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How Samuel L. Jackson Went from Taking Martin Luthor King Sr. Hostage in Real Life to Becoming DAMAGED’s Serial-Killer-Chasing Detective Dan Lawson

Although the leaders fluctuate, the actor currently with the thirdmost cumulative highest grossing films of all time under his belt is Samuel L. Jackson, their $14.3 billion in ticket sales including major releases like the upcoming action thriller, Damaged. This success has made him a titan of Hollywood, but few people know that as a young man he was heavily involved in social and political activism. Once, in fact, he took it to an extreme that got him in trouble for taking hostages … among them the father of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King.




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Born in 1948 in Washington, D.C., Jackson was a bright student who enrolled at Morehouse University in Atlanta.  Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, as Jackson was finishing up his junior year spring semester. The actor later recalled to The Hollywood Reporter how he found out about the murder:

I went to the movie — it was John Goldfarb, Please Come Home. That’s the only reason I remember that movie. In the middle of it, this guy came in and said that Dr. King was dead and we need to do something. Everybody left. I went back to my dorm and couldn’t find my roommate. Came to find out he was already in the streets with a whole bunch of other people, tearing up and burning up our neighborhood.”




Hoping to make King’s death count for something, Jackson decided to become involved in the civil rights struggle, so he and other students boarded a plane to Memphis, Tennessee to march with striking sanitation workers for better conditions. Upon returning to Spelman College, where the body of King was lying in state, he answered a call for volunteers and served as an usher at the solemn funeral.

The experiences of living through MLK’s assassination, and living as a Black college student in the tumultuous 1960s, inspired Jackson to continue his strong advocacy of different causes. He and some of his fellow students who desired change at Morehouse challenged the Board of Trustees over the school’s old-fashioned curriculum, which was absent anything related to Black studies.

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The students unsuccessfully petitioned the Board for a meeting, and Jackson later what led to the taking of hostages at the school as a response:

We actually petitioned the Morehouse board in 1969 to meet with them, but the black people who were around them said, “No way, you can’t come in here. You can’t talk to them.” Somebody said, “Well, let’s lock the door and keep them in there,” because we had read about the lock-ins on other campuses. They had these chains on the walkways to keep us off the grass, and we used those. Our understanding was that, once we locked them in, we were in violation of a whole bunch of laws. Dr. King’s father, who was on the board, had some chest pains. We didn’t want to unlock the door, so we just put him on a ladder, put him out the window, and sent him down. The whole thing lasted a day and a half. We negotiated that they wouldn’t kick us out of school. And then when everybody was gone for the year, they kicked us out of school.”

Jackson was convicted of unlawful confinement, a second-degree felony. He was also suspended from school for two years.




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That period was transformative for Jackson. While participating with other extremist groups, he began working as a social worker in Los Angeles, and finally earned a Bachelor’s degree in drama from Morehouse in 1972.

After more than a decade of sporadic small roles on television, film and stage, Jackson  began booking meatier parts in Hollywood during the late 1980s. He would eventually appear in the hit films Goodfellas, Jurassic Park, Pulp Fiction and A Time to Kill, and gain recurring roles in popular franchises like Star Wars and Marvel’s The Avengers.

Stardom hasn’t gone to the now 75-year-old’s head, however. Despite his tremendous professional success, he remains involved in social and community causes, lending his powerful influence to numerous platforms. He has come a long way in the more than 50 years since he was an overzealous kid who helped take MLK’s father hostage to try and bring about change.

Directed by Terry McDonough (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), Damaged tells the story of a jaded, alcoholic detective from Chicago (Jackson) who travels across the pond and teams up with a Scottish counterpart (Gianni Capaldi) to track down a serial killer that he may be familiar with from his past. It arrives in theaters on April 12th. Check out the official trailer:






Born on the East Coast but currently residing on the West Coast, Andrew Martin has contributed to a variety of newspapers, magazines, blogs and other mediums  but most fondly remembers his Master’s thesis exploring the impact of the Boston Red Sox on social identity in New England. He enjoys writing about history, sports, culture and investing and recently published his first book–Baseball’s Greatest Players: 10 Baseball Biographies for New Readers, a children’s book about baseball history.


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