A memory from the day Martin Luther King, Jr. died

by JS O’Brien

When I first heard, I was jubilant.  For a 10-year-old white kid living in a South we all thought was under siege, hearing that Martin Luther King was dead was like hearing that Satan had converted and joined the Southern Methodist Church.  The ogre was dead.

We were safe.

Very quickly, we learned that we needed to fear again.  My county was about 50% black, and seemingly all of them were set to converge on the courthouse square of my little town.  They were then set to march down the main street and US highway that ran right past my house.

My father was away from the area, working, so my mother told me to get all the guns in the house, load them, and be prepared to protect her and my sister if they stormed the house.  I sat by the front door when they marched by.  I sat there, trembling, surrounded by my single-shot .22 rifle with the sawed-off stock to fit my skinny shoulder, the lever-action .30-.30 carbine, and the .38 police special revolver.  The safeties were off.  I didn’t know how quickly I might have to fire.  I didn’t think I could stop them, but I could take a few with me.

All they did was sing and walk.

5 replies »

  1. I was too young to know even this much, but there was ample ignorance around my area, to be sure. I only wish I thought it had changed significantly….

  2. I remember Jim Crow laws well. I remember black only drinking fountains, black only windo at the Tastee-Freez, and blacks at the back of the bus. Significant progress has been made as far as racial relations stand. There’s a long way to go, but both whites and blacks need to work together to solve the racial and associated economic problems.



  3. Thanks, JSO. I never met anybody who had a memory of that day like that. You’ve come a long way. But have we all?

  4. I have read this a few times now.

    I am left, finally, with the following:

    1. Your mother was fearful. To be fearful is rational when faced with the unknown.
    2. You wanted to protect your family and were a child.
    3. Your mother outgrew her fear, I hope, by educating herself about humanity.

    One of the wonderful memories about South Africa in the seventies that I shall carry with me always is this. Living in the bush I feared no African (and he was everywhere). I did look everywhere I ran for snakes, for the fear I had of them was enormous.

    One day skin colour will not matter.

  5. Another memory from the day Dr. King died:

    “A key piece of evidence is, of course, the alleged murder weapon. A rifle was found resting against a brick building which housed an “amusement company” whose owner was on the premises at the time of the shooting.

    James Earl Ray’s original lawyer, who investigated the facts of the case, and is today a judge, describes the circumstances:

    “The State’s theory was there was a Browning box, a Browning rifle box, that contained some items of clothing, a radio that had James Earl Ray’s Missouri state penitentiary number on it and a Remmington 760 rifle that James Earl Ray had bought in Birmingham.” -Judge Arthur Haynes Jr., the original lawyer for James Earl Ray

    It happened that when the box was placed at the amusement company wall, the owner Mr.Canipe saw a man drop it there, near the entrance, and continue walking down “South Main St. on foot” — and this was TEN MINUTES BEFORE THE SHOT WAS FIRED!”

    Was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Murdered by the U.S. Government?

    “After hearing and reviewing the extensive testimony and evidence, which had never before been tested under oath in a court of law, it took the Memphis jury only one (1) hour to find that a conspiracy to kill Dr. King did exist. Most significantly, this conspiracy involved agents of the governments of the City of Memphis, the state of Tennessee and the United States of America. The overwhelming weight of the evidence also indicated that James Earl Ray was not the triggerman and, in fact, was an unknowing patsy… We stand by that verdict and have no doubt that the truth about this terrible event has finally been revealed.” -Statement of King Family on the Justice Department’s “Limited investigation” of the MLK Assassination, January 15, 2007