Saturday, April 4, 2009

41 years later

On April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stepped out of his room, room number 306, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee and stood on the second floor balcony. At 6:01 pm, a shot rang out and the bullet struck Dr. King in the neck. An hour and four minutes later, Dr. King was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital.

41 years later, we are reminded always about this solemn day. The images of the more than 60 riots throughout America. The video of Robert F. Kennedy's speech in Indianapolis, Indiana. The screams and the wails when the news was delivered.

I remember being alone in the living room that day in our second floor apartment in Chicago, Illinois. I was three years old. I was doing what three-year-olds do, playing in my own little world, when the noise from the television caught my attention. I saw a man talking from a desk with a picture of Dr. King in the background, with the writing underneath saying, "Martin Luther King, Jr. 1929-1968."

I remember him saying Dr. King was shot and that is all. It was a couple of years later before I understood what had really happened and a few more years to understand the gravity of it all. My parents were quiet most of that time immediately following the assassination. Nobody pulled me aside to give me details or to ask how I was feeling. But in retrospect, I can tell you that the mood was very somber.

As the years moved on, and my awareness rose, I think about what impact that event had on America as a whole. It still feels like a major thread of the fabric that comprises America has been permanently unwoven. A major stain in our history that cannot be blotted out.

However, we have moved on and African-Americans have continued to make great strides. Yet I still wonder what would have happened if this event did not take place this day. Would Dr. King have lived long enough to see a President Barack Obama? Would there be more accountability within our own communities? Would we see more organized efforts to challenge the status quo?

All great hypothetical questions, but I guess the most important thing is that we have survived such a crushing blow. Our Moses, never seeing the Promised Land but doing God's will to help get us there, taught us well. Let us remember this day and his life, while continuing to learn lessons, build foundations and thus fulfilling his dream.