Sharing a personal account on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's assassination, Hollywood veteran Samuel L Jackson revealed how the murder of the civil rights champion led him to embrace political activism. In The Hollywood Reporter, the 69-year-old actor recalled the time he was a sophomore at Morehouse College in Atlanta when he received the news of King's death.
King was assassinated by James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee when he was planning a national occupation of Washington, DC, called the 'Poor People's Campaign', which led to riots in many cities of America.
Jackson said he was watching "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home" at campus movie night, when "The cashier said, 'Dr. King got shot.' I said, 'Is he dead?' And he said, 'No, not yet'." "That's the only reason I remember that movie. In the middle of it, this guy came in and said that Dr King was dead and we need to do something. Everybody left. I went back to my dorm and couldn't find my roommate. Came to find out he was already in the streets with a whole bunch of other people, tearing up and burning up our neighbourhood," he said.
The actor said a couple of days later the students were told that Bill Cosby and Robert Culp wanted to fly them to Memphis, where King was shot, to march with the garbage workers. He said they were confused about the situation in Memphis and thought "it was probably going to be something physical, even though the National Guard was there.”
"We weren't thinking of it in any historical context, but we were glad there was something we could do other than burn, loot and destroy our own neighbourhood. That we could do something that's going to make these people's lives better. Especially knowing that King was killed for something as simple as, in that moment, a garbagemen's strike."
Jackson said they were flown back the same night and then went to Sisters Chapel at Spelman College, where King was "lying in state". He said as volunteers were needed to help people find their way around campus at the funeral the next day was the funeral, "I became an usher". "I remember Mahalia Jackson singing. I'd been listening to her all my life, so it was great to hear her sing 'Precious Lord, Take My Hand' live. I remember seeing people like Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier. People that I thought I'd never see, let alone have a relationship with later on in life."
Jackson said as while growing up they did not have a lot of civil rights protests in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he did not have a political bent of mind. He added he was "sceptical" of Morehouse College administration grooming them "in some old-school things that the majority of us students didn't believe".