How Nashville Marked 50 Years Since MLK's Assassination | Nashville Public Radio

How Nashville Marked 50 Years Since MLK's Assassination

Apr 4, 2018

As the nation looked back on the dark day of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., so too did Nashvillians gather in his honor.

Speaking at a ceremony outside of city hall, Mayor David Briley described King's epic life and profound legacy — “a life and legacy of courage and leadership, love and justice.”

Briley also departed from his prepared speech to acknowledge what King was doing when he died.

“He was not just fighting for desegregation. He was not just fighting about race. He was fighting to make sure that everybody had a chance to succeed economically in our community,” Briley said. “Poverty is deeply ingrained in our country's history of race, and it remains so today. We must, as we remember his legacy, rededicate ourselves to confronting that combination of race in our poverty.”

King To Get 'His Due'

Briley's remarks came as part of a ceremonial bill signing, following a vote the night before by the Metro Council to rename a section of Charlotte Avenue in front of the state Capitol after King.

“Dr. King gave Nashville its due 58 years ago this month, when he came. But for far too long, this city has not given him his due,” Briley said.

Briley hearkened to King's best-known visit to Nashville in 1960, when King offered his support for the lunch counter sit-ins in the city’s downtown. He quoted King's assessment of Nashville as a place he traveled to, “not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration.” The street renaming process was shepherded by Councilwoman Sharon Hurt, who grew up in Memphis and was 10 years old when King was assassinated there.

Councilwoman Sharon Hurt led the push to rename Nashville's Charlotte Avenue to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., calling it a "healing" initiative.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN

She said the honor to King is meant to be “healing” at a time when disagreements can spiral into the kind of violence that he worked against.  

“This shows people that Nashville is welcoming — that we are willing to take a step for inclusivity,” Hurt said.

The portion of Charlotte named in King's honor will run through the area where lunch counters were integrated after sit-ins led by local college students, between Third Avenue North and Interstate 40. The name change takes effect in November.

TSU Marks Precise Time Of Assassination

Tennessee State University rang a bell on campus 39 times at the precise time of Martin Luther King's assassination 50 years ago, 6:01 p.m. He was 39 when he died. Students gathered for a brief ceremony and heard excerpts from King's famous "Mountain Top" speech.

TSU students held battery powered candles as a bell rang 39 times to mark the age of Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was killed in 1968.
Credit Blake Farmer / WPLN

TSU president Glenda Glover says she hopes students at the historically-black institution will use the anniversary to get more involved in politics, especially at the most basic level.

"He gave his life for the right to vote and for human rights and human decency," she said. "And now, if he were to see that we don't take advantage of that? Voting is all important."

Glover grew up in Memphis as the daughter of a sanitation worker who King had come to help raise wages. She says she remembers the fearful time when King was killed and keeping a journal, marking the 4th of each month as chaos consumed many cities. She says she thinks about the assassination every April 4, not just this one.

"It's something you just don't forget."