Monday, January 20, 2014

Reflections on 1968 and the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Died

A writer writes!

In the year 1968 I was a 10 year old in living with my parents in Saint Louis, Missouri.  I recall seeing Dr. King occasionally on television reports, but was not truly aware of all he had accomplished.  It was the latter part of the civil rights years of the 1960's.  I don't recall much blatant racism that I was exposed to in Saint Louis during that decade.  Or I wasn't aware of what racism I or my parents had been subject to.  Later on during my teen years I recall an occasion where our school class, from a predominantly Black catholic school, had gone on a field trip to see some event in downtown Saint Louis.  Our class was seated in the balcony.  Below us on the main floor we could see a section of white students being spoken to directly.  I do recall someone asking why couldn't we sit down there with the other kids?  There was ample seating to accommodate us on the main floor. On another occasion I do recall a white bus driver passing me by at a bus stop rather than stopping to pick me up.

As a 10 year old I don't recall many other direct contacts in a mostly white environment.  I do remember that some teenage white female students chaperoned our class one school day to Grant's farm in Saint Louis.  I'm not sure if the female students were doing so as part of some public service day volunteer effort.  I just recall that as one experience where I had direct contact with people who were not Black.  Other than that one occasion and contacts with my white teachers in Catholic school, my world consisted mostly of contacts with people who looked like me.

On April 4th 1968, I was at home watching TV upstairs in our makeshift home.  The home seemed to be one that a store owner must have lived in.  There was an empty store front portion in front of our home.  We lived in the "home" part of the building.  The home was two stories with a basement and a large back yard, where my father parked his car.  We lived in a black neighborhood among other older homes in the area. My two brothers and me shared a small bedroom that consisted of 3 beds and a dresser that we all shared. I recall that at times we did not have heat in the house.  During those times, we heated our rooms via some type of contraption that looked like a fan with hot red coils emitting heat into the room.

That night I was in the house either alone or with my sister when the news flash came on the television. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.  I knew Dr. King was famous and that this was not good news.  When my parents came in the house I rushed to tell them what happened.  They had already heard the news and seemed worried.  I did not go to school the next few days.  I believe my mom kept me home out of respect for Dr. King's death.  I think she participated in a march held in St. Louis sometime after the death of Dr. King.

I don't remember seeing news reports on television about the violence that broke out across the country after the death of Dr. King.  I do recall that the 60's was a turbulent decade.  My awareness of the contributions of  Dr. King came about later partly through my parents purchasing a record album featuring several of Dr. King's speeches.  They would play that album on occasion and I would hear the booming voice of Dr. King echoing throughout our residence.  Television would provide me the visual history of Dr. King's life and experiences.  He died at age 39, relatively young with much to offer the world in the future.  There are visual and audio records of what he accomplished during those brief years.  A greater legacy is  the improvement in the lifestyles of Black people since those days in 1968.

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