This Day in History: 1968-03-28

A peaceful protest march in Memphis, TN led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and Reverend James Lawson in support of striking city sanitation workers, is interrupted by violence and unprovoked murder by police. City officials estimated that 22,000 students skipped school to participate in the march. Dr. King arrived late to find a massive crowd on the brink of chaos, causing Lawson and King to call off the demonstration as violence erupted. After peacefully marching for several blocks, singing “We Shall Overcome”, armed men with iron pipes and bricks, and carrying signs, began smashing windows and looting along the stores. Police immediately reacted to the riot, moving into the crowd with nightsticks, mace, teargas, and gunfire. They arrested 280 individuals and 60 were reported injured, most of them black. Lawson told the demonstration participants to return to Clayborn Temple. The police followed the crowd back to the church where they released tear gas and clubbed people. In the midst of the chaos, a police shot and killed sixteen-year-old Larry Payne. Witnesses said Payne had his hands raised as the officer pressed a shotgun to Payne’s stomach and fired it. Five days later, on April 3, 1968, Dr King returned to Memphis and gave the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech a day before his assassination. Learn more.