BOSTON (CBS) — Fifty years ago Wednesday night, I was a 12-year-old boy listening to the ballgame on the radio when I heard the news that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been murdered. I went downstairs to the kitchen where my father was playing poker with his friends and told them the news. And that was the very first time I saw grown men cry.
I’m sure there are millions of people who have similar stories, and Wednesday will be filled with video remembrances of that terrible day. But it wasn’t just a one-day horror. As the news of King’s assassination spread, rioting broke out in a number of American cities. A black classmate of mine from Roxbury had to stay late at school because they were worried he might not be able to go home safely.
Boston was largely spared from the violence because a James Brown concert set for the next night was televised and turned into a successful appeal for peace.
Why does the murder of Dr. King stand out as the worst public event of my lifetime? Because while horrific events like the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy and the slaughter of 9/11 had the effect of bringing Americans together, at least temporarily, the slaying of Dr. King tore apart the fragile, tentative progress that had been made during the 1960s in race relations.
In the movie “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” about the interracial house band that created the Motown sound, a white musician who was one of the so-called funk brothers recalls how the King assassination changed everything for the worse, and the good feeling of racial harmony they had never recovered.
Fifty years ago Wednesday night, more than a great man was killed. Hope died, too.
Share your memories of that awful time with me via email at email@example.com, or use twitter, @kelleratlarge.