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MLK assassination: CBS News' Bill Plante recalls covering Martin Luther King Jr.

MLK's march to Montgomery

Americans reflected on Wednesday on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Former CBS News correspondent Bill Plante covered the aftermath in Memphis of the April 4, 1968 assassination. Plante, who retired in 2016, told CBSN's Tanya Rivera on "Red & Blue" that King's assassination made him a "martyr."

"As I think Jesse Jackson said today, people hate marchers but they love martyrs -- and that's a very good point," Plante said. "Once he was martyred as it were, he assumed an importance that will never die ... The fact that he did die enshrined him forever as the person he was -- who spoke fearlessly for civil rights and nonviolence. He was really deeply committed to nonviolence."

In his initial report, Plante reported the hundreds of people who visited King's body in Memphis. "They were old, they were dressed for work, they were almost all black -- and for some of them, the experience was too much," Plante said.

Just three years earlier, Plante was with King on the march to Montgomery. King called the march and its culmination in Montgomery "the climax," but said "this whole experience, this march ... represents a real high point in our movement."

Martin Luther King Jr.'s "moral voice" echoes 50 years after assassination

The march to Montgomery was organized after Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot near Selma, and the Voting Rights Act organizers believed they needed to march to the Alabama capital, Montgomery, and demand the governor do something. During the first march on March 7, 1965, ended with tear gas and police billy clubs as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma -- an event known as "Bloody Sunday."

Plante said that "with the conscious of the nation involved," three weeks later, King led the larger march. The National Guard had been called by President Johnson, and Plante described the mood of the march as "joyful."

"People were so delighted that this actually happened -- it was kind of in the face of Alabama and its governor, George Wallace -- and they were really having a great time," Plante said.

He said they knew at the time that it was "pretty historic -- especially given the reputation of Alabama and civil rights."


Watch Bill Plante's interview on CBSN's "Red & Blue" at the very top of this page or by clicking here.