January 18, 2016

Reflections on Martin Luther King Day

I arrived in D.C. to begin classes at Georgetown University shortly after Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. A few weeks later, I stood watching Jackie Kennedy and her two small children as they waited on the Capitol steps for the horse-drawn wagon that bore her husband's body. A few  years after that,  on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, one day before I was scheduled to leave D.C. to be drafted into the Army. I remember sitting in my office on the Mall, sharing a farewell cake with co-workers and looking out the window at thick columns of black smoke rising up from downtown D.C. All day there had been stories of folks running into trouble at lunch. By the time I left work to walk up to Dupont Circle to ride it out with friends, every street and alley was dense-packed with panicked guvvies fleeing the city. The next three days were spent under martial law. I remember winos camped out in front of the now-closed liquor stores, going through the DT’s. Armored personnel carriers patrolled the P Street beach. When the curfew was lifted, I walked several miles to upper Georgetown. Wisconsin Avenue was still lined with National Guardsmen. I had other things on my mind, but I knew that something terrible had happened to America, something I hoped never to see again. In June of 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was shot by a Jordanian refugee upset about America’s support for Israel in Palestine. By then I was close to going to Vietnam. The child had grown, the dream was gone.

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