Travel may be my main gig, but I am a student of U.S. history at heart. As Martin Luther King Jr. day is observed today, I recount an anecdote about his last commercial flight.
J. Edgar Hoover, former director of the FBI, did not like Martin Luther King Jr. He called him the “most notorious liar in the country” and had one of his aides send a suicide letter to King in 1964, stating in part, “King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is… You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”
Then there was the issue of flying. Threats against his life were routine, but one of Hoover’s tricks was never to warn King when specific threats were picked up against him. The exception to that rule was when King was on a flight, since it endangered more than King.
But even then, Hoover would not let King know but the airline. Often, King would learn about the specific threat only after he had boarded the plane.
On April 3, 1968, King boarded Eastern Air Lines Flight 381 from Atlanta to Memphis. A bomb threat had been called in against the flight and the captain announced the flight would be delayed. The entire baggage hold was searched and nothing was found. Just another travel day for King.
That evening he mentioned the incident in his sermon, remaking, “But I’m not concerned about that now, I’m not worried about anything! I’m not fearing any man.”
The next day he was assassinated. Eastern 381 would be his last flight…commercial anyway.
The account of this incident was taken from At Canaan’s Edge by Taylor Branch (the third book in a trilogy on Martin Luther King that sits on my library shelf and I highly recommend), though this New Yorker article refreshed my memory of the incident.