NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 50 years ago today in Memphis, Tennessee.
Events were held nationwide Wednesday to remember his life and legacy.
Among the largest gatherings was a march through the Mississippi River city where the civil rights leader was shot dead on a motel balcony in 1968. Memphis Police estimated a crowd of around 10,000.
The Rev. James Lawson, who invited King to Memphis 50 years ago to assist with a strike by underpaid sanitation workers, helped lead the march and said more progress is needed toward King’s goal of equality for all.
“I’m still anxious and frustrated,” said Lawson, his black hair turned gray. “The task is unfinished.”
The motel is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, attracting thousands of visitors like Marjorie Kinard.
“It’s sort of like going to mecca. That’s the experience I have, coming to mecca where people from all over the country are here,” she said.
Speaking in King’s hometown of Atlanta, the Rev. Bernice King recalled her father as a great orator whose message of peaceful protest was still vital decades later.
“We decided to start this day remembering the apostle of nonviolence,” she said during a ceremony to award a prize named for her father.
As painful as losing her father was, she said she wouldn’t change history.
“Actually, I’m glad that everything happened the way that it happened because I can’t imagine the world that we live in without the contributions of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King and the sacrifice that they made,” she said.
Before the Memphis march, the rapper Common and pop singer Sheila E had the crowd dancing and bobbing their heads. Then, as the march began, people locked arms or held signs as they chanted and sang songs such as “We Shall Overcome.”
“We know what he worked hard for, we know what he died for, so we just want to keep the dream going,” said Dixie Spencer, who came to the march from nearby Hardeman County, where she’s an NAACP leader. “We just want to make sure that we don’t lose the gains that we have made.”
Martin Luther King III addressed marchers at the end of their route, focusing on the triple evils of poverty, racism and war. “There’s something wrong in our nation where a minimum of 48 million people are living in poverty. That’s unacceptable. We must do better. America should be embarrassed about having people living in poverty.”
In the evening, the Atlanta events were set to end with a bell-ringing and wreath-laying at King’s crypt to mark the moment when he was gunned down on the balcony of the old Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. He was 39.
Small-time criminal James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to the killing and quickly recanted, claiming he was set up. The conviction stood, and Ray died in prison in 1998.
Marking the anniversary of the assassination, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation in honor of the slain leader, saying: “In remembrance of his profound and inspirational virtues, we look to do as Dr. King did while this world was privileged enough to still have him.”
Observances marking King’s death were planned coast-to-coast. In New York, the Dance Theatre of Harlem planned an evening performance in his honor. Another march was scheduled in Yakima, Washington.
In Montgomery, Alabama, where King first gained notice leading a boycott against segregated city buses, a commemorative event brought a symbol of transformation: The daughter of King’s one-time nemesis, segregationist Gov. George C. Wallace, paid tribute to the slain civil rights leader.
Shirley Mason was a young woman living in Detroit when King was killed. Now 70, she said she came to Memphis not only to honor King’s legacy but to call for his work to be continued.
“(King) went through the struggle and gave up his life,” she said. “Why not get out ourselves and do some sacrificing?”
In New York, King’s image was projected on the Arch at Washington Square Park Tuesday night, where dozens gathered to listen to King’s final speech.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)