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King's first appearance on the cover of TIME, on Feb. 18, 1957

When Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968, it was, TIME declared, “both a symbol and a symptom of the nation’s racial malaise.” King had been in the Tennessee city to support a garbage-collectors’ strike, and was staying at an inexpensive motel, having been chastened for originally booking a stay at a place perceived as too fancy. He stepped out onto the motel “to take the evening air,” per TIME, and talk with co-workers. It was then that a bullet left a nearby building and found the civil-rights leader.

In the tumultuous weeks that followed the assassination, TIME readers responded with a flood of letters to the editor. Some of the most moving, from the April 19 and April 26 issues, are below.

From Joyce K. Laird of Lafayette, Calif.:

From John Barry of Los Angeles:

From James Thompson, a pastor in West Branch, Iowa:

From Dorothy S. Saunders of Cherry Hill, N.J.:

From Douglas P. Adams, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

From Deborah Preble of Pasadena, Calif.:

From Mrs. John Vadnais of St. Paul:

From Rev. Lewis P. Bohler Jr. of Los Angeles:

From P. Sudhir of Madras, India:

Read TIME’s full coverage of the assassination, here in the TIME Vault: April 12, 1968

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