I was in my room, with the radio on. The dj stopped the music and said Dr. King had been shot, killed.
I spun around and looked at the radio –as if it could tell me more/ take it back/tell me why….
First thought: How sad for black people…
then: oh…how sad for white people…
I didn’t know How –I just knew it would be. I didn’t know why anyone would actually kill him, though I was aware: he made people angry…I did not know why that was true. The people who were angry, always on TV, saying what they didn’t like, could go anywhere, do any thing, have any thing, why couldn’t every one?
I had heard the man in charge of the FBI call Dr. King: “the most dangerous man in the country.” I didn’t believe it. I didn’t like the man* who said it and I didn’t know why every one else resigned after President Kennedy was murdered, yet that man kept his job… why. If Dr. King was “dangerous” –then what were the people in the Mafia, who shot each other, robbed people, carried guns? Why didn’t the FBI arrest them –ever? Everyone knew they carried guns, kidnapped Frank Sinatra’s son, killed people even in the street; even in school I’d learned they robbed, stole, used to sell illegal booze.
How “dangerous” was Dr. King, every time I saw pictures of him: he was standing still, making a speech, or walking with women and men, sometimes carrying only his hat. Whywas he “dangerous”? How was it “dangerous” to walk down the street, with women and men, quietly, protesting for what everyone else had? I always waited for reporters –even one to ask the haters: how they justified denying/ yanking the Constitution –from some, yet keeping it for themselves.
The first time I heard on the radio that they put Dr. King in jail, for walking, I was affraid. I couldn’t even picture what jail was like or why that happened. It was so crazy, I was affraid to ask anyone: Why.
It was very confusing. I wanted to talk to the porters on the train, on trips into the city, but I didn’t know if that would get me in trouble with my parents. I wanted to ask the porters: did they have any children? Where were they? I could walk anywhere in the City, nobody bothered me, nobody stopped me, why didn’t black children? Where were they? Things made no sense.
I was playing in my room, when I heard an unfamiliar sound. I opened the door and tip-toed down the hall towards it. As I got closer I could hear someone in the kitchen, door closed, but since I already imagined myself a good detective, I kept going towards the sound –then I saw it: the TV was on, in the middle of the day. THAT had never happened before, except for a very few times when the college my father went to, Standford, was playing some kind of game, on a Saturday, but then his friends would be there. We had to ask permission to turn it on, could only watch for half an hour. So: who turned it on? Why?
I got closer. It was hard to understand at first, it wasn’t any kind of game, it was something I’d ever seen before: some people were standing against a building, black people, and men holding something –spraying them with water, from a huge hose –so much water it came straight out of the hose, solid white. Others, as they walked across the street –got sprayed –flew, high up in the air –others blown down the sidewalk . There wasn’t any place for them to escape. The men aimed the hose at their backs, they flew.
I didn’t know why the hoses were turned on them, why they didn’t just ask the people to leave –what did the black people do –why the men didn’t want them there. I didn’t know where that was happening, I hoped it was far away. I stood and starred at the TV, not even trying to hide that I was looking at TV during the day. I didn’t know why it was happening, didn’t understand it, saw that the other door to the kitchen was open, but couldn’t ask, I wasn’t supposed to be looking at TV.
If I put my foot under the faucet in the bathtub, I knew how strong the water was…I shuddered at how it must have felt –water strong enough to make them fly, blown down the sidewalk. I was pretty sure they didn’t usually put news on in the middle of the day, who’d watch it, the adults were all at work, so I knew the “news” must have thought it was important. I couldn’t understand: who took the pictures –they could see what those men were doing, why didn’t they stop it? It took a long time to get over it…well, that’s not exactly true: it took months until I wasn’t so upset, but I actually never got over what I saw.
Did Dr. King have A Dream? I did not hear that speech, when he gave it; I believe very very few people knew anything about that speech –at the time. He was “dangerous” and dangerous people didn’t get put on the news giving speeches, only shown, not talking, not what was said. I saw film, much later, of that speech. I wondered, when I heard it, what people –all kinds, including the angry ones, the ones who held the hoses, would have thought, if they had heard that speech….
Did Dr. King have A Dream? Probably…he had lots of them… but mostly, I think, he was just tired…tired of asking …he wanted, I imagined, his children to be able to walk down any street, in any city just like anyone else, and not get hoses turned on them.
Did Dr. King have A Dream? Did he and his friends, not allowed to stay in a hotel in any city they marched, go through all that –dreaming that some day: some young people would be free –to join gangs, carry guns, drive around shooting people… unable to read, but “write” “music” putting down/trashing women –and each other –extolling violence –but not the things that matter or would inspire?
Happy B’day, Dr. King…may the celebration of your birth, one day, be about all young, old, any color, getting what you fought -marched -protested -died for….
*If you didn’t pay attention in class or weren’t around:
the man —J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI –for decades. After he was dead: it was revealed that he stayed in an appointed job, for decades, by blackmailing each new president. He used agents to illegally follow, wiretap, spy on all kinds of people, as much of a thug as those he was supposed to be arresting; he kept secret files on many Americans, and lied about it to Congress; he didn’t marry, had no girlfriend, never seen on a date; after he was dead a photo was published showing him dressed as a woman. It was rumored, loudly: he didn’t touch the Mafia, 1950s -60s, because supposedly he dressed up and went to private clubs, owned by the mob; they blackmailed him –threatened to expose him unless he left them alone. “Edna” Hoover died in 1972 –cities, states, FBI went after organized crime all through 197i0s, 1980s.
tag: Martin Luther King , MLK, Dr. King birthday