The 1968 Exhibit: Martin Luther King, Jr., commemorative issue of JET, April 18, 1968


Forty-two years ago today, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. *In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, America was convulsed by grief and outrage, as well as violent rioting in more than 100 cities. *American newspapers and magazines brought out special issues in honor of Dr. King. *JET--the small-format magazine that was a fixture in African-American homes in the 1960s--published this commemorative issue on April 18. *Today, it's a collector's item.

The Weekly Negro News Magazine

JET was founded in 1951 as the "Weekly Negro News Magazine" and is still published today by the Johnson Publishing Company of Chicago, which is also behind Ebony, the glossier, LIFE-sized black magazine. *JET is tiny: *just 4x5 inches, smaller even than Readers' Digest, to which it is sometimes compared. *It was meant to provide bite-sized news and entertainment. *There were always news items from the civil rights front, gossip columns, sports news, book reviews, and entertainment features--all focusing on black subjects.

The killing of a prince

This commemorative issue is filled with photographs, including an open-coffin photo of Dr. King, which was less widely published in white-owned magazines. *The two-week lag between the killing and this issue also allowed JET to cover the many riots in American cities-- a "mutiny of Negro citizens," as Simeon Booker, the story's writer, called it: *"No single crime had enraged black men and women as the wanton killing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the black prince of peace." *Booker noted that the "intensity and fury of rioters and looters . . . eluded the Negro middle class."

The Easter connection

JET noted that "among the strange coincidences of Dr. King's death is the fact that, like the Saviour Jesus Christ and Abraham Lincoln, he was killed at Eastertime."


(Easter Sunday in 1968 was on April 14.) * As the photo caption of Jesus, Lincoln, and King said: *"all died for a better world."

"We are pointing a gun at our own heads"

King himself is quoted liberally throughout the issue-- the "Dream" speech, and the "Letter from the Birmingham Jail." * But among the longest pieces in the issue is a reprint of a column by Chicago Daily News columnist Mike Royko. *He notes that the FBI would certainly catch up eventually to the killer (James Earl Ray eluded capture for two months), but that "it doesn't matter if they do or if they don't." *Because, as Royko bitterly wrote: *"Martin Luther King was executed by a firing squad that numbered in the millions. They took part, from all over the country, pouring words of hate into the ear of the assassin. . . . So we killed him. *Just as we killed Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. *No other country kills so many of its best people. . . . We have pointed a gun at own head and we are squeezing the trigger."