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Who’s Who in the Last Thirty-One Hours of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Life

Martin Luther King, Jr. arrives at the Memphis airport with aides (l to r) Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, and Bernard Lee.
Martin Luther King, Jr. arrives at the Memphis airport with aides (l to r) Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, and Bernard Lee.

In the thirty-one hours leading up to his assassination on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was under extraordinary pressure. He was trying to redeem his reputation as a nonviolent leader of the civil rights movement after a march he’d led days earlier turned into a riot. At the same time, he was just launching his Poor People’s Campaign in Memphis, TN. Former investigative reporter Joseph Rosenbloom vividly recreates his final hours in Redemption: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Last 31 Hours. While revealing the physical and emotional toll the movement was taking on King, Rosenbloom introduces us to the cast of characters surrounding him. Meet the people who played key roles in the fateful hours of our nation’s foremost civil rights leader.  


Cast of characters_MLKReverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and social activist who led the Civil Rights movement in the United States from the mid-1950s through to his death by assassination on April 4, 1968. During his life, King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference along with Robert Abernathy in order help organize and power black churches during desegregation. King's participation in the organization gave him a base of operation throughout the South, as well as a national platform on the basis of non-violent protesting. At the time of his death, King was pursuing an ambitious undertaking which strayed from racial segregation and discrimination campaigns. He sought to end poverty in American by mobilizing the Poor People’s Campaign and suffered great national criticism.


Robert Byrd: Robert Byrd was the junior senator of West Virginia from 1959 to 1985. Byrd is known for his anti-civil rights, anti-black, anti-Catholic Southern roots. Byrd denounced Martin Luther King Jr.’s as a “self-seeking rabble rouser”, and he worked in opposition of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. He died in 2010.


Cast of characters_Henry LoebHenry Loeb: Henry Loeb was a business man, who was Mayor during the Garbage Workers' Strike that drew King to Memphis, Tennessee. Loeb argued that the strike was “illegal under state law” and refused to negotiate with the strikers or to recognize their union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees—AFSCME. King traveled to Memphis to take part in rallies and marches staged by the strikers.




Dorothy Cotton: Dorothy Cotton was the Education Director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In that capacity, she worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders and directed the Citizenship Education Program, which helped teach nonviolent organizing strategies to local people whom members of the organization had identified as potential leaders. Cotton was a close advisor to King.


Cast of characters_Ralph AbernathyRalph D. Abernathy: Ralph D. Abernathy was a Baptist minister who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was a close adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. Abernathy was King’s mentor and later closest confidant for 12 years, joining in King’s sit-ins, protests and ultimately in Memphis where King was assassinated. Abernathy worked to keep King's spirit alive and became president of the SCLC. He also took on the Poor People's Campaign, which included a march on Washington that led to the creation of the Federal Food Stamps Program.


Cast of characters_Bernard LeeBernard Lee: Rev. Bernard Lee was a civil rights advocate who was an associate of the Martin Luther King Jr. He served as vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  Lee was a longtime friend of King’s and served on his advisory team. 



Cast of characters_Andrew YoungAndrew Young: Andrew Young was the executive vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy. Young assisted in organizing workshops for the Citizenship Education Program called “citizenship schools” along with Dorothy Cotton. Young would continue to help disenfranchised communities, register thousands of voters throughout the South and was largely responsible for the civil rights movement's democratic and diplomatic values. Andrew Young went on to a distinguished political career as mayor of Atlanta, a congressman and ambassador to the United Nations under Jimmy Carter.


Cast of characters_Jesse JacksonJesse Jackson: Jesse Jackson is an American civil rights leader, Baptist minister and politician. Jackson was in Memphis, Tennessee with King during his final hours. Jackson worked at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was appointed director of economic arm of the SCLC called Operation Breadbasket. After King’s assassination Jackson resigned his position, citing, differences with the organization. Today, Jesse Jackson continues to push for African American rights and against racial inequality, spearheading the Rainbow/PUSH organization in Chicago, Illinois and unsuccessfully running for the Democratic candidacy for president.


Georgia Davis: Georgia Davis was the first African-American and woman elected to the Kentucky State Senate. She was an influential member of the Civil Rights Movement, and a confidante of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with whom she had an affair during his final years. Upon King’s request, Davis was in Memphis, Tennessee at the time of his assassination. Davis was a committed leader for equal rights and fought for causes to prohibit discrimination in schools, workplaces, and housing on the basis of race, sex, and age.


Cast of characters_James OrangeJames Orange: James Orange was a pastor, civil rights campaigner and one of Martin Luther King Jr's most trusted allies. Orange played a crucial role in the emergence of the Civil Rights movement, particularly in the southern states. Orange joined King in Memphis, Tennessee to support the Sanitation Workers' Strike where he was charged with reaching out to small faction groups from and stopping them from committing violent disturbances during the SCLC’s organizing of non-violent protests. He was present when King was murdered.


Cast of characters_Coretta Scott KingCoretta Scott King:
Coretta Scott King was the wife of Martin Luther King Jr. With her own astonishing career in civil rights activism, Scott King joined her husband in the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 and in efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964. After King’s death, Scott King founded the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change.  




James Earl Ray: James Earl Ray was a virulent racist and small-time criminal who plotted and sought out the assassination of revered civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. He shot and killed King in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, confessing to the crime the following March. Ray died in prison on April 23, 1998.