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The assassination of civil rights leader and clergyman Martin Luther King, Jr. rocked the nation, just as the charismatic and focused activist was rising to heights unknown.

Promoting a message of nonviolence in the face of unrelenting racism and opposition, King unflinchingly took on the responsibility of leading the nation into a new paradigm. Just a day before the tragic death of King, he delivered one of the most rousing speeches of his career. Some say King foretold his fortune that day; others were convinced he was murdered as part of a government plot to silence him.

SEE ALSO: Dr. King Delivers ‘I’ve Been To The Mountaintop’ Speech On This Day In 1968

King was in Memphis, Tenn., where he joined a group of Black sanitation workers who were striking for fair compensation and other rights. On the night of April 3, 1968, he visited the Mason Temple to address workers about the strike. The next day, King and his close ally, Ralph David Abernathy, were rooming at the Lorraine Motel. According to biographer Taylor Branch, King spoke his final words to musician Ben Branch, who was scheduled to play at an event the men were attending that evening.

At 6:01 p.m., a single .30 caliber bullet hit and struck King as he stood on the motel’s balcony. Witnesses saw accused gunman James Earl Ray fleeing the scene. Abernathy heard the shot from inside the room, and rushed to his friend’s aid. Andrew Young was also present, and feared that the leader was dead. After being rushed to a nearby hospital, King was announced dead at 7:05 p.m. after several attempts to revive him.

Although many leaders and activists, including those from King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), wanted to continue the nonviolent protest in the fallen leader’s honor, others thought differently. Militant leaders such as Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Toure) and others were forceful in voicing their emotions. Riots began to erupt in cities with large African-American populations such as Washington, D.C., Chicago, Baltimore, and Kansas City.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: Assassination Occured 45 Years Ago Today  was originally published on