Sarah Sanders MLK

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Sarah Sanders, NRA deliver truly misguided MLK tributes

King was assassinated April 4, 1968.


Ellen Ioanes


Posted on Jan 21, 2019   Updated on May 20, 2021, 9:03 pm CDT

To commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted, “Today we honor a great American who gave his life to right the wrong of racial inequality. Our country is better thanks to his inspiration and sacrifice #MLKDay.”

Sanders’ remark seems benign enough, but it leaves out an essential detail.

But Sanders isn’t alone in ill-informed tributes. A tweet from the National Rifle Association sparked outrage, as well.

King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. King was supporting striking sanitation workers and staying at the Lorraine Hotel; he was shot while standing on his balcony.

James Earl Ray was convicted for the murder of King. Ray died in prison, but maintained his innocence. The King family believes that Ray was innocent, and Coretta Scott King was firm in her belief that her husband’s murder was a conspiracy.

King did have an awareness that his life was in danger; he was ruthlessly targeted by the FBI. Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute has a detailed list of the ways the FBI attempted to intimidate King—even trying to convince him to commit suicide.

King was also stabbed by a mentally ill woman in 1958, which almost killed him, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There were many, many other threats against his life and his family during his fight for civil rights and for economic equality.

However, Sanders’ statement whitewashes the reality of King’s death. He was targeted for assassination; it wasn’t an accident. He didn’t die on the battlefield, or from friendly fire. It was not part of his job to risk his life.

To imply so is to imply that people who continue to fight for civil rights should expect their own lives to be at risk.

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*First Published: Jan 21, 2019, 12:58 pm CST