50 years later, civil rights activist remembers MLK’s Miami visit

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WSVN) — Five decades after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final trip to South Florida, those who knew him said the civil rights leader was living in a state of fear weeks before his assassination in Tennessee.

As a new image in King’s honor was unveiled in Miami on Tuesday, a South Florida community reflected on his legacy on the 50th anniversary of his death.

King delivered numerous sermons in Miami. He spoke to and for local civil rights groups to help further the cause in South Florida.

“The walls of segregation have crumbled,” King said during a speech.

But according to T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, not all of his trips to Miami were public.

“A lot of times he was in this city, and folks didn’t know that he was in this city,” said Fair.

T. Willard Fair

Fair was part of King’s inner circle. He helped coordinate private trips where the civil rights leader could relax and recharge.

“Those were restful times,” said Fair. “There wasn’t an announcement that Dr. King was at the Hampton House.”

But it was his last visit to Miami, in February 1968, that is forever burned into the consciousness of those who knew him best.

“I was with him on the last visit here,” said Fair.

King was in town for a series of meetings with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

But Fair said, behind the public appearances, there was fear.

“Everybody was not aware of what Martin was aware of. The word was that he might be assassinated if he went to Memphis,” he said.

The FBI has issued a warning that King should not go.

“We knew that if the FBI calls you and tells you all of that information, tells us that something might happen, and that you should not go. They asked him not to go,” said Fair. “Martin said, ‘I’ve been invited. I promised them that I was coming. I’m going.’ You know the rest of the story.”

There was a sense of dread as their friend and mentor left Miami for the last time. A few weeks later, they got the word he had been assassinated.

“I was angry, felt sort of rudderless,” said Fair, “but the most profound feeling was that I was mad as hell.”

Anger faded into determination for Fair, who still teaches and uses King’s principles to solve problems in Miami today.

“He was so smart,” said Fair. “He didn’t just hoot. He didn’t just hit on this stuff.”

The remembrances for the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day back in January and will last throughout the year.

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