By ADRIAN SAINZ , Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A yearlong series of events taking place ahead of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, kicked off Monday with the unveiling of a historical marker commemorating the civil rights leader's final flight.
Two aides and confidantes of King, former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, helped dedicate the marker at Memphis International Airport. The unveiling is one of many events scheduled in this west Tennessee city leading up to the 2018 observance of the 50th anniversary of King's death.
King flew into Memphis 49 years ago — on April 3, 1968 — to support a sanitation workers strike. Eastern Airlines Flight 381 landed in Memphis late after the plane was delayed in Atlanta due to a bomb threat.
That night, King delivered his now-famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech at Mason Temple Church of God in Christ. He was assassinated the next day while standing on the balcony at the old Lorraine Motel. Young and Jackson were both at the motel when King was shot.
In addition to his roles as ambassador and mayor, Young went on to become a U.S. congressman. Jackson founded the Rainbow Push Coalition, a civil rights group, and he twice ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. president.
King's visit to Memphis in April 1968 was his second in less than a week. On March 28, he had led a protest on iconic Beale Street that turned violent when police and protesters clashed.
When the sanitation workers went on strike several days later to fight for better pay and working conditions, the reverend was in the midst of his Poor People's Campaign in Atlanta. But he decided to return to Memphis anyway.
"Neither of us wanted him to come to Memphis," Young, speaking in the airport's ticketing area on Monday, said, referring to himself and Jackson. "But he felt that this was where he was being called."
King had thought that his life may be nearing its end, Young said.
"He was wearing down, and he didn't want to be with us in New York, he didn't want to be with us in Washington," Young said, adding later that King "wanted to be with the least of these God's children."
Officials said First Tennessee bank paid for the marker, which is also supported by the Tennessee Historical Commission.
Events remembering the life and death of King are also scheduled at the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the former site of the Lorraine Motel.