I remember my mother crying. I remember her sadness. It was unlike anything I had ever sensed before. She was in disbelief. She was frightened. She was shaken.
When you are six years old, you remember the first time your rock is shaken. That’s my first recollection of my rock, my mom, being shaken. I know now she loved who Martin Luther King Jr. was. I know now that she believed the things he believed in. I know now, she was a woman from the North, raising four kids (along with my hard-working dad) in the South at a time when many old, opposing values still existed. She was an outsider in terms of social thought. She wasn’t like many of the old white southerners in Tucker, Georgia who lived in the town we moved to a few years earlier.
Now, I can look at the history of the day. King was shot at 6:01 p.m. central time in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. He was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. We lived in the eastern time zone, so it would’ve been early evening when my mother began crying. I am sure she cried for several days. I didn’t know what to do, and I don’t know that she could explain any of this to me. It must have been so big for her.
I fast forward to 9/11/01 when my daughter’s mother called us in California to tell us to turn on the television. My daughter was older, 14, but we still had to figure out how to process that day together. It was my first challenge at that level as a parent.
How my mother and father handled those days as parents, I can’t say. And we weren’t even part of the community that most closely knew MLK. We weren’t Baptist, even religious. We were white. We grew up in the North. But we were intelligent and passionate, thoughtful and eloquent. We could be fierce in defense of family. We could be patient in times of discourse. We are part of the human race that needed King, and now the Reverend was gone. I was a child, so when I say “we”, I wasn’t grown or mature enough to understand or “be” any of those things. I am so grateful I grew up in the South with my parents so that I could develop some of those traits.
A few years ago, I had the chance to briefly visit the Lorraine in Memphis. Today, it is the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. I need to go back again to soak in more – I was working for the NBA’s Thunder, and only had a brief time to shoot some video. But the power of the place weighs heavily on me, as it should. You can see the story I did that day by going here.
Later, I went to college in downtown Atlanta, and grew. I worked in the South in cities such as Macon and Dalton, Georgia, Chattanooga, Tennessee and back to Atlanta. I learned more about King’s legacy as I grew in California and Oklahoma, and am still growing in Auburn, Alabama where I am a journalism teacher today.
Reverend Jesse Jackson was present at the assassination, and said King’s last words on the balcony were spoken to musician Ben Branch, who was scheduled to perform that night at an event with King, were, “Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.” Later that year Branch recorded it and you can hear it on YouTube below.
I love words, and I am moved by the power of one man or woman’s ability to inspire a crowd to positive feelings through oration. In another life, I might’ve been a spiritual leader. But most of my life, my own arrogance and ego has been too much in the driver’s seat of my life. But this isn’t about me.
It’s about him. His words that resonate. When I read them. When I hear them. Today, can I live them?