12.1k readers

Long Before He Started Acting, Samuel L. Jackson Took Part In A Hostage Situation That Included MLK's Dad

Updated August 26, 2020 12.1k views13 items

Over the course of a career that has seen him become the highest-grossing actor of all-time and take part in such franchises as Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Samuel L. Jackson has developed a well-earned reputation for portraying a tough guy on screen. What few realize, however, is just how much Jackson’s art resembles the events of his own life - most notably, the time he held the board of Morehouse College hostage to protest for his educational rights.

Many celebrities have gotten themselves kicked out of college over the decades, but none have done so in quite the same righteous manner as Jackson. Though the actions of Jackson and his fellow activists no doubt came down on the right side of history, the entire incident has taken on an air of infamy because of the identity of one hostage in particular - Martin Luther King Sr.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Assassination Of Martin Luther King Jr. Was A Political Awakening For Many, Including Samuel L. Jackson

    The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. - perhaps the most important, and certainly the most public, figure of the American Civil Rights Movement - in 1968 was a pivotal moment in the nation’s history. Though it was not the end of the march toward equality, for many it marked the end of an era. For countless young people across the country, it was a political awakening.

    While the Holy Week Uprisings rippled across America, several student protests also gained national attention for their nonviolent demonstrations, most notably at Ohio State where the Black Student Union took several effective actions. All around the country, Black young adults saw the necessity in becoming directly involved - including a 20-year-old in Atlanta named Samuel L. Jackson. He told Parade in 2005 that, “I was angry about the assassination, but I wasn’t shocked by it. I knew that change was going to take something different – not sit-ins, not peaceful coexistence.”

  • Following The Assassination, Jackson Flew To Memphis To Join A Protest March

    It’s rarely discussed that Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in the midst of his Poor Peoples’ Campaign and while in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers. That inspired many individuals to travel to Memphis in the wake of his death to march alongside the workers in King’s stead, including Samuel L. Jackson.

    As the Avengers star recalled to the Hollywood Reporter in 2018: 

    A couple of days [after the assassination], these guys told us Bill Cosby and Robert Culp wanted us to get on a plane with them and fly to Memphis to march with the garbage workers. There was a lot of anger on the plane. We didn't know what to expect when we got to Memphis. We all thought it was probably going to be something physical, even though the National Guard was there. Culp and Cosby were trying to give us instructions on how to carry ourselves and enact King's dream of being nonviolent. It was cool that they'd take us to Memphis and foot the bill for it. We weren't thinking of it in any historical context, but we were glad there was something we could do other than burn, loot and destroy our own neighborhood. That we could do something that's going to make these people's lives better. Especially knowing that King was killed for something as simple as, in that moment, a garbagemen's strike.

  • Jackson Was An Usher At MLK’s Funeral, And It Was A Formative Moment

    At the time, Sam Jackson was enrolled at Morehouse College, a historic Black men’s college in Atlanta and King’s own alma mater. As King’s public commemoration occurred at Morehouse, several students volunteered to serve as ushers - including Jackson. It proved a formative experience for him.

    As Jackson himself tells it

    We flew back that night and went to Sisters Chapel at Spelman College, where Dr. King was lying in state. The next day was the funeral. They needed volunteers to help people find their way around campus, and I became an usher. I remember Mahalia Jackson singing. I'd been listening to her all my life, so it was great to hear her sing "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" live. I remember seeing people like Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier.  People that I thought I'd never see, let alone have a relationship with later on in life. The funeral was pretty much a blur.

  • Jackson And Other Student Activists At Morehouse College Became Concerned With The School’s Curriculum And Governance

    In the year that followed, several students at Morehouse began to question some of the school’s curriculum choices and administrative decisions. Though these issues had existed before, they were amplified in the wake of the loss of MLK and the students felt more of an urge to do something about it.

    One of those most perturbed by the happenings at Morehouse was Samuel L. Jackson, who later told the Hollywood Reporter that:

    I came to a realization that we were being groomed to be something that I didn't necessarily want to be. The Morehouse College administration was rooted in some old-school things that the majority of us students didn't believe…We had no connection to the people that we lived around. I was skeptical of that. We didn't even have a Black studies class. There was no student involvement on the board. Those were the things we had to change.