Alone in her grief

Sandra ClarkFeature

Written by Knoxville resident Bill Young who looks back on 11 eventful days 50 years ago: March 30 – April 9, 1968

March 30: the New York Times reported the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was going back to Memphis. The headline: “DR. KING TO MARCH IN MEMPHIS AGAIN; Aims to Show That Protest There Can Be Nonviolent.” However, the Times didn’t deem the story worthy of the front page. The story was published on page 31.

March 30: Newspapers in Wisconsin were reporting on Paul Newman stumping the state for Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Gene McCarthy. Folks were thrilled to see him. Wisconsin’s Democratic presidential primary would be held April 2. (When Paul Newman and other stars campaigned in the 1968 Wisconsin primary. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

March 30: Folks were reading the March 29 issue of Life magazine. The magazine reported Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s decision not to seek the Republican presidential nomination, LBJ enthusiastically stumping the Midwest and speculation that RFK’s candidacy would force McCarthy out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination before the June 4 California primary.

March 31: LBJ announced: “I shall not seek nor will I accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

April 2: McCarthy won big in the Wisconsin primary.

April 4: RFK announced to a rally in Indianapolis: “Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight.”

April 9: Dr. King’s funeral was in Atlanta.

Atlanta’s civic leaders were striving to make Atlanta an international city. To debunk the idea that Atlanta was mired in the ways of the segregated south they adopted the motto: “A City Too Busy To Hate.” The city honored Dr. King by lowering the flags at City Hall to half-staff and closing city offices and schools for the funeral.

Segregationist Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox refused to honor the President’s order to lower the American flag to half-staff at the Capitol. Georgia’s secretary of state did. Maddox also refused to close the Capitol for funeral: “We don’t ever close on Tuesday. Why shouldn’t they be on the job?” Maddox did order state troopers, in riot gear, to protect the Capitol. (Atlanta’s 4 mile goodbye to King.

I was in the 8th grade. Patty Hillsman Jr. High. Athens, Georgia. The Athens school system was segregated.

Therefore, Patty Hillsman Jr. High’s student body was white but there was one young black teacher. She was my history teacher.

All those years ago schools had a bunch of big black and white TVs, rolled into classrooms on what could be described as half of a gurney. Mostly TVs were rolled into classrooms to watch NASA’s Mercury and Gemini space missions.

April 9: the only classroom in Patty Hillsman Jr. High with a TV was my history teacher’s room. In history class that day, we watched Dr. King’s funeral.

Didn’t realize then how alone my history teacher must have felt in her grief.

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