From The Vault Of Art Shay Classic: Remembering Dr. King
By Art Shay in News on Jan 20, 2014 4:25PM
Anti-black sympathizers from Chicago and elsewhere turned out about 3,000 strong to help Trumbull Park residents keep a brave young black couple from renting an apartment. A thousand police responded and an all-night watch of a dozen officers formed a Rembrandt-like nightwatch for the harassed couple. The garbage cans had holes punched in them and coal burned for warmth. For some arcane reason the cops, to this day, call their fiery street cans "salamanders."
Living together didn't seem inevitable in 1963 but the thought became part of the anti-racist demonstrations. See how Wacker Drive has changed that span. It is racially Trumped high on the left; glorious hotels and restaurants and Leo Burnett high on the right. Things were changing as we watched.
Dr. King's death, I believe, began in Chicago in the hot summer of 1966. King had antagonized Mayor Richard J. Daley by moving to Chicago and made a list of demands for black people and tacking them to the door of City Hall. It was an action rooted in the ecclesiastical actions of King's namesake and infuriated Daley as much as Luther had angered the Diet of Wurms in 1521.
In 1966, King amplified his demands of City Hall in Chicago: more black police and firemen; open housing; desegregated schools; etc. A city, as he so often dreamed, "in which children could thrive not judged by the color of their skins but by the contents of their character." Two years later, King was gunned down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
The irony of murders, when reconsidered, is rarely as symbolic as the reason King had come to Memphis. He was trying to bring together the city and its garbagemen in a compromise. Memphis's garbage had, meanwhile, been piling up. When the fatal shot came and the shocked press converged on the Lorraine Motel, Jesse Jackson made up a little fib about how he was standing next to King and some of King's blood had spattered on his turtleneck- that he was still wearing.
Garry Wills described how we spent an eerie night in the mortuary, as the attendants labored to camouflage the bullet hole in King's head. I had to convince these solemn people to take down the scrim they'd put up so people might not touch King, or examine their work too closely. We had earlier gone out with the Memphis police, just behind their drawn guns as they rounded up the usual suspects.
Coretta Scott King, escorted by King's assistant Ralph Abernathy (to Mrs. King's left), walked the King children down Memphis's main street. Next to Abernathy was the legendary Rosa Parks whose refusal to sit in the back of a bus gave the Civil Rights movement movement the strength of spine it needed. A nice calm educated lady who'd had enough of second-class citizenship.
Ed. Note: Today federal, state and local governments officially recognize the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Art Shay originally wrote this post for Chicagoist, originally published Jan. 12, 2011. It still stands as one of my favorite of Art's posts for the site and seems fitting to re-run today. —CS
In order to properly mark the upcoming 82nd birthday of Martin Luther King—who was murdered at 39—and to commemorate my feelings about the national holiday celebrated in his name, I'd like to show and tell you about my involvement in a few of Dr. King's history-making years.
My war had ended with two atomic bangs and, before their echoes died, along came the whimpers of our discontent. Flipping the calendar pages, as in a bad historic movie, the racial cancer was finally diagnosed around Chicago in 1953. The Nazis in our midst began wearing White Power armbands, the milder racists across the afflicted Republic merely began to (further) exclude Blacks from everything good in our society: houses; jobs; professions; neighborhoods; schools; theaters; the fronts of busses; water fountains. The cancer's first stages were climaxed by the assassinations of JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Then things got worse.
Cameras at the ready, I found myself covering a home-grown war in which, to my horror, I saw the enemy as people like me and my neighbors, but people who thought the whiteness of their skin gave them a better birthright to America than the dark people had. This is a view, despite having a gifted black President, many people still share. They are gradually relocating the troubles we're in to having started on Day One of the Obama term: the terrorists; the plane-bombs; the economy. One politico tentatively moved 9-11 up a few years to coincide with his prejudices, so as to misremember when the Bush reigns came.
It became the job of photojournalists like me and gifted historians like Garry Wills (with whom I covered the murder of Dr. King in Memphis in April 1968) to report what was happening as we watched.
Published with permission
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