Where were you on the night MLK died?

Forty-three years ago this evening, I was inside the College Park High School auditorium, where the students of nearby Lakeshore High School had just put on a talent show dubbed “April Follies.”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (right), two years before his death, talking with Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen (center) and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. New York Times.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (right), two years before his death, talking with Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen (center) and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. New York Times.

I had tagged along with my two older sisters – I was going on 13, in 7th grade. The show was over – perhaps it was as late as 8:30 — and everyone had just stood up.

You literally could see the news waft row-by-row through the mostly white crowd: “Martin Luther King’s been shot. They say he’s dead.”

We were an evening-paper family – the Atlanta Journal sported Art Buchwald and his political humor — and the six o’clock news was over. So we wouldn’t get the details until late the next day, after school. A Thursday.

Classes were at Meadows Elementary, which is still just off Old National Highway – though it’s a storage center of some sort now. The next morning must have been cold, because we boys were sitting on top of the heaters that lined the classroom windows, waiting for the bell to ring.

Fulton County schools had been integrated, but just barely. I don’t recall that any black students attended the school, but we had just gotten our first African-American teacher, a Mrs. Betsy Phillips. Martha Pendley was our lead teacher. She is still sharp, and may have a better memory for the specifics.

Atop the row of heaters, my friend Dennis was the first to speak about King. “My daddy says he’s going to be the head n—— devil in hell,” the young boy said. It was a remark aimed at me, since I was one of the few known Yankees in the class. I tended to walk away from confrontations, even back then.

Darrell walked away with me. Possibly the bell had just rung. Darrell was a hood in the making. He hadn’t made the complete transition to the white T-shirt, leather jacket and blue jeans that would be his uniform in high school. But he was coming on.

“I don’t know why they had to shoot him,” Darrell said, in search of someone who agreed with him. “He never did anybody any harm.”

I have not heard from Darrell in decades. At some point, he dropped the leather jacket and had become a pastor himself, like King. Strange how that works.

If you’re of an age to remember, add a few lines down below — for posterity’s sake.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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91 comments Add your comment

Don Cook

April 4th, 2011
5:46 pm

Was at work at Elson’s Book Store at Lenox Square when the daughter of the manage called to let us know. Didn’t know what to think. Still don’t know why biggots still hate him. Stupid.

Newton

April 4th, 2011
5:47 pm

1968 was the closest we came to a meltdown. King, Bobby Kennedy and Wallace all shot. Cities burning, including Cincinnati where I was attending college.

Don Cook

April 4th, 2011
5:52 pm

Newton, Wallace shot during 72 campaign.

Was in Memphis

April 4th, 2011
5:55 pm

I was in Memphis, 10 years old. I remember my father days before reading the paper and grumbling about the garbage strike(MLK JR was there to help organize the demonstrations) but there were no overt racial comments in our house. We did have a black housekeeper who came in once a week – the day it happened she called my mother and told her to not come into town and pick her up as there was many riots going on downtown.

I recall our next door neighbor saying “good, they got him” and my father telling them what a terrible thing to say that was to say. I don’t think things were ever the same with them again. There were many days of riots and although we were several miles from downtown our parents kept us inside and we could occasionally hear sirens which we of course attributed to the unrest.

sosha1

April 4th, 2011
6:01 pm

I was only 3 years old but I remember a lot of screaming in my Grandmothers house…..my aunts…my mom….my grandmother. It scared me to no end. Later in life I asked my mom about that day and she was shocked that I could remember that day (I told her where i was lying down for my nap..how the screams woke me up etc) . It was sealed into my memory because i had never head such raw emotion in my life………….. so even as a 3 year old child I remember the pain of that day.

Will

April 4th, 2011
6:17 pm

I was a 17 year old high school senior and had just watched NBC Nightly News when the announcement was made on TV.

I have to admit, although I knew that African-Americans were not treated fairly, at the time I thought Dr. King was always complaining, always asking for more. I think I just wanted not to be reminded of the ways things had always been in my native state.

As I matured, I better understood and was much more appreciative of the work of Dr. King and remained ashamed of my “stick your head in the sand and hope it goes away” mentality of a teenager.

J Moore

April 4th, 2011
6:20 pm

Well I remember playing golf the day he was buried. I forget the course in Atlanta that we played on. I try to keep the tradition every year.

Elvis

April 4th, 2011
6:29 pm

Probably at home smoking a joint.

ant banks

April 4th, 2011
6:36 pm

J MOORE,

thanks for reminding us that ignorance still exists. the question was what was your where about when you got the news that he was shot.

Alabama Communist

April 4th, 2011
6:36 pm

It was a typical governmentl inside job ..like JFK, RFK,9/11, nothing changes or happens anymore by accident……….

ant banks

April 4th, 2011
6:38 pm

MR. GALLOWAY,

thanks for this piece, sir. i attended the meadows in ‘79 and if you are talkin’ about the same ms. phillips, she was a teacher, also, at md. collins high school, which i attended as well.

we have come a long way as a society, but still have a long way to go. i hear a lot of comments, from whites, about mr. obama, and they are the “cleaned up” version of vitriol that was aimed at king.

may God’s peace be on the king family at this time.

Whitey

April 4th, 2011
6:48 pm

Why, oh why does the AJC have to write a story about MLK or his offspring EVERY SINGLE week? Can we please have a month or so with no MLK stories?

Thank you.

Doris M

April 4th, 2011
6:51 pm

I was 18 years old and at home in Knoxville TN watching my mother cry after hearing the news about the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was the only the second time I’d seen her break down sobbing. The first time was after the announcement about the death of John F. Kennedy.

TrishaDishaWarEagle

April 4th, 2011
6:51 pm

the MiLK man wasn;t much different than other tv preachers it seems..

Ralph Abernathy, a close associate of King’s, stated in his 1989 autobiography And the Walls Came Tumbling Down that King had a “weakness for women”.[173][174] In a later interview, Abernathy said he only wrote the term “womanizing”, and did not specifically say King had extramarital sex.[175] King’s biographer David Garrow wrote about a number of extramarital affairs, including one with a woman King saw almost daily. According to Garrow, “that relationship, rather than his marriage, increasingly became the emotional centerpiece of King’s life, but it did not eliminate the incidental couplings that were a commonplace of King’s travels.” King explained his extramarital affairs as “a form of anxiety reduction.”

Lucy Minogue Rowland

April 4th, 2011
7:00 pm

That evening in 1968, I was a principal organizer at Virginia Tech for a program on race relations, CONFLICT ‘68.

Our two speakers who were expected to debate that evening were Roy Wilkins, Executive Director of the NAACP and Senator Strom Thurmond.

The pity is a great deal must have been lost about the program we organized. I sent all that I had saved to Special Collections at the Virginia Tech Librariers.
http://spec.lib.vt.edu/archives/blackwomen/flag.htm

Too bad...

April 4th, 2011
7:16 pm

Too bad the race pimping “leaders” of the black community today haven’t learned something from MLK. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and the rest of the race-baiting scammers are holding blacks back far more than any redneck Clansman ever could. Time for blacks to clean up the criminal mindset that pervades their society, ditch the entitlement mindset, and become self-reliant.Only then will they realize their full potential.

kim

April 4th, 2011
7:16 pm

I remember the next day when I heard the news on the radio. I was 9 years old at the time. I was riding in the car with my Grandmother and she said,” there’s going to be some stuff now”. There was rioting and the National Guard presence in the city. I am from Baltimore, MD. I wasn’t old enough to fully understand the impact of Dr. King’s assassination except to know that a man who was the same age as my Mother, had died tragically. As I grew older, I understood how hatred and bigotry turns otherwise decent people into self serving idiots.

flower power

April 4th, 2011
7:16 pm

Lucy,

Thank you for your post and corresponding link.

Aubrey

April 4th, 2011
7:21 pm

Rioting in Detroit for no apparent reason.

Jesse

April 4th, 2011
7:31 pm

Rubbing MLKs blood on my clothes to make it look like I held him in my arms while he died.

Taylor Swift

April 4th, 2011
7:32 pm

I was swimming in the Testes River, waiting on a egg to hatch.

Chuck Norris

April 4th, 2011
7:33 pm

I was kicking Bruce Lees Ass

Motocross Survivor

April 4th, 2011
7:46 pm

Nothing wrong with his message; too bad he was a compete phony.

Motocross Survivor

April 4th, 2011
7:46 pm

complete phony that is.

smart dawg

April 4th, 2011
7:56 pm

Jim,
It was April Capers, not April Follies. And Martha Pendley died last year in Fayetteville.

Coastal Cavalier

April 4th, 2011
8:08 pm

I was watching “Ironside” on television. Chet Huntley broke in with the bulletin. I remember my Mom saying something about she hoped there would be no riots.

tim

April 4th, 2011
8:25 pm

Most “black leaders” such as J Lowery, the Black Caucuses, the NAACP, and any other group who segregates themselves solely on their skin color still don’t understand MLK’s message.

In MLK’s eyes, they are racist. Too bad they can’t see beyond their opportunist racist noses.

Just waitin for whitey to bring em down……….

rufus

April 4th, 2011
8:26 pm

I was doing the nasty with my sister in law

Marietta Methodist

April 4th, 2011
8:35 pm

I was not born yet. However, because of him I was able to be born in a society where it was possible for me to be all that I am now… educated, Christian, Black, a minister, and accepted by people of all races openly! Like every other person on the planet, King is not without faults. However, none of those faults changes his impact on our society. You can point to his issues. What about yours? We have all sinned. However, some of us move past our own selves and think of others. That is what King did and what we should all strive towards. God bless him and his family. God knows they have struggles recently. I pray for mercy for all.

Time Flies

April 4th, 2011
8:35 pm

I was 10 years old, watching Bewitched when the news broke. I cried.

Whoknowz

April 4th, 2011
8:36 pm

Too bad some people can’t resist being obnoxious.

I was at home and if coastal cavalier is correct, that would be how I heard it too. I don’t remember that part just being incredibly sad that there was such hatred and mostly awed on the color of the skin.

Whoknowz

April 4th, 2011
8:38 pm

That was supposed to be based on the color of the skin

Marietta Methodist

April 4th, 2011
8:38 pm

Also, people look too much at his speeches and ignore his writings. He wrote beautiful things about the beloved community and what it meant. He as not a Black leader. He was about all people coming together as one. Most of us miss that. He was not so much about lifting the Black race as he was about lifting the human race. The saddest thing to me is that the church is the slowest area to integrate. Churches are pretty much just as they were when he was killed. Less than 2.5% of churches are multiracial in the USA. That is pathetic.

ryan

April 4th, 2011
8:40 pm

in my dads reproductive unit stiill :-P

Chuck

April 4th, 2011
8:42 pm

I was 10 years old, about to have my 11th birthday in a few days. I lived in north Memphis. My next door neighbor was a Memphis fireman and I had an uncle who was a Memphis policeman. I remember my parents were concerned for our neighbor as the rumors were that as firemen were going to calls to put out fires in the riot areas that they were being shot at. As a 10 year old, I wasn’t really worried about my uncles safety, but I was very concerned for our neighbor, because, I reasoned that he didn’t carry a gun like my uncle did. Also. schools were cancelled the following Monday, which happened to be my birthday. At the time I thought this was great.

As I have grown older and look at history with a more mature view, I admire the unselfish bravery and methods used by Dr. King to make this a better country. I sincerely believe that had he lived a complete life, with his guidance, some of the lingering social problems in the African American community would not be a significant. They lost a true leader on that day.

SGT SABAN

April 4th, 2011
8:48 pm

I was 10, living in Huntsville, AL. It was my parents wedding anniversay, i heard the news on my transistor radio. My Mom was getting ready to go out, i ran in to tell her.,, Mom, Mom, Martin Luther King has been shot…. she told me to get ouf of there, it did not seem to register with her. Mom grew up in Memphis.. back when blacks had separate water fountains and bathrooms she used to tell me. She grew up like that, did not really try to pass any of that on. I remember we had like one or two black guys in my class. I liked them, we all used to talk, for many of us it was our first time to interact with a black person, so we had an interest in learning about each other.. it was really still bad back then, later we started having lots of racial fights, bad ones too, for a young kid, i did not understand what was going in .. heck i lived a small little world, no cable, no internet, just a little transistor radio but i heard about it on the night it happened. I thought it was important to tell people…

Thaddeus works

April 4th, 2011
8:50 pm

I was three years old in Albany Georgia

Steve H

April 4th, 2011
8:53 pm

I was just short of 10 years old living about 5 miles north of Baltimore City that day, the following day I think was a Friday and the riots broke out in Balt and DC, from my house between the hours of 7pm and 5am there was a bright glow just south of us, it was from a steady stream of fires that burned for 3 days. My family had a liquor store in NW Baltimore, my father brought all of the expensive liquor to our house late on Friday. Our store survived the riots because that particular neighborhood was mostly white, however most of the stores owned by others were stripped to the ground. One neighbor next to ours had a Grocery store in a mostly black neighborhood, he went to the store the following Monday and said he only found one pack of cigarettes under a pile of debris, everything else was gone.

Lucy Minogue Rowland

April 4th, 2011
8:59 pm

Thank you to all who have shown respect for the man and his work. The world would be a lot better off with those like you.

For others, please but your hate aside. Martin Luther King Jr. died in 1968. Let your hate go away.

Sadly

Elvis

April 4th, 2011
9:02 pm

I never heard Martin refer to himself as an African-American. He didn’t see any point in looking at things from that perspective. WHAT HAPPENED!!!

Lynn

April 4th, 2011
9:07 pm

I was 7 years old and I remember my mom crying. I asked her “why are you crying” and she said Martin Luther King was killed

MJ

April 4th, 2011
9:07 pm

I was in Korea in the field in the wake of the Pueblo and Blue House Raid.

LivingWellDCH

April 4th, 2011
9:10 pm

I was with my mother, exiting a department store called “Alexander’s” in the Bronx, and upon exiting the store, my mother heard the news and she boo-hoo’d profusely. People on the bus home were all crying.

By the way...

April 4th, 2011
9:22 pm

King was OK in my book, but how about his kids? What a group of total POS’s they are. Greedy, squabbling and nasty. In a weird way, it’s good that he’s not around to see how they have acted in his absence.

Chris P. Bacon

April 4th, 2011
9:25 pm

I was nine years old. My dad got very, very drunk, sitting in his easy chair, watching the news reports…which scared the hell out of me, because I don’t ever recall him drinking before or since.

Gene Harris

April 4th, 2011
9:27 pm

It was my 15th birthday. My family was just sitting down to birthday dinner and ice cream and cake when the announcement came on tv. Only time I saw my mother and grandmother cry.

Powder Springs

April 4th, 2011
9:39 pm

Most people won’t remember where they were. His demise wasn’t the kind of momentous event that creates a memory marker, like for example where one was on 9/11/2001, when JFK was assassinated, and when The (other) King died.

TrishaDishaWarEagle

April 4th, 2011
9:44 pm

The topic intrigues me..I was not born until 1984 so i called my Dad and asked him. My dad was born in 1956 so he would have been 12. He said he was in Nashville visiting his grandma (my great granny) and that all the men in the family went down to the family’s car dealership in Hendersonville with guns to prevent any riot damage.

@MJ

April 4th, 2011
9:48 pm

Thanks for your service!

MrLiberty

April 4th, 2011
9:51 pm

Too young to have known what it all would have meant. But now that I am old enough to know better, I know that the government’s version is likely a crock, there were likely members of the government, local police, FBI, and others directly connected with the conspiracy and that James Earl Ray probably had absolutely nothing to do with it other than being framed. I know enough to know that the america of our fantasies is far from the america of our reality.