Exhibit Recalls Fateful April 1968; Display Features Martin Luther King Jr.'s Funeral Procession Plans

Article excerpt

Byline: Brian Basinger, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Thirty five years ago, Coretta Scott King was planning the funeral of her husband, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

As many in the nation mourned, the widow of the slain civil rights leader carefully helped orchestrate a massive ceremony in his memory.

When all was said and done, more than 150,000 people came to walk in the 4.3-mile funeral procession through downtown Atlanta.

Now the public has a rare chance to see how that day of remembrance was planned as a new exhibit chronicling the last chapter of King's life premiers this weekend at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta.

"From Memphis to Atlanta: The Drum Major Returns Home" is a collection of photographs, newspaper clippings and family artifacts, many of which have never been viewed by even the closest of the King family's friends and associates.

The exhibit's contents all come from the week of April 3-9, 1968. The week began as King traveled to Memphis, Tenn., where he was to help sanitation workers in their strike for equal treatment and pay.

King, accompanied on the trip by such civil rights colleagues as Jesse Jackson, Hosea Williams and Ralph David Abernathy, was gunned down on April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel.

Photos of the men, both before and after the assassination, hang on the walls in simple black-and-white frames.

The collection includes the famous image of King's assistants leaning over the mortally wounded preacher's body as they point from the hotel balcony toward the direction of the suspected gunman.

"For those people who were around during that time, it will certainly bring back memories," said Saudia Muwwakkil, spokeswoman for the King Site, which is hosting the exhibit along with The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. "For those born after his death, this will probably bring a whole new perspective."

Among the exhibit's items is the minute-by-minute schedule of events for the funeral day, as dictated by Coretta Scott King to an assistant.

Written in thick black ink on tattered legal paper, the itinerary starts well before dawn, when King's widow met with reporters for a media briefing. It continues on, noting a 9:15 a.m. meeting with former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, as well as a 10:10 a.m. arrival time for the family's private memorial service.

Lynn Cothren, special assistant to Coretta Scott King, said he never knew the schedule existed, nor had he seen Mrs. King's funeral photo album, which is also on display in the exhibit.

Perhaps the most vivid piece of the collection is the warped, wooden wagon that was used to carry King's casket through the streets of Atlanta.

Maintenance workers carefully rebuilt the dismantled cart, placed in a storage unit more than two decades ago. …