Above: The big oak in the schoolyard garden at Martin Luther King Jr. MIddle School, just around the corner and up the street from us. School was out today, and of course the occasion I connect the date with is April 4, 1968, the day King was murdered. I don’t remember anything about that day until hearing the announcement, at the tail end of the NBC national news, and I think Chet Huntley read the report, that King had been shot in Memphis. The rest of the evening and much of the next several days is vivid. My recollection is that the show essentially signed off with that report at 6:30 p.m. There was no cable TV to speak of, let alone CNN, so I think our immediate recourse would have been to the radio (not sure if WBBM had adopted an all-news format by then or not).
In any case, I remember that it was already dark, and it was raining. My mom had been out shopping for groceries, and she pulled up within a few minutes of when we heard the news. She had been involved in various civil rights activities and had actually driven by herself up to the South Side one night–in 1965, maybe?–to see King speak at a neighborhood church. I think we–my brothers and I–probably imparted the news in a panicked way and probably passed on the first report that King might have been shot in the head. I think that because of the shocked and despairing reaction I remember from my mother: “Oh, they always shoot them in the head!” I’m sure she was thinking back to President Kennedy. Maybe even to Lincoln. Bobby Kennedy wouldn’t be shot for another couple of months.
The connection, if any, to today. None. The schoolyard was beautiful, the day warm, and that night might never have happened except for what we remember and have brought with us into our future.