Memphis attorney W.J. Michael Cody had just helped to win a major victory for a pro bono client, a man Cody felt was an “intense, charismatic” person who was in town to fight for the rights of striking municipal workers. Cody dropped off a key witness in the case at a Memphis motel and was on his way home nearly 50 years ago when it happened.
His law firm’s client, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated on that day, April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel, where Cody had just taken civil rights leader Andrew Young.
Cody is the featured speaker at the 43rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Monday at the Wyndham City Centre at Seventh and Adams in Springfield. The annual commemoration is sponsored by Springfield Frontiers International. Tickets for $25 are available by calling (217) 899-0800.
The American Civil Liberties Union had asked Burch, Porter & Johnson, the law firm where Cody has worked since 1961, to fight a city of Memphis injunction against King’s planned march on behalf of the striking sanitation workers. Cody and several more senior attorneys met with King and other civil rights leaders on April 3, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel.
“Dr. King struck me as being a very, very intelligent, intense, charismatic person,” Cody said. “He articulated the importance of solving the sanitation strike that we were having in Memphis and getting the city to meet the demands of the garbage workers.”
“Dr. King at that point was pretty much the leading civil rights figure, and just meeting with him as a young civil rights attorney in and of itself was a historical event for me,” Cody said. “I did not know of course that it was as historical as it would come to be.”
After the meeting, Cody joined his colleagues at the Mason Temple to hear what would be King’s final public speech.
“It was a very emotional time. There were some extreme weather conditions in Memphis, there were some tornadoes in the area,” Cody said. “No one knew it would be the last time he ever made a speech, although his speech alluded to that possibility.”
Cody’s firm prevailed in court the next day, April 4, when a federal judge lifted the city’s injunction and cleared the way for King’s protest march.
“After court, I took Andy Young, who was one of our two witnesses, back to the Lorraine Motel so he could tell Dr. King that we had been successful in court,” Cody said. “And…
Authored by Glen McStanly