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ABCNEWS VideoSource
The Century with Peter Jennings
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. "THE CENTURY" WITH PETER JENNNINGS 11:00:37 PACKAGE - Peter Jennings Commercial Break) ANNOUNCER: "The Century" continues. Here again, Peter Jennings. PETER JENNINGS, ABC News: When the broader adult world, represented by Ed Sullivan, accepted Elvis as one of its own, something of Presley's revolutionary appeal was lost. Elvis's moment at the crossroads of American culture had passed. In 1968, it appeared that Martin Luther King's moment at the crossroads might have passed as well. The civil rights struggle had become more complicated, its issues less clear cut, and many within the movement itself had grown frustrated with Dr. King's insistence on nonviolent protest. Dr. King needed a victory. DOROTHY COTTON, Aide to Dr. King: (singing) We're on our way to victory, we shall not be moved. We're on our way to victory, we shall not be moved. Just like a tree that's planted by the waters, we shall not be moved. MARTIN LUTHER KING'S STAFF: (singing) Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you... PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) On January the 15th, 1968, Martin Luther King celebrated his 39th birthday. MARTIN LUTHER KING'S STAFF: (singing)... happy birthday to you. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) It was to be his last. DOROTHY COTTON: And (inaudible), it says, "We are cooperating with Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty. Drop coins and bills in the cup." And (inaudible). He did say that he (inaudible). He said, "I dreamed I died and nobody came to my funeral." Now, there's a picture of Dr. King. You've seen that he's in deep thought. You've seen that picture many times. And he said, "And I'm lying there saying, Ralph... " meaning Ralph Abernathy, his best buddy -- "Ralph, go call those people, get those folk to come over here to my funeral." PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) Martin Luther King had always been certain that the civil rights movement would kill him. And shortly after this birthday, in the midst of a new struggle, his prediction would come true. DAVID J. GARROW, King Biographer: There's a guy named Abbie Mann (ph) who's a filmmaker who was talking about making a docudrama of King. And Mann says to King, "Well, how's the story end?" And King says, "It ends with me being shot." 11:02:38 1st NEWS ANNOUNCER: Memphis police report Reverend Martin Luther King has been shot. 2nd NEWS ANNOUNCER: Dr. King, 39 years old, Nobel Peace Prize winner, fatally wounded in Memphis as he stood on a hotel balcony. 11:02:41 3rd NEWS ANNOUNCER: Dr. King came to this city to help settle a garbage workers' strike which had been going on for two months here. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) During the last weeks of his life, Dr. King had come to this city on the banks of the Mississippi River to support garbage collectors. In one of the last great civil rights struggles, the workers had gone on strike after a tragic accident. TAYLOR ROGERS, Sanitation Worker: Well, we didn't have no white boys who was picking up garbage. The white boys was heavy equipment operators. No whites were picking up garbage, just the blacks. MINISTER: And whenever it rains, the white workers could go inside and get out of the rain. The black workers had to take shelter in the truck. JESSE EPPS, Union Leader: On this occasion, two men got in the back of the truck to escape the element, and somehow the mechanism of that truck got engaged. Either somebody hit one of the switches, or it was a malfunction. And that presser came down on them and crushed them to death. And so the men said, "No more. We will work no more." 11:03:40 STRIKE ORGANIZER: This is about our being willing to face macing, marching, and anything else in order to say no to racism and injustice. We will have a victory. Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES, Civil Rights Leader: The sign that they carried during the strike didn't say "Peace," it didn't say "Freedom," it didn't say "Justice." It said, "I am a man." PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) "It was a hell of a place for Dr. King to end up," a photographer said of his death. "And for one hell of a cause, a little garbage strike." But as it turned out, the events in Memphis leading up to Dr. King's death changed the civil rights movement and the way we remember its most famous leader. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, Jr.: I just want to do God's will. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. Rev. FRANK McRAE, Minister, United Methodist Church: As a child, I can hear it now, "If you don't go to school and learn things, you'll end up being a garbage man." And a garbage man was the worst thing you could be. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) In early 1968, Memphis garbage collectors were far from Dr. King's vision of the Promised Land for black Americans. They worked full time for the city but were paid so little that many still qualified for welfare. SANITATION WORKER'S WIFE: (crosstalk)... running water. Colored running water. REPORTER: No hot water? SANITATION WORKER'S WIFE: No hot water. TAYLOR ROGERS: I had eight kids that I was trying to educate, and I called my family, and we sat down and talked about it. They said, "Well, you know, you can't do no worser than you're doing now." JOHNIE HARDEMAN, Sanitation Worker: Shucks, you could have raised a chicken out of what we were making. That's right. I mean, that salary we was making, you couldn't raise a chicken on it, no way. MAN'S VOICE: For these men, who were at the lowest economic level, to challenge the system, that's unheard of. You can't do that. 11:05:47 CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT: Councilman Davis? COUNCILMAN DAVIS: Aye. CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENTS: Councilman Donaldson? COUNCILMAN DONALDSON: Aye. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) The men walked off the job on the 12th of February, 1968, and marched into city council chambers 10 days later. SANITATION WORKERS: (singing)... standing by the water... 11:06:02 PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) Singing "We Shall Not Be Moved," they refused to leave until the predominantly white city council met their demands. 11:06:07 SANITATION WORKER: But I want you to know one thing. I'm going to bring my little sleeping bag, because if the decision is not right, then, by jingo, I'm not going home any more. I mean it. WYETH CHANDLER, City Councilman: (inaudible) city saying, You've got a cotton bowl on the flag that needs to be ripped off and thrown in the river, because that represents slavery. And eventually they were eating salami off the beautiful antique tables. I think they were getting ready to just about tear the place apart. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) Prior to this confrontation, Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb (ph) had flatly refused to negotiate with the workers because it was against Tennessee law for city employees to strike. Rev. JAMES NETTERS, City Councilman: Mayor Loeb was a character that is very hard to describe without becoming offensive. He was not only, in my opinion, a segregationist, but he was a pighead. HENRY LOEB, Mayor of Memphis: Public employees cannot strike against their employer. And this you can't do. Rev. JAMES NETTERS: If the law said this, he was a sticker for that, and he had the general white community behind him. Mayor HENRY LOEB: I suggest to these men today that you go back to work. JESSE EPPS: The state of Tennessee says public employees could not strike, but also the moral law says that a man who works eight hours a day ought to be given a living wage, and his wife and his kids should not be hungry, and they should have running water, and they should have cleanliness of the house, and they should have health care and education. That law is bigger than Tennessee law. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) So ministers joined forces with the workers. Union officials descended from Washington. They all tried to pressure one of three black city councilors to make a public display that he was on their side. FRED L. DAVIS, City Councilman: Hold it, hold it, hold it. I will preside. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) It was a lot of pressure, Fred Davis remembers. FRED L. DAVIS: And I asked them, Do you want a performance, or do you want results? Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait minute, wait a minute. Don't force me to not represent you well... Now, I can try to get you results, but if I put on a performance, I'm going to alienate all of these white councilmen, and I won't never be able to get anything out of them. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) Davis asked workers to cool off so that he could work behind the scenes to pass a resolution that would meet their demands. The workers, thinking victory was near, called off the sit-in. But the full council had no intention of approving the plan, and the stage was set for the incident that would bring Martin Luther King to Memphis. WYETH CHANDLER: I think it's been compared to a seething boil that just simply had to be cut open. Rev. FRANK McRAE: This was a dilemma for this Southern town to understand what was going on and to try to do what was right, which was really a denial of the way we had lived all of our lives. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) While the fate of the Memphis strikers hung in the balance, Martin Luther King was in the middle of a major national project called the Poor People's Campaign. MOTHER: I am a mother with six kids, six -- and part of the time I don't even know where I'm going to get the next meal for my children. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) Dr. King was trying to take the civil rights movement in a new direction. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: It is easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to eradicate slums. BILL RUTHERFORD, Aide to Dr. King: We had won the battle of being able to have entry into any public place. However, we didn't have the means to utilize them. It's one thing to have the right to go to a restaurant and another thing not to have the means to pay for a meal. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) With a plane trip and a public speaking engagement on average nearly every day, Dr. King was busy recruiting people for a massive march on Washington, just two months away. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: We want you all to come on to Washington when you get out of school. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) He no longer felt that joining smaller local struggles was the best use of his time. DOROTHY COTTON: Dr. King is now getting many invitations to come and help people in a lot of cities and towns. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: We're rushing to get over to Alabama, and we've enjoyed being in Mississippi today. DOROTHY COTTON: As a matter of fact, he got so many invitations that once he said, "I'm not a fireman, you know, I can't go just, you know, put out every little brush fire." PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) But King was about to change his mind, because of Memphis. On February the 23rd, a day after the raucous city council meeting, workers, union leaders, and ministers gathered in Ellis (ph) Auditorium, expecting to hear good news. Instead, they were shocked by a resolution that did not meet their demands. FRED L. DAVIS: The recommendation of our committee... I started to announce the agreement, and I said "Five cents an hour raise," and that is far as I got. The place went up in smoke and pandemonium hit, and somebody yelled from the balcony, "The nigger's gonna sell us for a nickel." It just went crazy. Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute... Pastor JAMES LAWSON, Chairman, Strike Strategy Committee: The men, of course, were just outraged. They were shouting all kinds of slogans, "You promised us, and you betrayed us." TAYLOR ROGERS: We felt awful, you know, because we were ready to get back to work, and this come up and it killed it, put a damper on the whole thing. JESSE EPPS: The men were angry. They demanded that their spokesman be heard. They got up from their seats. Never before in the history would they think that these men who had been so docile now became so vocal, standing on their feet, not asked to be standing, they stood on their own. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) The workers were instructed to leave the auditorium and organize a march down Main Street. It was a way to vent their frustration. The strike leaders, like Dr. King, were staunch proponents of nonviolent demonstrations. Pastor JAMES LAWSON: We were very peaceful. But then suddenly we had not walked more than a block when squad cars came from everywhere and lined up alongside of us. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) The strikers had permission to walk on the right side of the road, but a police car kept driving over the line, crowding the demonstrators. Pastor JAMES LAWSON: I turned around and told the police officers, "Don't do that, you're trying to provoke us. You all stay on the other side of the line." PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) At first the police car stopped crossing the line. But when Lawson turned his back, he says, it started again. This time there was chaos. NEWS REPORTER: There's been a call for help from other officers. Officers are in trouble. Pastor JAMES LAWSON: I looked back, and I saw the men rocking this car. And instantly the police officers are pouring out of the cars with cans of Mace, and macing us. JOHNIE HARDEMAN: That tear gas was something else. Can't see. It's just like someone would take pepper, pepper water, and spray it in your eyes. And you have to breathe it. MAN'S VOICE: And it didn't matter who they were, women, men, clergy with collars on. They maced everybody. Pastor JAMES LAWSON: (voice-over) Never before in Memphis had the division between blacks and whites been so exposed. WYETH CHANDLER: At this time, you saw the disintegration of the city. You saw the hatred in people's eyes that just burned a hole right through you. FRED L. DAVIS: This city's going to hear, this city is going to give us justice. It's just that simple. Pastor JAMES LAWSON: There will be continued marches. We will not stop. Pastor JAMES LAWSON: The black community recognized that we were now in a major struggle. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) The strikers and their supporters immediately started daily marches. As far as they were concerned, the city had raised the stakes by breaking up their first major march. And this is when the call went out to Martin Luther King. WYETH CHANDLER: I didn't feel good when I heard that Reverend King was coming to Memphis, make no mistake about it. JOHN T. FISHER, Auto Dealer: The general sense in the community in which I live was that Martin Luther King was a trouble maker, that he was disruptive. But when Martin Luther King was invited to come to Memphis, it turned into an event that far exceeded anything I would have imagined at the time. (Commercial Break) ANNOUNCER: "The Century" continues. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: The year-old protest against city buses is officially called off, and the Negro citizens of Montgomery are urged to return to the buses tomorrow morning on a nonsegregated basis. DOROTHY COTTON: I see Martin Luther King lifting the sights of the people... 11:18:01 Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: I still have a dream... DOROTHY COTTON:... instilling a new vision of what it meant to be free. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: We are saying we ain't gonna let nobody turn us around. DOROTHY COTTON: And then I remember once that I think it was Rabbi Heschel (ph) who introduced him and talked about him and actually used the word -- talked about him as though he were a saint. And Dr. King seemed depressed after that beautiful introduction, because, you know, he knew he was not a saint, and wished that he were. SPEAKER: We very seldom think that here's a man like us, like other men... PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) When he first got the call to join the Memphis garbage strike, Martin Luther King understood well that many followers still hoped he could perform miracles. And the expectation weighed heavily on him. SPEAKER: I think we very seldom realize the extent to which Dr. King has most of the burden put on his shoulders. DAVID J. GARROW: The three or four people closest to Martin Luther King realized privately that Dr. King was more stressed out, more depressed than he had ever before been in his life. DOROTHY COTTON: You know, sometimes he was, you know, walking around in, you know, just sort of a zombie-like state because he hadn't had any sleep. But he couldn't sleep. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) In the previous summer, Dr. King had seen violence erupt in black ghettos. It was the worst rioting the nation had ever seen. 1st NEWS ANNOUNCER: Governor Romney of Michigan and the local officials in Detroit have been unable to bring the situation under control. 2nd NEWS ANNOUNCER: Hundreds were arrested, 30 killed. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) Many blacks blamed Martin Luther King for not doing enough to help poor blacks living in the cities. Many whites said he'd lost control of the civil rights movement. DOROTHY COTTON: Dr. King was deeply distressed and struggled with, you know, the position that he should take in the light of all of this criticism. SPEAKER: And so I'd like to invite Dr. King to bring you words on our Poor People's Campaign in Washington. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) Now, with the Poor People's March, Dr. King was about to gamble that he could attract thousands of supporters to Washington to demonstrate without an outbreak of violence. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: Thank you very kindly... PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) And some of King's followers were doubtful that he would be able to keep things under control. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.:... and power for poor people... KENNETH GOINGS, Historian: Dr. King was really wondering, was the movement over? Had the message been lost? And he needed success to show that he was still a leader and the movement could still function. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) Meanwhile, in Memphis, the garbage strike continued, and the black community was making little headway with the city's mayor, Henry Loeb. Mayor HENRY LOEB: Let no one make a mistake about it, the garbage is going to be picked up in Memphis. If the men do not return to work immediately, we will have no choice but to employ others to protect the public health. 11:21:01 PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) The date had been set for Martin Luther King to visit Memphis. Loeb still refused to recognize the strike as a civil rights struggle. And most of the city's white community supported him. LEWIS DONELSON, City Councilman: Mayor Loeb was very, very big into meeting with the common people. He had open houses maybe twice a week. And, you know, the proverbial little old ladies in tennis shoes came down to see him, and he talked to them. JOHN T. FISHER: He was absolutely convinced he was doing the right thing. And one of the ways he showed us that was, he reached and picked up a sack of letters and shook them in our face while we were sitting there to tell us how much support he had. LEWIS DONELSON: He felt like that he had the pulse of the people. It really didn't seem to react on him that those people were 100 percent white. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) With Mayor Loeb standing firm, some workers were losing heart, returning to work at the rate of two or three a day. Rev. FRANK McRAE: He told me a number of times that no matter what happened, he would never give in to the union, never. He thought he'd wear them out. JOHNIE HARDEMAN: Well, I tell you the truth, when those people started going back, I tell you the truth, I just almost give up on winning. TAYLOR ROGERS: Morale had begun to get low, and men had started wondering about that. But when Dr. King came in, we knew that we had him and God on our side. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: And it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis at a full-time job getting part-time income. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) It was March the 18th, 1968, a month into the strike. Dr. King had finally come to Memphis to inspire hope, as he had done so many times in the earlier days of the civil rights movement. 11:22:57 Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive. For the person who picks up our garbage in the final analysis is as significant as the position, for if he doesn't do his job, diseases are rampant. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) King had planned to give just this one speech in support of the strikers. But then something happened. Pastor JAMES LAWSON: I want you to imagine these very wide aisles, and people were standing shoulder to shoulder. He sensed the unity, he sensed the friendship and the warmth. He sensed that, indeed, this was one of the movements of the South that he had led in the past. And he was turned on by this mass meeting in Memphis. JESSE EPPS: Dr. King turned to me on stage that night and said, "You know," he said, "I got a great feeling that this is the movement," he says. Pastor JAMES LAWSON: He said to me, "Jim, you are doing in Memphis what I hope to do with the Poor People's Campaign." We had gotten into one of the tough issues, that is, workers who need good work and decency and living wages while they work. He saw Memphis as pulling the movement into the right direction. So it was a watershed movement from his point of view. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: Through our planes we were able to draw up distance and place time and change. Through our submarines, we were able to penetrate oceanic depths. Seems that I can hear the God of the Universe saying, "Even though you've done all of that, I was hungry, and you fed me not." Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES: At the close of his speech, people were standing, still clapping, and he may have said in his remarks that we should support the striking workers and we should have a march. And my goodness, the place just went bonkers when he said that. So I said, "Would you come back and lead it?" And some other people were saying, "Yes, will you come back and lead it?" He said, "Well, let's work it out." I said, "Well, announce it, announce it." He said, "We are going to have a work stoppage in support of the garbage workers, and I want to come back and lead it." And the place just -- "Aaaahhhhh!" PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) That night at the Lorraine Motel, while his staff continued to prepare for the Poor People's Campaign, King talked about his plans for a second visit. Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES: After the rally, when we went back to the motel, there was a choir there from college. And when they found out that Dr. King was in the vicinity, they insisted that they had to sing for him, because they would probably never get this opportunity in 10,000 years or 1,000 years. And so they came in in their pajamas and the rollers in their hair and all the things that ladies do in preparation for bed, and sang beautifully. And he was quite moved by it, and we all thought that was a good sign, a very good sign. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) For King, returning to Memphis meant more than helping a local garbage strike. The stakes were much higher. KENNETH GOINGS: They wanted to use Dr. King to gain publicity for the strike, but King wanted to also use the strike to gain publicity for his movement and to show that he could still lead a movement. DAVID J. GARROW: King had indicated how after Montgomery, everybody believed that he'd be able to pull a rabbit out of whatever hat someone handed him. That expectation that he could always deliver a victory was a very oppressive burden on King. (Commercial Break) ANNOUNCER: "The Century: Memphis Dreams" continues. MAN'S VOICE: Dr. King has said he will come to Memphis for the march. We're also serving notice on the city of Memphis that the time for moving hastily towards genuine change is at hand. NEWS REPORTER: The march began to move from Mason Temple about five minutes to 11:00. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) The day for King's big march to support the garbage workers began with great movement spirit. His plane was late, but thousands of marchers had been assembling since early morning, as if for a giant street carnival. HESTER MOORE, Strike Supporter: I wanted to be there early, because I kept saying, I want to be near Dr. King. I wanted to be near Dr. King. I want to be close to Dr. King. 2nd NEWS REPORTER: Hundreds of people have joined. There must be 5,000 at this time. HESTER MOORE: There were, like, seas and seas of black people. FRANK McRAE: The first time I marched with the workers, I marched beside a man who had a white sign with black letters on it that said, "I am a man." And then I realized all of his life he had been "boy," because white people didn't address black people as men and women. It was, "Hey, boy." TAYLOR ROGERS: You felt like you were somebody. You felt like you was a man, not a boy. You felt like you was tired of people running over you, and you were going to stand up and be a man. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) Martin Luther King finally joined the march an hour after it was due to begin. People were getting restless, and there was tension between those who wanted a peaceful march and some trouble makers. Pastor JAMES LAWSON: I walked to one corner where there was a young man haranguing people. I didn't know him, I'd never seen him before. Obviously an agitator of some kind. I asked him to stop, and I tried to say to him, "Look, this is to be a nonviolent march. We've invited women and children to be with us." HESTER MOORE: I remember hearing, "Dr. King is here, Dr. King is here." Then the adults were saying, "Stay in line, stay in line." Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES: When the march moved off, it was already out of control, because there were people standing around, there were people drinking. The police could not control that, they were not even down in that part of the march. They were protecting the property up on Main Street. And then I could hear this sound, it was an unusual sound. I didn't know what it was. 3rd NEWS REPORTER: You can hear them yelling in the background. Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES: They were breaking out the store windows. 3rd NEWS REPORTER: (inaudible) we're now rolling up our windows. They are beginning now to break more windo ws (inau dible ), I don't know what' s happe ning here. HESTER MOORE: All of a sudden, people started running and screaming, "Go back to the church, go back to the -- run, run!" 3rd NEWS REPORTER: (inaudible) complete disorder has broken out here... HESTER MOORE: It was just horrible. I actually thought I was going to die. Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES: There was a policeman standing near me, and I could hear voices on the radio saying, "The nigrahs are rioting, the nigrahs are rioting." These young folks took the signs off of the sticks that were holding the signs and started breaking out the windows. Pastor JAMES LAWSON: As I turned the corner onto Main Street, I see a phalanx of police. They have on their helmets. They are in complete battle gear. 3rd NEWS REPORTER: The police have just been given instructions to break up the march. HESTER MOORE: They waded into the crowd and started beating anybody in sight. And I just saw blood, you know, people were just bleeding. And I remember standing there and saying, "Why?" That's not how Dr. King wanted it. Because they were looting. They started pulling things out of the stores. This was not supposed to happen. POLICE OFFICER: Get off the street. Do not assemble in groups. (inaudible)... Pastor JAMES LAWSON: Then I said to Martin King, "Martin, I want you to leave, because I'm turning the march around." And he immediately protested and said, "People will say I'm a coward and I'm running away." And I said, "I recognize that," but I said, "I'm stopping the march and turning it back." POLICE OFFICER: Get out of the street. 3rd NEWS REPORTER: Martin Luther King is getting into an automobile. Martin Luther King has left the march. Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES: The fellows who were around Martin had to pick him up bodily to take him to the Rivermont Hotel, which had just recently been integrated. And I went over there, and he was lying in bed, not in pajamas, but just lying on the bed in his clothes. And he was so despondent, and he was just -- he said, "What do you think happened? What happened? What happened?" Mayor HENRY LOEB: And of course we did ask for the National Guard at 11:32 this morning. There'll be 4,000 troops in this city by 6 p.m., 250 Tennessee... JOHN T. FISHER: I didn't think it would get this far. And I can remember truly feeling that the day I stood in the showroom of my automobile dealership looking out to Union Avenue and seeing trucks go by with tanks on them. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) The day after the disastrous march was one of the lowest moments in Dr. King's career. REPORTER: Dr. King, you've been criticized for coming in from outside and then abandoning the march when the going got rough. What' s your react ion to that? Pastor JAMES LAWSON: There was severe criticism of Martin King. It was said that we caused the riot, that was what was said. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: We did not run, as the Memphis paper said. We walked very slowly. And as I walked, I was agonizing over what had developed. Mayor HENRY LOEB: When the march degenerated into a riot, abandoned by its leaders, the police, with my full sanction, took the necessary action to restore law and order. DAVID J. GARROW: It was said that this is the last gasp of a nonviolent movement. REPORTER: Dr. King, can you or will you guarantee that there will be no violence during your next march in Memphis? Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: I am convinced that we can have here and in Washington a massive nonviolent campaign. DAVID J. GARROW: After March 28, which, in his mind, was the greatest public disaster that had ever befallen his reputation, King knows that he has to pull off a success. That pressure was perhaps as great as it might ever have been in his life. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) With Memphis in shambles, the Poor People's Campaign was in jeopardy. If King could not lead a peaceful demonstration in Memphis, could he lead one in Washington? Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: One of the problems is that I'm running into so many people now... PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) Back with his staff, King debated whether to lead another Memphis march. Some staff members thought Memphis was political quicksand. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: The first thing they say, "I want to be in Washington." JESSE EPPS: But I said to them that really, you can't go to Washington but by Memphis, because if we cannot have a peaceful march in Memphis, they make a case that you're not going to have it in Washington. KING AIDE: But don't let everything go too fast on you, and you can't... DOROTHY COTTON: He sat there all this time, listening to the staff arguing so violently the pros and cons. And everybody holding onto their position. Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES: His staff said, "We don't really have time, because we're running behind schedule with the Poor People's Campaign, and we just don't have time to do it." And he overruled the staff. He said, "No," he said, "this is what the Poor People's Campaign's about, poor working people." He said, "We're going to come back to Memphis, and we're going to have a peaceful march. We're going to do that." PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) April the 3rd, 1968. Despite tornado warnings, 2,000 people still turned out to hear Martin Luther King speak. JESSE EPPS: I shan't forget, it will be etched in my memory for all the years to come, the clouds came in and the weather -- it was as if somehow the Providence was against us. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) When King had arrived for this third and final trip to Memphis, he was tired. At first he decided to stay behind at the Lorraine Motel, and he sent Ralph Abernathy to Mason Temple to give the main speech in his place. Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES: He said, "You guys go over and have the rally, I'll stay here and work on the Poor People's Campaign." When we walked in, Ralph's preacher sense said, "Wait a minute, these people are not clapping for us, they think Martin's behind us." He said, "I ain't making no speech tonight." We went to the phone and called Martin and said, "Man, you better get over here. These people came out in the weather to see you, and you need to get over here." He said, "Well, if you think I need to come, I'll come." But we almost missed the Mountaintop speech. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) And so the evening began in earnest, with a 25-minute introduction of King by Ralph Abernathy. RALPH ABERNATHY: And sometimes we ought to stop and introduce a man properly. Martin Luther King was born in Atlanta, Georgia... Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES: Black audiences know how to move a speaker on, and they didn't do that to Ralph. Usually they would say, "Amen, amen, brother." That means, "Get out of the way." Never said it. The wind was blowing the shutters in the temple, and every time they would bang, he would jump and look around, Martin would. And they would say, Bam! And I noticed that it was making him really nervous. So I got the janitor to turn the fans on so the shutters would blow out, and so they wouldn't bang. RALPH ABERNATHY: The Moses of 1968, Martin Luther King. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) Finally it was King's turn to speak. He took no script to the podium. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. Before I knew it, I had been stabbed by this demented woman. It came out in "The New York Times" the next morning that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died. Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES: He preached the fear out of him of death. He worked it out. That whole speech was about getting death behind him. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he has allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything, I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES: We were just standing there crying. We didn't know why we were crying. We were just -- we just stood there and looked at each other, said, "Oh, my God." DOROTHY COTTON: I know people speculated afterwards that he sensed that he had done all that he was called to do, and some of us believe that perhaps he had done all he was called to do. "I may not get there with you, but I've been to the mountaintop. I've seen the Promised Land." But my people -- and my people will get to the Promised Land. Ooh. (Commercial Break) ANNOUNCER: "The Century" continues. DOROTHY COTTON: (singing) We're on our way to victory, we shall not be moved. We're on our way to victory, we shall not be moved. Just like a tree that's planted by the waters, we shall not be moved. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) In their brief journey together, the garbage workers had struggled to tell the world that they were men. Dr. King had struggled to remind others he was only a man. Now the journey was to come to an end. The night after King's speech at the Lorraine Motel, he dressed for dinner. Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES: Martin asked me in the room while we were preparing to go why I thought the old movement spirit had come to Memphis, come back to Memphis. And I said, "I think people really identify with the garbage workers." And it was a very relaxed time. He had really come out of that depression, and he preached the fear out of him of death the night before. And he was just in a very light mood. So we walked on the balcony, Martin here and I'm here. And he was greeting people he had not seen in the courtyard. And I walked about five steps. And the shot rang out. BAY- OW! And I ran to him, and it was like a nightmare. I was trying to wake up, but I was already awake. It was like I was shaking my head. This gaping hole -- The necktie that I picked out for him after he'd put another shirt on, the impact of the bullet severed the knot and turned it upside down. And I don't know why I remembered that. But it's etched in my mind. I ran in the room and picked up the phone, and I couldn't get the operator. So I was saying, "Answer the phone, answer the phone, answer the phone!" HESTER MOORE: I was out taking driver's education, and we were sitting in class. And there was another trooper that came in the class, and beckoned the state trooper that was teaching the class to come here. And when he said something to him, this trooper just turned, totally red. He had such a fear on his face. I mean, it was like he -- you know. So he came to the front of the class, and he said, "Class is dismissed. Dr. King has been shot." BILL RUTHERFORD: I didn't believe it. I thought it was not possible. I arrived at the office, and people were having hysterics. "Dr. King's been shot, Dr. King is dead," someone even said to me. I said, "Don't be ridiculous." I said, "That's the most ridiculous rumor I've ever heard, please stop." WYETH CHANDLER: I'm sorry that anybody gets killed. I don't -- I'm not in anyone's -- not any sorrier that it, you know -- the one thing that happened that -- I was sorry it happened in Memphis. I knew that Memphis now would have the Dallas syndrome, where -- "Oh, yes, that's where they killed King." JOHNIE HARDEMAN: And it just looked like the end of the world had come. It sure did. DOROTHY COTTON: (singing) I've been in the storm so long, oh, let me tell you, sister, just how I've come along. Give me a little time to pray. With a hung-down head and an aching heart, Lord, give me a little time to pray. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) The day after King's assassination, more than 300 religious leaders went to the mayor's office to say, "Enough is enough." It was time to settle the strike. Rev. FRANK McRAE: So I called Henry and said, "Henry, we're coming." And he said, "You're going to get in trouble." I said, "There's no way, Henry, that I can stop them from coming." PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) That day Loeb's phone was never silent, his office never empty. JOHN T. FISHER: The same people who had asked him to stand his ground told him to abandon the ground. And the basic tone was, "Henry, settle it. I don't care what you do, but this has gone too far." WYETH CHANDLER: I think that some of his best friends had called and said, "Now look what you've done, you've ruined the city, you've caused a calamity, you've killed, you know, the blacks' messiah." And he was stricken. MINISTER: If we had been able to get a hearing, as ministers of the black community, we never would have needed to send for King or anybody else. Mayor Loeb, in opening the meeting, he asked me to offer a prayer. I said, "You're the man who caused his death." You know, "To me, you're the man." I said, "Mayor, I'm sorry, I just -- I can't pray on this occasion." PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) In the wake of Dr. King's death, Memphis couldn't avoid the national spotlight. Even President Johnson got involved in the local strike. He sent a negotiator from the Labor Department to help iron out an agreement between the garbage workers and the city. LABOR DEPARTMENT NEGOTIATOR: This labor dispute is like the tiny pebble dropped in a calm pool, and the rings that are created have gone out and out and out, and have created fantastic problems throughout our nation. And they all begin here. FRED L. DAVIS: Many years after we went through this ordeal and people came at me with difficult things, I would laugh them off and say, you know, "You can't faze me, I've been through the sanitation strike. Just make your best shot." All in favor of the resolution, let it be known by saying aye. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) It was April the 16th, and the workers gathered one more time to consider an agreement. They voted overwhelmingly to end the strike. And every worker knew at what cost. JOHNIE HARDEMAN: If Dr. King hadn't have got killed, I don't believe we would have made it, because those people was crossing the line so fast. And I think that's what done it. It's bad to say it that it happened, but I still say, if he hadn't got killed, I don't think we would have made it. I really don't. Rev. FRANK McRAE: The sanitation strike in Memphis was where Memphis was catapulted into a new age and a new day for the life of this city. We can no longer go back and live the way we once did. And some of that is frightening, but nevertheless, we must persevere. PETER JENNINGS: (voice-over) The strike had lasted 64 days. Martin Luther King had been killed. But Memphis had finally said to every one of its garbage collectors, "You are a man." And early the next morning, they went back to work. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. Rev. SAMUEL BILLY KYLES: There has to be a witness to that crucifixion. And so my witness is that Martin Luther King, Jr., didn't die in some foolish way. But he died, gave his life, helping garbage workers. (Commercial Break) PETER JENNINGS: That's "The Century" for this Monday evening. We will be back on Thursday. I hope you'll join us then. I'm Peter Jennings. Good night.