During his last three years on Earth, Martin Luther King went through hell.
In January 1966, Martin Luther King Jr.—founding president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Nobel laureate and the nation’s most prominent civil rights activist—moved his family into a squalid tenement apartment in one of Chicago’s economically barren ghetto neighborhoods.
A fixture in American political life since December 1955, when he assumed leadership of the Montgomery Improvement Association—a coalition of churches and organizations that banded together to coordinate a boycott of city buses following Rosa Parks’ arrest just weeks before Christmas—King subsequently appeared to be everywhere the civil rights movement took root. Albany, Georgia; Birmingham; Selma; Atlanta. Even when he wasn’t at the forefront of events, as was the case with the wave of lunch counter sit-ins and Freedom Rides that shook the South in 1960 and 1961, civil rights activists at the grassroots level looked to him for guidance and inspiration.
Now, the man who helped spearhead a movement that had pressed successfully for laws integrating schools, public accommodations and voting booths was ready to take the struggle north, where, as he put it, “the moral force of SCLC’s nonviolent movement philosophy was needed to help eradicate a vicious system which seeks to further colonize thousands of Negroes within a slum environment.”