April 4, 1968

The memory’s a jumble. We lived in the woods, at the end of a long driveway. It was already dark. And raining — cold April rain.

But we were inside when the news came. Our early evening habit was to watch “The Huntley-Brinkley Report,” NBC News’s nightly national broadcast, which aired in the Chicago area at 6 p.m. Before the show signed off for the evening — the show’s closing credits would roll while a passage from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony — there was a bulletin from Memphis: Martin Luther King had been shot. His condition was unknown, but one report suggested he’d been shot in the head.

Dad wasn’t home yet. Mom was out shopping. I had to tell someone. I saw Mom pulling into the carport, and I ran outside to tell her that King had been shot.

She had taken us to see him speak once, less than two years earlier, at Soldier Field. The beginning of a long, bitter summer of fair-housing protests in Chicago. That same summer, I think, Mom had gone to see King at a church on the South Side. I remember her saying she was in a pew on the aisle of the church and that King brushed past her as he walked up to the front of the church. She was surprised he wasn’t taller, but that as he spoke he seemed transformed — to grow not only in intensity but in stature and command.

Now something terrible had happened. Martin Luther King had been shot.

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