It was late afternoon on April 4, 1968, in San Francisco when I first heard of the assassination of Martin Luther King. I had just gotten off the plane from Los Angeles and was being met by an uncle, with whom I was going to stay overnight. I learned of King’s death while watching television in the lobby of the airport.
When I climbed into my uncle’s car, the first thing I said was, “Did you hear about King?”
“King who?” he asked. He had been listening to a music radio station, and hadn’t yet heard the news.
“Somebody assassinated Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tenn.,” I said.
He shook his head. “What’s next?” he asked. He changed the radio station, and we listened to the news on the way into Lafayette, where he lived.
That evening, we went to a restaurant, and I was wondering whether we would see black people demonstrating, on street corners or anywhere else.
Surprisingly, to me, anyway, there were none. There were no black people in the restaurant. There were no signs of any blacks, anywhere, in what turned out to be a white enclave of the Bay Area.
Today, that isn’t the case. Black people are part of everyday life throughout California, as are people of all races and cultures. That doesn’t mean discrimination has gone away, but with each generation it fades a little more.
That is Martin Luther King’s legacy — that people are judged more and more by the content of their characters than they are by the color of their skins, to paraphrase his words.
In his last speech, given April 3, 1968, he said:
“I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
Well, we may not be in the promised land yet, but we are grateful to the memory of Brother Martin for leading us this far. Observing his birth today is one way of expressing that gratitude.