Samuel L. Jackson: How I Became an Usher at Martin Luther King Jr.’s Funeral (Guest Column)

On the 50th anniversary of the civil rights leader’s assassination, the actor recalls how the tragedy propelled him into activism and why he staged a lock-in that got him expelled from college.

Samuel L. Jackson was a sophomore at Morehouse College in Atlanta when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. Four days later, Jackson participated in a march in Memphis to continue King’s work supporting a garbage workers’ strike; he also served as an usher at King’s April 9 funeral in Atlanta. Jackson soon jumped into campus politics, eventually joining a spring 1969 protest — in which he and others held Morehouse trustees hostage — that got him expelled for two years. On the 50th anniversary of the assassination, the 69-year-old star recalls those tumultuous, tragic days.


When I first heard, I was actually in the liquor store buying a quart of beer, because it was campus movie night. The cashier said, “Dr. King got shot.” I said, “Is he dead?” And he said, “No, not yet.”

I went to the movie — it was John Goldfarb, Please Come Home. That’s the only reason I remember that movie. In the middle of it, this guy came in and said that Dr. King was dead and we need to do something. Everybody left. I went back to my dorm and couldn’t find my roommate. Came to find out he was already in the streets with a whole bunch of other people, tearing up and burning up our neighborhood.

Jesse Jackson in Chicago on April 5, 1968, with a copy of the <em>Daily Defender, </em>the city's black newspaper, announcing King's murder.

Photo: Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images – Jesse Jackson in Chicago on April 5, 1968, with a copy of the Daily Defender, the city’s black newspaper, announcing King’s murder.


Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images – From left: Harry Belafonte; King’s sons, Martin III and Dexter; Coretta Scott King; Ralph Abernathy; Andrew Young and Rabbi Abraham Heschel at the silent Memphis march on April 8, 1968. Behind Abernathy are Jesse Jackson and Bayard Rustin.



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