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.”
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