Thursday, April 4, 1968 - 11:00pm - 11:03pm
Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, Ivan Allen

At 6:01 P.M. on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was pronounced dead at 7:05 P.M. At 9:07 P.M. that same evening, President Johnson read a short statement for radio and television broadcast from outside the entrance to the West Lobby of the White House. The statement read:

America is shocked and saddened by the brutal slaying tonight of Dr. Martin Luther King. I ask every citizen to reject the blind violence that has struck Dr. King, who lived by nonviolence. I pray that his family can find comfort in the memory of all he tried to do for the land he loved so well. I have just conveyed the sympathy of Mrs. Johnson and myself to his widow, Mrs. King. I know that every American of good will joins me in mourning the death of this outstanding leader and in praying for peace and understanding throughout this land. We can achieve nothing by lawlessness and divisiveness among the American people. It is only by joining together and only by working together that we can continue to move toward equality and fulfillment for all of our people. I hope that all Americans tonight will search their hearts as they ponder this most tragic incident. I have canceled my plans for the evening. I am postponing my trip to Hawaii until tomorrow. Thank you.1

In this call two hours later, Mayor Ivan Allen, mayor of King's home own of Atlanta, called President Johnson to update him on the situation in the city and to express his appreciation for Johnson's statement.

The operator connects the call.

President Johnson: Yes, Mr. Mayor.

Ivan Allen: Mr. President?

President Johnson: Yes, Mr. Allen.

Allen: I want to thank you for your very fine statement that you made so promptly, sir.

President Johnson: Thank you, Mayor.

Allen: We're doing everything we can. We're having a very heavy rain storm here in Atlanta that's preventing any disorder at the present time. We've been through these situations before. I think that we can cope with them. I'll do everything I can to hold the house in order here, sir.

President Johnson: Well, you're mighty good, and I have great confidence in you, and I know that you're right on top of it. I called Mrs. [Corretta Scott] King and--

Allen: I was with Mrs. King when you called here.

President Johnson: Well, I--

Allen: I accompanied her to the airport where we heard of Dr. [Martin Luther] King's death and then went home with her. And Mrs. Allen was with me, and we've done everything we possibly could, sir. Martin was my close personal friend. I had great respect and admiration for him, sir.

President Johnson: Well, you've done a great job there, and I hope you'll let me know anything--any suggestions you have. We had a little problem in Durham, and we have one here in Washington. They're moving around. We don't know the extent of it, don't know how serious it's going to be. But they have 2- or 3,000 people gathering

Allen: Yes, sir.

President Johnson: And I was due to [head] out to Honolulu in the morning, but I decided I'd wait until the morning and take a look at it and see what to do. Do you have any suggestions as to anything else that I ought to do?

Allen: Mr. President, I think you've taken exactly the right steps, sir, and I'm following the same pattern here, sir. And I'm just delighted that you're running the show, sir.

President Johnson: Well, you're wonderful to call me, and stay in touch with me, and please know that I'm very grateful for your whole attitude.

Allen: You're very fine, sir. I hated to hear that news last Sunday night, sir, but you're a great man, sir.

President Johnson: Thank you so much, Mayor, and I look forward to seeing you.

Allen: Give Mrs. Johnson our thoughts, sir.

President Johnson: Here she is. I'll let you say a word to her.

Lady Bird Johnson: Mayor Allen?

Allen: Mrs. Johnson, how are you?

Lady Bird Johnson: Oh, troubled and sad, but God bless those who keep on striving and trying. And you're sure among them.

Allen: Thank you ma'am, and we're certainly proud of the President. And his statement last Sunday night was just magnificent. And he's a great man. And I'm so grateful that he made the statement that he made. It was exactly the right thing. I've tried to follow the same course here in Atlanta, and I hope everything will be all right.

Lady Bird Johnson: Thank you. Thank you. And for many things.

Allen: Thank you, ma'am.

Lady Bird Johnson: Good night.

Allen: Good night.

  • 1. "Statement by the President on the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.," 4 April 1968, Public Papers of the President: Lyndon B. Johnson.

Original tape courtesy of LBJ Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.