Thirty Years Later
Two months after the assassination, an ex-convict named James Earl Ray was arrested and charged with the murder. In March, 1969, Ray pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
But Ray later changed his story. Claiming that King was the victim of a conspiracy involving federal government agents, he asked for a new trial.
Ray's disavowal revived lingering suspicions that others were responsible for King's death. Just last year the slain civil rights leader's widow, Coretta Scott King, urged Tennessee officials to grant Ray's request for a new trial. And just last week a CBS News poll revealed that a clear majority of Americans ?— 70 percent ?— believed that others were involved in a conspiracy to assassinate King.
Thirty years after the murder, the circumstances of King's death remain a subject of considerable controversy.
It's also true that in the years since his death, King's stature has grown to epic proportions. His birthday is now a national holiday, and every year on that day in January, millions of Americans take time to honor the man and his crusade.
But King's greatest legacy is not to be found in memorials and holiday observances. It exists most profoundly in everyday scenes across the South, where white and black Americans live, work and play together in at least relative harmony.
This is not to imply that King achieved all his goals. For there is no denying that we are still plagued with serious racial problems, especially in the inner cities where the persistent miseries of poverty and unemployment have spawned an economic underclass that too often seeks refuge in drugs, crime, and other disorders.
But having said that, we should not lose sight of the fact that we have come a long way from those years of hard-core segregation that had the sanction of local laws. By breaking down the walls of legal segregation, the civil rights movement changed the entire social fabric of American life.
And more than anyone else, we have King to thank for that.
His moral passion and his ability to inspire others with his extraordinary eloquence made Martin Luther King such a compelling presence that his premature death left a void in our history that has never been filled.
|Defying Jim Crow|
|Up To The Mountain|
Written by Gary Paul Gates. Associate Producer Adam S. Gaynor