4 of 18
When Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed 45 years ago today in plain daylight, standing on the balcony of a motel, not hurting anyone, just standing there unarmed, unthreatening, with his colleagues nearby, and a city surrounding him, it was the most unbelievable, reality-altering event since John Kennedy’s head was blown off while riding in a convertible in sunny Dallas five years before. When Bobby Kennedy was killed just two months later, it was as if all hope and inspiration died. All we had was anger, war and hatred.
Like everything major that happened a long time ago, people who weren’t alive or aware when King was killed have no idea how it felt. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in the middle of making us better people when he was shot. His speeches ran chills up the spines of Black and white. He didn’t just lead people in protest. He lifted everyone up. Including a then 19 year old white girl working as a secretary for a small township after dropping out of college. He made me feel that I should think clearer, try harder, do more, be less afraid, and be a better person. He was so enormously compelling, so charismatic, and so truly righteous. No one has come close to this level of leadership since then.
The day after Dr. King was killed was a Friday. I went to work where everyone talked about the riots that were starting in Detroit and other cities. I sat with the township supervisor, real estate assessor, and the township engineer and listened to them zero in on the riots as if somehow Dr. King was to blame for this crazy reaction of grief and anger, for the fires started and the stores looted. I thought then but was still too timid to say, ‘you have no idea what this means.’
Now I think that again. Most people have no idea what Dr. King’s death meant, how it stunted the growth of the country, and pushed whole communities into a state of grief and hopelessness that persists to this day. So many things died that day and very little has been resurrected. I wonder if other folks my age remember what it felt like that day and are sad for what we lost.