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Is it true that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was scheduled to speak in Wilmington in 1968?

Ben Steelman

Yes. The famed civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner had been scheduled to deliver an address on Wednesday, April 3, 1968, at Williston High School in Wilmington — one day before his assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.

King had canceled his Wilmington appearance on April 1 to extend his stay in Memphis, where he was supporting a strike by predominantly black municipal sanitation workers. Instead, on April 3, King delivered his “I’ve been to the mountain top” address at Mason Temple in Memphis.

“Many black Wilmingtonians later insisted that if he had been there (at Williston) that night, he would be alive today,” wrote local historian Larry Reni Thomas in “The True Story Behind the Wilmington Ten.”

The following day, students from predominantly black Williston High School marched peaceably from their campus to the New Hanover County Courthouse as a memorial. Things began to turn ugly, however, when another faction of Williston students headed to predominantly white New Hanover High School and demanded that the school’s American flag be lowered to half staff.

Anger about Dr. King’s murder festered during the weekend into four days of rioting in Wilmington, April 6-10, 1968, as bands of youths looted stores, threw rocks and bottles at passing cars and assaulted some motorists and pedestrians. Isolated incidents of arson and sniper fire were reported. According to historian John L. Godwin in “Black Wilmington and the North Carolina Way,” the violence led to some 200 arrests in the city. Twenty-one people were reported injured, and local property damage was estimated at $200,000.

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One Response to “ Is it true that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was scheduled to speak in Wilmington in 1968?”

  1. On March 25, 2014 at 1:28 pm Jan Davidson wrote:

    The Wilmington Morning Star from April 2, 1968 and from April 5, 1968 says that that Dr. Reverent Martin Luther King was scheduled to speak in the city on April 4, not April 3. Apparently, he was coming here to launch a voter registration drive.

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