I was 15 years old the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. My mother was making dinner in the kitchen and I was watching TV in the den. All of a sudden BREAKING NEWS shot across the television screen, and in those days “Breaking News” meant something. My mother walked in from the kitchen, wiping her hands with a dish towel. As I sat on the floor and she stood behind me, we heard the news that Dr. King had been killed.
Within a couple of minutes we heard the back door open, my father returning from work. I jumped up and ran towards my father. “Daddy! Daddy! Martin Luther King was shot and killed!”
I saw a look in my father’s face in that moment that I had never seen before. He looked into the distance and said through his teeth, “Those bastards.”
“What do you mean, Daddy?” I said with the innocence of someone who simply didn’t understand yet. “Do you know who killed him…?” Of course, my father didn’t know who killed him. But he knew what killed him. And on that day, I learned too.
Every year on April 4 I remember that moment. In most cases when someone you love has died, it gets easier to bear as the years go by. But with the anniversary of the murder of Bobby Kennedy as well as the death of Dr. King (RFK was killed two months after Dr. King’s assassination), every year somehow the loss feels even deeper. Why? Because everything we feared would happen when they died, has happened. Without them here to hold aloft our highest dreams, we have fallen into some terrible nightmares.
A few years ago, however, it occurred to me that had those men lived they would be quite old now. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 94 years old this year. That means that even if he had been blessed with a long life, it would be time for the rest of us to say, “You rest now, Martin. We’ll take it from here.”
And take it from here we must. The struggle for justice was served mightily by the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., yet in other ways we’ve slid backwards in the time since he’s been gone. On April 4 we should grieve his loss but honor his life, dedicating ourselves as he did to the cause of creating a more beautiful world. Everything he spoke of – from race to war to economic justice – represents as significant a struggle now as when he was alive.
“It’s time to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of human civilization,” Dr. King told us. And that’s exactly what he did. It’s time for each of us to do the same now, that the cause for which he died becomes the reason for which we live.