Two funeral services were held for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (books by this author) on this date in 1968. King had been assassinated in Memphis on April 4, the day after he gave his famous “Mountaintop” speech in support of striking garbage collectors. “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life,” he had said. “Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.” Twenty-four hours later, King was dead, shot by James Earl Ray as King left his motel room to go to dinner.
The first funeral was a private ceremony at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where King had been a senior pastor. Tens of thousands of people made their way to Atlanta to pay their respects to the civil rights leader. Hotels were soon booked to capacity, so many mourners were given lodging in churches, colleges, and private homes. Georgia governor Lester Maddox barricaded himself inside the State Capitol, surrounded by armed guards in riot gear; he ordered them to shoot anyone who tried to get in the building. Maddox initially refused to fly the state flag at half-staff, but later complied. Although over a hundred other American cities experienced riots, Atlanta was peaceful.
After the private funeral, King’s casket was loaded onto a rugged farm wagon that was drawn by two mules. One hundred and fifty thousand mourners followed the procession down the four-mile route to Morehouse College, King’s alma mater, for a public funeral. Thousands more lined the parade route’s side streets. At Morehouse, former college president Benjamin Mays said: “Martin Luther faced the dogs, the police, jail, heavy criticism, and finally death; and he never carried a gun, not even a knife to defend himself. He had only his faith in a just God to rely on.”