Today, America honors the late Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights pioneers who risked their livelihoods and their very lives for peace among all of the nation’s peoples. Dr. King was born Michael King on January 15, 1929. His father, an Atlanta pastor, would change both their names after a 1934 trip to Nazi Germany to attend the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin, where he was inspired by the work of German reformer and initiator of the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther. Dr. King grew up to become one of the world’s most influential civil rights activists, tirelessly promoting non-violent reform.
In March of 1968, Dr. King and his entourage traveled to Memphis, Tennessee in support of the black sanitary public works employees who had been on strike since March 12 for higher wages and better treatment. During that trip, on April 4, he was killed by an assassin’s bullet while standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel. He was 39 years old.
During that trip and others, Dr. King was believed to have traveled in a white 1966 Lincoln Continental convertible loaned to him by Cornelia Crenshaw, a wealthy civil rights patron and friend. In the years following, Crenshaw hit hard times financially and could not afford repairs for a blown head gasket. As a result, the car believed to be the last in which Dr. King rode sat idle in a lot behind Haye’s Auto Shop in Memphis for more than 20 years. Rust and plant life overtook the car and it continued to deteriorate until 2002, when it and its historical significance were discovered by Rich Fortner, owner of Al’s Auto Body Experts in St. John, Indiana.
Fortner had the car towed to his shop and set about performing a full restoration, bringing the Lincoln Continental back to its 1960s-era glory. In April of 2008, the car arrived at the National Civil Rights Museum, housed in the former Lorraine Motel, where it remains on display today.
E3 Spark Plugs joins the rest of the nation in honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others who tirelessly worked for equality and peace.