Today we honor Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A national holiday was declared for the former minister and civil rights movement leader with a huge statue on the national mall, not far from his famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Many of us can recall where we were when the leader of the nonviolence civil rights movement was gunned down in Memphis on April 4, 1968.
I was home watching television when the program was interrupted by a news bulletin. I remember running into the kitchen to tell my mother what happened. Mom was visibly upset as we all watched and listened to how Dr. King’s life came to an end. That next morning at Troop Middle School was an indication of what was to take place the rest of the day. Some students were crying; some angry and wanting to vent their frustrations on anyone or anything. School officials made the decision to send everyone home. By the time I returned home the streets erupted with people, throwing rocks, bottles, breaking windows and trashing stores and shops. Before long the national guard was assembling on the corner of Legion Avenue and Dwight Street. The burning sensation in our eyes and mouth from the tear gas made everyone move back further into the house.
His funeral procession: a simple farmer’s box cart drawn by two mules was vastly different from President Kennedy’s, yet equally viewed around the world. It would be some years before I learned about his opposition to the Vietnam war*, the bus boycott in 1955**, letter from Birmingham jail*** and the FBI convert investigation of Dr. King.**** Still, the journey to declare Dr. King Day a national holiday took years and over several administrations.***** When you plan a trip to Washington, D.C., make sure you visit the King Memorial on Independence Avenue SW. It’s a great testament to a man who championed civil and human rights of all people.