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.
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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