The events of April 4, 1968, hold an indelible memory for me. Just after 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
Throughout my childhood, I was raised in a segregated Black community in Atlanta. Because Atlanta has six Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) it is known as the Black Mecca, the one place in this world, where Black people can and do succeed. My neighborhood, Collier Heights, was wonderfully unique in that it was designed and built by Blacks for Blacks.
As children, we never had to face overt racism and segregation. On my street alone, there were many notables. Among them NAACP Attorney Donald Hollowell, the first Black State Senator Leroy Johnson, and Dr. King’s parents.
The first week of April was spring break and me and my siblings were outside playing a game when we heard our mother let out a piercing scream. We ran into the house and saw her kneeling in front of the television, sobbing uncontrollably. About 15 minutes later, there were sirens blasting as dozens of police cars came speeding down our street. It was then blocked off on both ends for the next week. About an hour later, a second set of police cars appeared escorting Coretta Scott King and her children to their grandparents’ home.
Two days later, as a family, we went to Spelman College and stood in line to view Dr. King lying in state in their Chapel on campus. Until the day after the funeral, there were dozens of limousines pulling up at the checkpoint at the top of our street to be allowed to proceed to Dr. King’s parents’ home. On the morning of the funeral, the streets leading out of our community were lined with neighbors standing in silence as the funeral procession went by.
Shortly thereafter, we went to Morehouse College to find a spot on the lawn where the public funeral was held. It was easily a five hour wait as we sat on the lawn waiting for the private funeral at Ebenezer Church to end, and the march from the Church to reach the campus. The fact that my three siblings and I never complained about the wait and the heat was an indication of the deep loss that we were feeling as a community, city, country, and world.
Dr. King preached his last sermon on Sunday, March 31, 1968. The title: Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, is often quoted:
“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
In my work at the ACLU of Colorado, and throughout the years leading up to being the Executive Director, I am always aware of how both my social location and life experiences formed my life’s tapestry that reinforces what and how I show up, or step back, to further the work. This is just one reason I am honored to be in this fight for and to protect civil rights and liberties for all.