Voice of Her Time
The Assassination Of Mlk
Two months after presenting Aretha with her award, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. King had been visiting Memphis to support garbage workers in a nonviolent strike. He was shot to death outside his motel room.
King's death was a terrible blow to many Americans of all colors. As his personal friends, it was especially hard for the Franklin family. At King's funeral in Atlanta, both Aretha and gospel great Mahalia Jackson performed. Aretha sang King's favorite hymn, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
Aretha continued performing during the next several months, bringing audiences together in their grief. In June, Aretha sang at a benefit produced by Jerry Wexler to support the Martin Luther King Jr. Fund. The benefit took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City. More than 20,000 people attended the concert.
The civil rights movement in the United States was a reaction to discrimination that prevented African Americans from enjoying the same quality of life as white people. Though slavery was abolished in the 1860s, segregation prevented African Americans from using many public facilities, and they were frequently denied the rights that whites enjoyed, including the right to vote.
Though African American music broke many barriers, the black artists who performed the music continued to face severe discrimination during the first half of the twentieth century. Black performers were often denied the right to eat at or even enter through the front door of the establishments where they performed. Many white-owned radio stations refused to play “race music” just as many white record labels refused to record or distribute black artists. The experience of these musicians mirrored the everyday lives of black Americans who faced discrimination at every level imaginable.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. organized many nonviolent protests through his Southern Christian Leadership Council. In March 1963, King organized the March on Washington, D.C., in which more than 200,000 supporters of civil rights marched to the Lincoln Memorial. The actions of these protesters paved the way for the successful passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in education and employment. It was a major victory for the movement.