Martin Luther King, Jr.
On The 54th Ann’y
of His Assassination
Jan. 15, 1929-April 4, 1968
By Andrew Shannon
Special To The Guide
Newport News, VA
The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an African American clergyman and civil rights leader, was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, at 6:01 p.m. CST. He was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he died at 7:05 p.m.
During King’s funeral a tape recording was played in which King spoke of how he wanted to be remembered after his death: “I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others” (King, “Drum Major Instinct,” 85).
He is known around the world as one of the most significant leaders of the civil rights movement. In the 1950s and 1960s King and many others fought to end racial segregation (separate public facilities for Blacks and Whites) in the southern United States and discrimination against African Americans.
He oversaw the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and later became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
The Selma to Montgomery marches were three protest marches, held in 1965, along the 54-mile highway from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery.
On March 25, 1965, Martin Luther King led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, after a 5-day, 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama, where local African Americans, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had been campaigning for voting rights. King told the assembled crowd:
“There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger at the side of its embattled Negroes”
On August 6, in the presence of King and other civil rights leaders, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Recalling “the outrage of Selma,” Johnson called the right to vote “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men” (Johnson, “Remarks”).
In his annual address to SCLC a few days later, King noted that “Montgomery led to the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1960; Birmingham inspired the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and Selma produced the voting rights legislation of 1965” (King, 11 August 1965).
As we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on Monday, April 4, 2022; we also salute the Honorable Dr. Curtis W. Harris, Jr., a King ally; a freedom fighter, foot soldier, Mayor, Pastor and my friend.
Dr. Curtis W. Harris was my friend and he was called many names during his lifetime. Dr. Harris was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia and a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In addition to founding the Virginia unit of King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Harris also pushed for the councilmanic ward system in Hopewell, and would later serve not just on City Council but also as the first Black mayor of Hopewell.
“He was a man among men,” said Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Virginia, who sponsored the legislation last year to name the post office after Harris. In addition to his civil-rights work across the South, McEachin said Harris “never forgot his home here” noting how he fought to prevent a landfill from being put in a predominantly Black neighborhood in the 1960s in addition to his political and church work.
“His efforts extended far beyond the Civil Rights Movement,” McEachin said. “He was a champion for social justice, for human rights issues and for something that is near and dear to my heart, environmental justice.”
In order for the name change to be made, all of Virginia’s congressional delegation had to sign on to McEachin’s bill. That meant some party-line crossing had to be done, which McEachin noted made his bill even more poignant. Today, we have a Post Office in the City of Hopewell named in honor of Dr. Curtis W. Harris, Jr.
In Newport News, the Southeast Community Day Parade and Festival honors Dr. Curtis W. Harris, Jr. with a Solidarity Lunch, named in his honor and Presidential Receptions attended by U. S. Senator Tim Kaine, Congressman Bobby Scott, former Newport News Mayor Joe S. Frank and former Hampton Mayors George Wallace, Molly Joseph Ward, Ross Kearney; York County Board of Supervisors Chairman Chad Green, “the Mayor of York County,” all have convened and paid homage to Dr. Curtis W. Harris, Jr. with Proclamations and Joint Resolutions in Congress and the Virginia General Assembly.
Andrew Shannon heads the SCLC on the Virginia peninsula and is the Founder and Organizer of the Southeast Community Day Parade and Festival.
Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. Photo: NJG Collection