mood, play fighting with the men who’d traveled with him to Memphis where he was slated to lead a march for the city’s sanitation workers.
“He was acting the most silly and crazy I have ever seen him,” Young recalled. “I mean, he was laughing, he was joking, he was walking on the bed, swinging pillows at people.”
Moments later, King was gone, and history was changed forever.
After his death, Jackson and Young would continue his mission to fight for equality. Young would go on to serve in Congress before being named as an Ambassador to the United Nations by President Jimmy Carter. In 1981, at the urging of Coretta Scott King, he ran for Mayor of Atlanta where he would serve for two terms. Jackson continued to work with civil rights groups, founding the Rainbow/Push Coalition and running for president twice. No matter what he’s done in life, Jackson said he’s felt King’s spirit every step of the way.
“Every move I’ve made, whether it’s a demonstration or running for the presidency, I always felt his spirit, and in some way I touched base with him before doing it,” he said.
While they’ve both been changed by King’s tragic murder, Jackson said the American hero may have been able to accomplish more in death than he did in life.
“The resurrection of the martyr is more powerful than the marcher,” Jackson said. “Martyrs cannot be arrested. Martyrs cannot be stoned. Martyrs cannot be shot. The resurrection cannot be contained by opinions. The resurrection is a very pervasive spirit.”
“In marching, he was limited to finitude,” he added. “In his martyrdom he is unlimited. He is infinite.”
Head over to the CNN website to watch more of Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson’s reflections on Dr. King.