I was eleven years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. I was becoming aware of the world at age eleven. There was no such thing as “news” outlets or information choices. There was only the news — NBC, CBS and ABC. We were an NBC family, though CBS reigned with the avuncular presence of Walter Cronkite.
When Dr. King was assassinated, standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, I was very much aware of his national presence. He was in the news constantly and I was electrified by his speeches. I had a distinct feeling when I heard the news of his assassination that the world had changed. Dramatically. Poignantly. Forever changed.
The two nearest cities of my hometown were Louisville, Kentucky and Indianapolis, Indiana. Robert Kennedy was in Indianapolis the day Dr. King died, and it fell upon his shoulders to announce, primarily to an African American audience, that Dr. King had been killed. If you watch a news clip of that day, you can hear the anguished grief in his voice. To the south in Louisville, a terribly segregated city and the hometown of famed boxer Cassius Clay / Mohammed Ali, the feeling was one of visceral rage.
In some small way, but in a way that was profoundly real to me, I knew that Dr. King’s struggle for America was a good struggle, the right struggle, and a struggle completely consistent with the message of Jesus. To this day I still believe in the fundamental human rights of all people — dignity, respect, compassion, opportunity, equality and justice. Like Dr. King, I anchor these values in the life and teachings of Jesus. But for me these values were also articulated by Dr. King’s message, and it’s why to this day I count him as one of the most important figures of my life.
Dr. King was killed 50 years ago today. In one way of looking at it we have made amazing progress as a society. But the work is not finished. Take a Breath with me today. On this 50th anniversary of his death I dedicate myself again to Dr. King’s high purposes. Will you join me?