Nation pauses 50 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) — Bells will toll across the nation and prayers will be said as Americans of all colors and creeds are set to pause Wednesday to remember the life and civil rights legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
A huge crowd is expected to turn out at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where King was struck down by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968, and which has since become a shrine to the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
“Today, we remember my father’s death, but most importantly, we must remember the purpose and power of his life,” Bernice King, the youngest of the civil rights martyr’s four children, said in a statement. “Although this day is challenging for our family and for many around the world, I encourage you to hope today and to hope always.”
Just after 6 p.m. Wednesday — the time Martin Luther King Jr. was killed — bells across the nation and around the world are set to ring 39 times to signify his age at the time of his death.
Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel after arriving in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers.
At the Lorraine Motel, now the headquarters of the National Civil Rights Museum, a new exhibit called “MLK50: A Legacy Remembered” will be opened to the public and feature photos, recorded speeches and personal belongings of Martin Luther King Jr.
Bernice King previewed the exhibit this week along with Eric Holder, the first African-American U.S. attorney general.
“Other than, say, maybe my father, he’s the man who’s probably had the greatest influence on my life,” Holder, who was 17 when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, told ABC affiliate WATN-TV in Memphis.
The daylong commemoration at the National Civil Rights Museum will include dances and speeches aimed more at how Martin Luther King Jr. lived rather than how he died.
A group of teenagers and adults are also scheduled to complete a 50-mile march Wednesday in Memphis in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. that started on Saturday in Dundee, Mississippi.
“I hardly ever make a speech without quoting him,” Andrew Young, the former United Nations ambassador, Georgia congressman and mayor of Atlanta, told ABC News of Martin Luther King Jr., his partner in the fight for civil rights.
He said Martin Luther King Jr. taught him how to believe in “impossible dreams.”
“I think most of the ideas that I had, including the idea of bringing the Olympics to Atlanta, was an impossible kind of dream,” said Young, of the 1996 Olympics.
“But I have been through two or three impossible kind of dreams. It was an impossible dream that we could change Selma, and we did it in three months,” he said of the 1965 march he helped Martin Luther King Jr. organize that led to African-American citizens in Alabama being allowed to exercise their constitutional right to vote. “The civil rights bill was an impossible dream.”
A ceremony will also take place Wednesday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia. The Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Prize will be bestowed upon several recipients, including 98-year-old Benjamin Ferencz, who investigated Nazi war crimes and prosecuted Nazi war criminals after World War II.
“As my father expressed in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, I still have ‘an audacious faith in the future of mankind,'” Bernice King, CEO of the King Center, said in her statement. “Our family encourages you to not be angered by my father’s death; be bolstered by his teachings and awakened by his work.”
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