Walter Cronkite had almost finished broadcasting the “CBS Evening News” when he received word of Martin Luther King’s assassination.
His report detailed the shooting and the nation’s reaction to the tragedy. (CBSNews.com)
Transcript of the April 4, 1968; CBS News Broadcast:
“Good Evening, Dr. Martin Luther King, the apostle of non-violence in the civil rights movement, has been shot to death in Memphis Tennessee. Police have issued an all-points bulletin for a well-dressed young white man seen running from the scene. Officers also reportedly chased and fired on a radio-equipped car containing 2 white men.
Dr. King was standing on the balcony of a second-floor hotel room tonight when according to a companion a shot was fired from across the street. In the friend’s words, ‘the bullet exploded in his face’.
Police, who have been keeping a close watch over the Nobel peace prize winner because of Memphis’ turbulent racial situation, were on the scene almost immediately. They rushed the 39-year-old negro leader to a hospital where he died of a bullet wound in the neck.
Police said they found a high-powered hunting rifle about a block from the hotel, but it was not immediately identified as the murder weapon.
Mayor Henry Lobe has reinstated the dusk-to-dawn curfew he imposed on the city last week when a march lead by Dr. King erupted in violence. Gov. Buford Ellington has called out 4,000 national guardsmen. Police report that the murder has touched off sporadic acts of violence in a negro section of the city.
In a nationwide television address President Johnson expressed the nation’s shock, ‘America is shocked and saddened by the brutal slaying tonight of Dr. Martin Luther King. I ask every citizen to reject the blind violence that has struck Dr. King, who lived by non-violence.’
Dr. King had returned to Memphis only yesterday determined to prove he could lead a peaceful mass march in support of striking sanitation workers, most of whom are negros.
‘ Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges because they haven’t committed themselves to that, over that. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly, somewhere I read of the freedom of speech, somewhere I read of the freedom of press, Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for our rights.’
Dr. King had this to say last night about the situation in Memphis, ‘ Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges because they haven’t committed themselves to that, over that. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly, somewhere I read of the freedom of speech, somewhere I read of the freedom of press, Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for our rights.’
There was shock in Harlem tonight when word of Dr. King’s murder reached the nation’s largest negro community. Men, Women, & Children poured into the streets, they appeared dazed, many were crying. The young negro said, ‘Dr. King didn’t really have to go back to Memphis, maybe he wanted to prove something.’