Here's What Might've Happened If MLK Survived His Assassination

The 1960s was a decade of assassinations, says History. A lot of prominent political leaders and activists were murdered during this period, and one of the most shocking of them was the assassination of a Black civil rights activist from Georgia — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (or MLK). On April 4, 1968, the leading figure in the fight for racial equality in America was shot and killed while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee (via Stanford University). He was 39 years old.

Many people like to indulge in speculation with "what if" scenarios, and sometimes they focus on major historical events. So what if certain events turned out differently? No one can predict what MLK would have become if he was still living, but we can all wonder and presume that a lot of things would have been different. So say he lived after getting shot; how might've things been different?

MLK's championing of other causes

According to historians, MLK was vocal about a lot of causes, and after the Voting Rights Act was passed into law in 1965, he started to maintain his focus on those issues (via History). The voting rights law was a major win for civil rights, as discriminatory practices were the norm in the Deep South. But MLK wanted to tackle how systemic racism affected poverty and speak out against war.

"Once the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, his goals extended beyond civil rights at that point. In his Nobel Peace Prize speech, he pointed out the triple evils in the world. Racial oppression was one, but poverty and war were the other two, and those were what he had turned his attention to," said historian Clayborne Carson. Like many people at the time, MLK was no fan of the Vietnam war. And his anti-war stance was deeply connected to his politics regarding disparity in wealth. In particular, MLK believed that the money the U.S. government was spending on the war could've been used towards ending poverty stateside, says History.

MLK's politics changed over time as the civil rights movement progressed, and so did his views. Even though integration was one of the central points of the movement, fellow activist and actor Harry Belafonte famously said that MLK switched gears when he said, "We are integrating into a burning house," per Santa Clara University. The revelation of their conversation opened up some insight into his mindset before he was assassinated. But it does demonstrate that his interests were focusing elsewhere.

The different perspectives on MLK surviving

People who were alive during MLK's assassination believe he was going to continue achieving great things, per Lancaster Online. Author Amanda Kemp, who was a toddler at the time, believes there'd be more respect for MLK's nonviolent approach if he were still alive today. She also believes he would've supported women's rights and environmental activism.

Some might have a more grim take on a scenario where MLK survived assassination. Nonprofit organizer Michelle McCall believes that if he survived the attempt, there would've been others. Notably, she underlined that MLK remained deeply unpopular amongst those who did not want racial equality. Former professor Melvin Allen also has a depressing take. He was a college student when the assassination happened, and he doesn't think MLK would have garnered the national love and support he is memorialized with if he survived. Allen believes MLK's tragic and sudden death quickly turned him into a martyr, which essentially erased knowledge of his detractors — including the FBI.

There's no certainty regarding what might've happened if MLK survived his assassination. Still, we can look at the lives of other Black civil rights leaders who lived until they aged, and other people who survived attempts on their lives (via History Collection).