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50 Years Later

| April 4th, 2018

"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's 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! And 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!"

- Conclusion to King’s final speech delivered on April 3, 1968

On April 4, 1968, less than 24 hours after this speech was given, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a pastor and a preeminent civil rights leader, was assassinated in Memphis, TN. As the news spread of his murder, violence and rage erupted in black communities all over the country. Ironically, King once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” It's reported that over 100 cities experienced massive riots and uproar.

The West Side of Chicago, especially North Lawndale, was hit hard by the devastating riots. The desperation of the impoverished had hit the boiling point. Property was destroyed. People were hurt. Dreams were shattered. Sadly, 16th Street and Roosevelt Road were the prime locations of rioting and arson. Businesses were looted and burned to the ground. Fires were left to burn due to an overwhelmed and understaffed Chicago Fire Department. Chicago Tribune reported, “A thousand sanitation workers were also working on the West Side, helping firemen move hoses and debris. More than 6,000 guardsmen and 5,000 federal troops were mobilized and sent into riot areas.”

The riots prompted Mayor Richard J. Daley to issue his infamous orders, "shoot to kill arsonists" and "shoot to maim looters." By April 7, 1968, throughout the city of Chicago, according to WTTW, “11 people were dead, more than 500 were injured, and 3,000 had been arrested.”

Just two years prior to his death and the ensuing riots, King lived here in North Lawndale on Hamlin and 16th Street. He rented a dilapidated apartment where the entryway reeked of urine. He had come for the “slums campaign,” advocating on behalf of the poor and bringing attention to unfair housing practices such as redlining. 50 years after King’s assassination, the remnants and devastation of the 1968 riots are still present in North Lawndale and unfair practices continue, including health disparities and educational inequalities. The community has remained resilient – however, there is still more to do.

Dr. King made major strides for civil rights. His work and life were cut short, but he believed that as a people, we can overcome any obstacles that remain. The “Promised Land” is still in view, therefore we must press on by faith and not by sight.

~Pastor James Brooks