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King Continues the Work

After the success of the March on Washington, King decided to keep going. As freedom schools and voter registration drives continued, he traveled the country and the world speaking of the movement. He branched out, linking his ideas about civil rights to larger issues, such as the Vietnam War and the troubles of poor people. This was risky, and King did lose some support because of those issues. But he kept working.

There were triumphs, too. The anger over the violence led Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Freedom Summer brought hundreds of new civil rights workers into the South to register voters and to teach. More and more blacks were demanding an end to segregation in housing and other aspects of their life. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed. Across the North, cities slowly changed housing codes and other laws that discriminated. Congress was debating an "Open Housing Act" that would end discrimination in housing.

King experienced some personal triumphs as well. He was on the cover of Time magazine and, in 1964, he became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He met with the President. In some ways, his message was being recognized.

But by 1967 “Black Power” had become the cry of new student groups that did not embrace King’s idea of an integrated, nonviolent movement. Groups such as the Black
Panthers talked about armed defense. There were protests against the Vietnam War that turned violent, and several political groups had come out in favor of violent revolution. Even one of King’s marches turned violent, something that had never happened before.

King was troubled by the violence. He continued to argue that issues of the war, civil rights, and economic justice were connected. He criticized the war as a waste of resources that could be better spent at home. He spoke about housing discrimination, slum neighborhoods, and the poverty of much of b lack America. This made many of his former supporters angry, but he spoke out anyway. He took part in a housing demonstration in Chicago, spoke at anti-war rallies, and thought of organizing a "Poor People’s Campaign" to highlight problems of poverty.

President Lyndon Johnson had made wiping out poverty a goal of his administration, and King felt that the time was right to address the issue. He introduced his "Poor People’s Campaign" with an announcement that he would lead another "March on Washington," this one to try to collect money to fight poverty. He also got involved with sanitation workers striking in Memphis, Tenn.The sanitation workers, mostly black, had been on strike for a while. For King, this was a situation that illustrated the issues of economic and racial justice. He traveled to Memphis, met with strike leaders, and led a march. He also spoke at a church rally and gave a speech that seemed to predict his own death. He spoke of having been to “the mountaintop,” referred to the “promised land,” and said, “I may not get there with you.” It was one of his most powerful sermons.

On April 4, 1968, while King was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, a shot rang out. King fell. Aides rushed to help him. King was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. The most influential black American of the previous 20 years had been killed by an assassin’s bullet. The police arrested a man named James Earl Ray, who was convicted of the crime. He later claimed his innocence, and many people still say the crime has not been solved.

Shock and anger filled the nation’s black communities. Many communities broke out in riots, which went against what King had believed. Neighborhoods burned, cars were overturned, and stores were looted. It was a sad time. The man who had preached nonviolence and had helped change a nation was gone, and it seemed that his dream for nonviolence had died with him.

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