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Some Say King Assassination Should Become Day of Remembrance by Brelaun Douglas

April 7, 2014

Some Say King Assassination Should Become Day of Remembrance
By Brelaun Douglas

lorraine hotel
Lorraine Hotel PHOTO: Lloyd Ostby/Courtesy: National Park Service

( - Approximately 6 p.m. central time. April 4, 1968. Lorraine Motel, Memphis, Tenn. A shot rings out. A body hits the floor. Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King Jr. is dead.

April 3, 1968, King was in Memphis supporting a sanitation worker’s strike as a part of his fledgling “Poor People’s Campaign”, which focused on economic justice and equality.

The next day, as he was standing on the balcony of his motel room, a gunshot rang through the air and King hit the floor. At 7:05 p.m. at a local hospital he was pronounced dead at the age of 39, ending a world legacy of civil and human rights advocacy that had afforded him a Nobel Peace Prize.

Many believe King knew his fate, implied by words spoken during his final sermon preached at Memphis’ Mason Temple Church of God in Christ on April 3:  “I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

As well as the story of King’s assassination is known, it seems that many are quiet when it comes to remembering the day in the 21st Century.

Ronald Bolden, a retired principal from Louisiana, says that this day needs to be better “integrated into American history rather than just setting aside a Martin Luther King Jr. Day.” Bolden, who himself participated in the Civil Rights Movement while a student at Southern University and A&M College in 1959-1963, vividly remembers the day that Dr. King was assassinated.

He was working in New Jersey at a printing company and remembers people all of a sudden began to cry. When he finally was able to ascertain that King had been shot, his “first emotion was extreme anger…I wanted to do physical harm to somebody,” he said. “I wanted to defend his honor and do something violent.”

And many did turn to violence as a response.

All across the nation from Newark to Los Angeles to Chicago to Washington D.C., people began to riot in protests of King’s death. In the District of Columbia, the nation’s capital riots consisted of looting, burning of stores, and even deaths, according to the Library of Congress. Troops were called in to assist local police and in Chicago, the Illinois National Guard was called in to help the police there.

But Bolden did not resort to violence as he would have liked. “I believed in the MLK doctrine to turn the other cheek,” he says. And now, 46 years later, he wants to see the day better remembered in the community and in the schools. “I think what we need to come up with a curriculum to teach the things he stood for and the things that he did and how it impacts 2014,” he says. “Have a course on pre-civil rights movement vs right now” and acknowledge what he stood for and the impact he and he his death had on what we are currently living through.

Delores Anderson, who was in junior high school in Los Angeles at the time of the assignation, agrees with Bolden on there being a need to better remember the day. “There most definitely should be a day of remembrance, not just MLK day, but also recognizing the day of his death/assignation,” she says. She views his death as “a great loss” and “a disaster to the people and to society” and would like to see people acknowledge it more rather than only focus on MLK day once a year.

But a day of remembrance may be something that mainly those who lived during King’s time would like to see put into action.

Howard University freshman political science major, Neka Duckette-Randolph of Chicago sees no point in it. “It’s a nice idea to observe that he died and did so much for the Black community” but she adds it will do nothing for the community to observe the date of his death. “What knowledge is that pushing? … What motive or ending do we have in doing that? If it’s something to observe just for the sake of observing then there’s really no point to that.”

Oakland, Calif. native Gevon Taylor agrees with Duckette-Randolph. He feels that as Black Americans, we should know such dates because they are important to our history, but having a day of remembrance dedicated specifically to the death of King will do little for African-American culture. “Us remembering and having a day dedicated to his death doesn’t advance anything," he says. “It doesn’t add anything and it doesn’t subtract anything.”

But, some who experienced the impact of the King assassination are clear on what such a day of remembrance would advance.

Playwright A. Peter Bailey, whose script, “Martin, Malcolm, Medgar” has been read before dozens of audiences, says to remember the King assassination is a stark reminder of what is left to be done for equality, which is yet to be attained.

“It would not be a celebration but a memorial,” he said. “The King assassination completely transformed and derailed the Civil Rights Movement and it has not recovered to this day. Therefore, the memorial service would talk about what the man was doing, have people to stand and read excerpts from Where Do We Go from Here, Chaos or Community [King’s last book] and cause people to understand what we lost with that assassination.”

The play, “Martin, Malcolm, Medgar” depicts the three assassinated civil rights leaders - King, Malcolm X (1965) and Medgar Evers (1963) - having a conversation in “the hereafter” as they observe modern day events on earth.  On April 4 this year, the play was read at Eau Claire High School in Columbia, S.C. and at D.C.s Martin Luther King Library in February.

Bailey, a journalist who was an associate of Malcolm X, says the King Holiday which celebrates his life and work around his January 15 birthday are not enough. To ignore the King assassination ignores the unfinished civil rights agenda, he says. “We are basically allowing the forces behind the assassination to win by not following through.”

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