April 4, 1968 - A Significant Date

I just saw a clip on the noon news with former President Bill Clinton reflecting on the Death of Martin Luther King, Jr. on this day, 40 years ago. ("Clinton remembers King during visit to N.C."). The night of April 4, 1968 and the days that followed are hard to forget.

It was a Thursday afternoon and I was a senior at Howard University in Washington, DC. My roommate and I had a student government meeting scheduled for 7pm and we were in the student union getting something to eat before our meeting. Someone ran in saying that Rev. King had been shot. Everyone went to the TV room and watched in shock as report after report came in from Memphis and other plases.

As usual, first reports were never completely accurate, but a little after 7pm, they reported his death. Our meeting was cancelled and we stayed glued to the TV. In just a few short minutes later, the reporters were saying that crowds were gatheering in the vacinity of 14th & U Street, NW. Outside, we could see smoke rising up. As our appartment was at 17th and Newton, almost due west of the campus, we figured we better get moving fast.

The trip across Park Road was slow - roadblocks were already up and at one, we had to get out of the car while they searched us and the car. Of course, no explanation was given, and having been "schooled" earlier by my Dad on what to do when stopped by the police, we followed the script. We finally got to our apartment and saw not only DC burning, but the reports that the same was happening in many other cities.

I tried to call my parents to tell them all was OK but couldn't get through. It was also their 26th wedding anniversary and I felt bad because I hadn't sent a card. Late that night, they reached me and said that they had just heard that Howard was closed until further notice and I should come home. I told them that getting to northern Virginia would not be easy so I would stay put. Fortunately, we had a good supply of our main staples - PBJ, noodles, Vienna sausages, and beer.

For the next four days we stayed in and watched history unfold. Almost immediately, we heard the early suggestions that the US Government was behind the murder. When President Johnson didn't come to the April 9th funeral in Atlanta, it added fuel to the conspiracy talk. It's interesting that after 40 years, the case is still not solved to the family's or to the satisfaction of many others. With federal troops in DC and tensions running high because of the looting, arrests, shootings and general fear, school remained closed until the next week.

We had already been out of school in March when students took over the school on the 20th and closed it down for a week. The takeover was a campus event, but the burning and looting spread over a wide area of DC and it wasn't safe to be out and about. It was eight weeks before our graduation day and we had no idea what would happen about graduation.

Lot's of memories come back when I hear Bill Clinton talk about it. He was also a senior, but over at Georgetown. He was the student body president and the various student government leaders of the DC colleges and universities worked together on several projects, and achieved positive relults on more than a few. I wonder if he felt free to go out without worring that the cops/soldiers would identify him as a potential looter, shoot first, and ask questions later? Afterall, he went to a school that was in another world alltogether!

What happened in these parts? Any other memories?



Thanks for the history lesson.

This for sharing this, Fred. It's really amazing to think of what this must have been like. My closest experience was being a sophomore in college when the first Iraq War started (I was on my way to a Student Environmental Action Coalition Meeting) and our worlds similarly stopped as we watched the TV in horror in the Student Union. At that time, I also wondered about my future in this pathologically belligerent nation.

As you may know I currently work for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which counted King as a member of our National Council at the time of his death. (To make it local: FOR was a co-organizer of the 1947 freedom ride that had an unpleasant stop in Chapel Hill.) Today we are blogging about his legacy for the ongoing struggle for peace and justice at http://forpeace.net/tag/mlk

Frank, thanks for sharing your experience. I was attending the University of Texas at Arlington at that time. The day after the assassination a couple of us noticed that the American Flag was flying at full mast. Two of us went to the head of security to request that the flag be lowered to half mast. He told us no and that there were more important matters for him to attend to. We headed over to the administration building to talk to the President of the University and was told he was in Austin in a meeting. We asked for and obtained the phone number of where he was attending. I made the call and requested that he come to the phone. He left the meeting, came to the phone and I explained what I thought was right. The next hour the flag was at half mast. It stayed at half mast for 7 days. A very very small victory amidst tremendous tragedy.

I think of all the great speeches that King made that are not mentioned by the politicos & talking heads. 

 "God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war ... We've committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world."



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