Remembering An Awful Day: The Murder of Dr. King

April 4, 1968. I was six. I remember looking down from the top of the stairs to see my mother looking up. She was crying.

Courtesy Wikimedia

If you are old enough to remember the day Martin Luther King died, where were you?

If you are too young to remember…here’s a song for you. It’s about Coretta, because April 4, 1968 was worse for her than for any of us.

 

Coretta

 

Every city in this land got a street named for your man;

We celebrate his birthday, we sing and hold hands.

But sometimes I wonder if we’d ever be here

If you hadn’t stood beside him for all of those years.

                        All of those years…imagine the tears.

                        Coretta Scott King, your name hardly appears.

 

Lovely young soprano, Alabama to Ohio:

Your music could’ve carried you even further, you know.

But Martin sweeps you off your feet, or you sweep him,

And you’re swept into the movement, sink or swim.

                        Sink or swim…opposition is grim.                     

                         Montgomery Bus Boycott is the first big win.

 

 

Martin’s filling up the jails, says that love will never fail              

And you’re right there with him, center of the gale.

But your four little children can’t be left alone

And Martin says their mama needs to stay at home.

                        Stay at home, keep the children calm.                          

                        Thank the Lord you are out when your house gets bombed.

 

 

Klan don’t need to wait for dark; Selma’s like their personal park.           

Cross the Pettus Bridge to face Sheriff Clark.

On that Bloody Sunday you can hear the cries

With your hands in the laundry and your eyes on the prize.

                        Eyes on the prize…when a martyr dies                                  

                        Best step aside, feel the power rise.

 

Martin goes to Memphis town; hand of hate cuts him down.          

Now they’re looking to you to lead ’em to high ground.

You’re still in shock, you don’t know what to feel

But just like Martin, you’re made of steel.

                        Made of steel…Lord, this is real:               

                        41 year-old widow of a slain ideal.

 

So you take up Martin’s cross, learn to be a movement boss         

And you march and you rally and you  pay the cost.

You tell your fellow women to embrace their role:

“If you want to save the nation, you must become its soul.”

                        Become its soul…it took its toll.    

                        But Coretta, look around, we’re approaching the goal.*

 

 

For over thirteen thousand days, you walked those weary ways      

Speaking out against the war, supporting the gays.

For the poor and persecuted you carried the flame

And never got a monument. Ain’t it a shame?

       Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.                              

                        But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.

                        Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.

                        But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.          

 

G. Wing, March 2013

*I wrote this song in a more optimistic time. Not sure I still believe that goal’s getting any closer

Memories of Martin–and Coretta Too

One of my earliest memories is holding hands and swaying with a bunch of strangers, singing “We Shall Overcome.” I was probably five, and, from later figuring, that was probably at a 1967 demonstration by Duke University faculty (which my Dad was) and students and local activists in support of the Duke maintenance workers.

From that age on, I knew Dr. King as a man to listen to. When he was murdered (I remember my mother crying), I knew he was a man to revere. Only more recently have I started thinking more about the woman beside the man–Coretta Scott King.

Coretta in 1964 (Courtesy Wikimedia)

Coretta in 1964 (Courtesy Wikimedia)

I haven’t yet seen the movie “Selma,” but I will, and I’m grateful to its makers for reminding a new generation that The Movement was–and is–a long, long, LONG series of struggles. And it wasn’t only about one man.

In honor of the Martin Luther King holiday, I’d like to share this song I wrote about his wife, two years ago. I haven’t gotten around to recording it yet, so you’ll just have to imagine the tune…but I hope the lyrics speak for themselves. 

Coretta

 

Every city in this land got a street named for your man;

We celebrate his birthday, we sing and hold hands.

But sometimes I wonder if we’d ever be here

If you hadn’t stood beside him for all of those years.

All of those years…imagine the tears.

Coretta Scott King, your name hardly appears.

 

Lovely young soprano, Alabama to Ohio:

Your music could’ve carried you even further, you know.

But Martin sweeps you off your feet, or you sweep him,

And you’re swept into the movement, sink or swim.

Sink or swim…opposition is grim.

Montgomery Bus Boycott is the first big win.

 

Martin’s filling up the jails, says that love will never fail

And you’re right there with him, center of the gale.

But your four little children can’t be left alone

And Martin says their mama needs to stay at home.

Stay at home, keep the children calm.

Thank the Lord you are out when your house gets bombed.

 

Klan don’t need to wait for dark; Selma’s like their personal park.

Cross the Pettus Bridge to face Sheriff Clark.

On that Bloody Sunday you can hear the cries

With your hands in the laundry and your eyes on the prize.

Eyes on the prize…when a martyr dies

Best step aside, feel the power rise.

 

Martin goes to Memphis town; hand of hate cuts him down.

Now they’re looking to you to lead ’em to high ground.

You’re still in shock, you don’t know what to feel

But just like Martin, you’re made of steel.

Made of steel…Lord, this is real:

41 year-old widow of a slain ideal.

 

So you take up Martin’s cross, learn to be a movement boss

And you march and you rally and you pay the cost.

You tell your fellow women to embrace their role:

“If you want to save the nation, you must become its soul.”

Become its soul…it took its toll.

But Coretta, look around, we’re approaching the goal.

 

 For over thirteen thousand days, you walked those weary ways

Speaking out against the war, supporting the gays.

For the poor and persecuted you carried the flame

And never got a monument. Ain’t it a shame?

Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.

But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.

Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.

But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.

G. Wing, March 2013

The Selma March (Courtesy Wikimedia)

The Selma March (Courtesy Wikimedia)

Have you seen “Selma”? Care to share your impressions? Or your own memories of Martin, or Coretta? Let’s take time to remember.

 

That Rings a Bell: Birmingham Still Echoes at the March on Washington

I was still in diapers when it happened.

The bombing of that church in Birmingham, Alabama. September 15, 1963. You know–the 16th St. Baptist Church. The one on the corner of the square where the German Shepherds and the firehoses were turned on the peacefully assembled people.

(courtesy bplolinenews.blogspot.com)

(courtesy bplolinenews.blogspot.com)

(courtesy engineerfloknowledge.blogspot.com)

(courtesy engineerfloknowledge.blogspot.com)

(courtesy pinterest.com)

(courtesy pinterest.com)

The one where those four little girls died.

Watching the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington this past week brought it all back. Not because of the speeches or the music, however inspiring. It was that bell that did it for me.

At noon, right after an impassioned speech by one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughters, and right before the appearance of our nation’s first Black President, they rang the bell that had been salvaged from that bombed church all those years ago. And I started to cry.

(courtesy dailymail.co.uk)

(courtesy dailymail.co.uk)

I am a 51 year-old privileged white woman, but I am a child of the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1957, my parents moved from California to North Carolina to start my dad’s career and raise a family. They were horrified by what they found there. You don’t need me to describe it for you: the “Whites Only” signs, the “Colored” drinking fountains. You’ve seen it all before, in documentaries if not the actual news of the time. Maybe you’ve even lived it.

My parents didn’t want their three little girls going to segregated schools. So they, as part of the Durham Friends Meeting, started the Carolina Friends School, the first integrated school in the state. And they got involved in the sit-in movement.

Three years after the first, spontaneous sit-in at the lunch counter of the Greensboro Woolworths, and a year after the bombing of the church in Birmingham, my dad got arrested, along with a few others, trying to desegregate a Howard Johnson’s in Durham.

His case went to trial. The jury couldn’t reach a verdict, so a mistrial was declared. The state prosecutor compelled my dad not to leave the state until the new trial, but at the same time refused to set that new trial date. My dad was trapped. As a young professor of zoology, he could not travel anywhere for his field research, or to attend a professional conference. North Carolina had imposed a kind of in-state house arrest.

So he took the state to trial. And lost. He appealed to the State Supreme Court…and lost again. The Court agreed that my dad had, in theory, the right to a speedy trial, under the 6th Amendment, but that he couldn’t force the state to prosecute him because…wait for it…the 6th Amendment did not apply to the states, but only to the federal government.

So…on to the Supreme Court. I’ll skip to the happy ending. In 1967, the Supreme Court sided with my dad and said, yessiree, the states do too have to give people their 6th Amendment rights, just like they have to give you due process and equal protection and all those other wonderful rights from the 14th Amendment. (Can you tell that one’s my favorite?)

If you want to be a Super Legal Geek like me, you can read about the case here:

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=386&invol=213

You can probably tell that I’m skipping over a lot of anguish and fear from the time, as well as deep guilt from my family’s knowledge that our whiteness was a protection that my dad’s Black colleagues did not have. Take all that mix of emotions, insert it into childhood, and voila: memories and images from that time period still make me cry.

Here’s another example, from Birmingham itself. My husband and I drove through a couple of years ago on a cross-country road trip, and stopped at that famous park to make a pilgrimage.

Then…

(courtesy amistadresource.org)

(courtesy amistadresource.org)

…and now:

DSC02248

Let me tell you, I had to force myself to walk between those snarling dogs. And they were only bronze.

So that’s why that bell gets me. Because it was THERE. Like those brave folks, who continued facing down the Birmingham police and the Klan even after that murderous bombing, it survived. It RINGS.

Do you have memories of that time? Or images that get you right in the heart? Or does it all seem too long ago and far away? I am so very interested to know how the images of that time work on you. Let me hear!