Rarely seen portraits from private and public memorials in Atlanta, five days after Dr. King's assassination.
Bob Verlin/Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Published April 4, 2018
Published 3 months ago
Martin Luther King Jr. was laid to rest in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 9, 1968, five days after his assassination in Memphis. Many of those attending the two memorial services in Dr. King's honor and the funeral that followed were, of course, nationally known ― activists, politicians, artists, and others who had been by his side at countless marches and rallies through the years. But many, many more of the tens of thousands who lined Atlanta's streets or walked behind the Rev. Dr. King's mule-drawn casket were "average" Americans: men, women, and children who came to pay their final respects to a man who gave his life, at just 39 years old, in the struggle for freedom, justice, and peace.
Here, in rarely seen pictures from the private service at Dr. King's own Ebenezer Baptist Church and the far larger public memorial afterward at his alma mater, Morehouse College, FOTO offers a portrait of a community in mourning, yet unbowed.
Bob Verlin/Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty ImagesMLK'S FAMILYLeft to right: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King's oldest child, Yolanda King, in white; Rev. A.D. King (MLK's younger brother); Bernice King (younger daughter); Coretta Scott King; Rev. Ralph Abernathy; Dexter King (son); Martin Luther King III (son); and Andrew Young in Dr. King's funeral procession, April 9, 1968, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Archive Photos/Getty ImagesRFK IN ATLANTARobert F. Kennedy outside of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the first memorial of the day was held for Dr. King. Less than two months later, Kennedy himself was killed in Los Angeles by a Jerusalem-born assassin named Sirhan Sirhan, who today is serving a life sentence at a prison in southern California.
Of the service at Ebenezer Baptist, James Baldwin wrote in an essay for Esquire magazine that it "sort of washed over me, in waves. It wasn't that it seemed unreal; it was the most real church service I've ever sat through in my life, or ever hope to sit through; but I have a childhood hangover thing about not weeping in public, and I was concentrating on holding myself together. I did not want to weep for Martin, tears seemed futile."Archive Photos/Getty Images'IT WAS THE SILENCE THAT UNDID ME'"As we came out [of the church] and I looked up the road," Baldwin wrote, "I saw them. They were all along the road, on either side, they were on all the roofs, on either side … and they stood in silence. It was the silence that undid me. I started to cry, and I stumbled, and Sammy [Davis Jr.] grabbed my arm. We started to walk."
Archive Photos/Getty ImagesGOV. GEORGE ROMNEYThe Republican governor of Michigan, George Romney, outside Ebenezer Baptist Church, April 9, 1968. George Romney (Mitt Romney's father) was a vocal supporter of the Civil Rights Movement - even as the Mormon church to which he and generations of his family belonged did not, at that time, allow African Americans to join the clergy. Other prominent figures at both the private and public memorials included Sammy Davis, Jr., Jackie Kennedy, Mahalia Jackson, Marlon Brando, Eartha Kitt, Wilt Chamberlain, Thurgood Marshall, Sidney Poitier, Nelson Rockefeller, and many more.
Bob Verlin/Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty ImagesGOING HOMETwo mules pull the spare, wooden cart carrying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s casket in the three-mile procession from Ebenezer Baptist Church to the public, nationally broadcast memorial at Morehouse College.Bob Verlin/Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty ImagesIN THE CROWDPart of the crowd of tens of thousands who marched in MLK's funeral procession in Atlanta.Archive Photos/Getty ImagesA SIMPLE CASKETAn overhead shot of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s casket, during the procession from Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College.
PRAISING IN SONGThe crowd sings during Dr. King's funeral procession. Music -- especially gospel music -- was, of course, as central to the movement as sit-ins, civil disobedience, and soaring oratory. James Baldwin, in his Esquire essay, recalled the moment at Ebenezer Baptist when a woman "whose name I do not remember, rose, very beautiful in her robes, and in her covered grief, and began to sing. It was a song I knew: 'My Father Watches Over Me.' The song rang out as it might have over dark fields, long ago…. She stood there, and she sang it. How she bore it, I do not know. I think I have never seen a face quite like that face that afternoon."
Archive Photos/Getty ImagesANDREW YOUNGAndrew Young speaks at the public memorial for Dr. King at Morehouse College. Young was the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); marched in (and was arrested in) many of the signature protests of the era; and was in Memphis with King when the civil rights leader was murdered. Young went on to serve in Congress; was twice elected mayor of Atlanta; has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom; and in his mid-80s remains active in progressive causes.Archive Photos/Getty ImagesHARRY BELAFONTEActor, singer, and activist Harry Belafonte (center), his wife, Julie Robinson (left), and his son, David (seated in front of Belafonte), at the public memorial for Dr. King at Morehouse College. Long one of the most high-profile and vocal celebrity activists in the U.S., Belafonte supported the Civil Rights Movement from its earliest days, and was deeply involved in many of its signature events, from the Freedom Rides in the Deep South to the March on Washington in 1963.
REGALCoretta Scott King (1927 - 2006) listens to one of the speakers at the public memorial for her slain husband in Atlanta, April 9, 1968.
In a tribute to women of the Civil Rights Movement, Joy Reid reminded FOTO that Coretta Scott King once "had ordinary dreams of being a famous entertainer, and instead she became the mother of the movement. She had to navigate being a mom, explaining to four little kids why the threat of death constantly surrounded them. She had to be MLK's voice when he was gone, and she did it regally, and with depth."