As I sat down to my computer this morning, I was going to write about a disturbing film I saw the other night but then, I realized it was MLK Day, and the film idea seemed trivial. So, instead, I sat back and tried to remember where I was on that Thursday, April 4th, 1968 when I heard the news Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. So, when it happened, I saw it all, sitting in my living room with my family watching it on the evening news, in black and white, as reported by Walter Cronkite on CBS. LBJ was our President and he came on TV to tell us how sad it all was for America. My parents agreed, and so did I.
Even though I was only 15 years old, I remember a lot about what happened that day, and even that decade. After all, I was ten years old when my President, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963, and I would never forget that. And who could ever forget MLK when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of hundreds of thousands of people in 1963 at the March on Washington? And, there was music, amazing performances that day with Josephine Baker, Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. My father was a huge fan of Mahalia Jackson.
Needless to say, growing up in Cleveland, I was aware of all the turmoil and violence of the 60’s. In between the March on Washington, and the assassination of MLK, we had race riots in the inner city during the summer of 1966, and once again, I remember watching it all on the evening news. And it was violent. The Governor called out the National Guard, and it looked like the city was burning down and people were getting killed and many more injured. The violence seemed so close, yet so wrong according to everything I heard MLK preach.
And then, more violence, and I’m not even talking about all the disturbing images I saw on TV of people getting killed in Viet Nam. I’m talking about what happened three months after MLK was gunned down, another assassin shot and killed Bobby Kennedy, (we all called him, Bobby) and once again, we sat around in our living room witnessing that murder.
As the 60s ended, and I began thinking about college, I informed my parents I wanted to go where all the action was – UCLA or Berkeley. “Are you crazy?” They absolutely refused to contribute a dime to either of those schools. We have fine schools in Ohio, and Kent State is so close. Seriously, I thought? It’s practically in my backyard. I rejected it. And then, on a warm spring day in May, I remember my friend, Terry, who was at Kent State, came running into our school telling everyone they were shooting students on campus. He was agitated. Our teacher yelled at him and told him to leave but he wouldn’t. He couldn’t be telling the truth. After all, why would anyone want to kill students? Terry’s account of what happened was confirmed that night on the evening news. Four Dead in Ohio. The National Guard fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others. And so began a new decade.
Today, when I think about MLK and all he stood for, I am grateful for his legacy of non-violence. Progress has been made in civil rights and in human rights, but we are not finished yet.