Religious News Service Washington correspondent William Willoughby spent two days asking black and white Memphis churchmen what has happened in the year since Martin Luther King was murdered. His report:
Folks in Memphis are proud. On March 11 the Commercial Appeal did an eight-column spread on the ninety-nine-year sentence Judge W. Preston Battle meted out to James Earl Ray for assassinating Dr. Martin Luther King. Above the headline on the world’s number-one story of the day appeared a view of Memphis’s growing skyline on one side and a picture of the judge on the other. In between, in three succinct paragraphs printed in bold face, was the refutation Battle made at the sentencing of a national magazine’s cutting barb that the mid-South’s leading metropolis is a “decadent river town.”
Battle is right; the city—twenty-fourth largest in the nation—is not decadent. But it is emotionally enervated—from its black population’s challenging of the Establishment, from the drawn-out events of the Ray trial, and from adverse publicity resulting from King’s murder (“Why did it happen here—why not somewhere else?”).
It’s a year since Ray’s shot into King’s face triggered the biggest wave of terror the nation has known. As he lay in wait at the rear of a seedy flophouse, his 30-caliber rifle trained on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel across the alley, Ray caught the nation’s seventh-fastest-growing city off its feet. Almost. Had it not been for the excellent leadership of such Negro clergymen as James Lawson of Centenary A.M.E. Church and Judge-pastor Ben Hooks of Greater Middle Baptist, Memphis—like Washington—would ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 63+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more