Over the course of a weekend, some friends started talking to me about their experiences during the Civil Rights Movement. One friend in particular had an interesting view to share with me. Most people think that after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, black and white Americans lived in harmony in the majority of the country. However, while on normal days they could live together in perfect harmony; this was not the case on that devastating day.
My friend attended a state university, where many of their friends were of different races or ethnicities. One of their best friends happened to be black. As soon as the news of the assassination rang through the halls of the state university's campus, African American students began to march in tribute to his life and the work he did to improve upon the lives of African Americans. Now, my friend is as racially accepting as they come, and was proud to support the SNCC (they even have a button) as well as support their friends who were fighting to obtain equal rights for themselves and their families. Naturally, my friend and some other white folks wanted to show their solidarity and wanted to march alongside their black friends on April 4, 1986, the day Martin Luther King Jr. passed away.
However, when my friend arrived in the middle of campus and walked over to his/her best friend and attempted to march right beside her, the friend told her to go away, that they did not want whites to march with them. Immediately, my friend was hurt and confused. Was it their finger that pulled the trigger? Did they tell James Earl Ray to kill him? No! So, why could they not march in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life? It was not as if the entire Caucasian race killed the civil rights leader, it was one man who pulled that trigger. My friend was angry with James Earl Ray just as much as the African Americans.
Angry with their black friends, my friend and other white students at this state university argued with the African American students until finally they understood that these white folks on campus, they were on the same side. They had fought with you, and they hated James Earl Ray too (of course they did not know it was him yet). Finally their friends allowed them to march alongside them, but it did not completely alleviate the confusion and pain that African Americans caused when they denied my friend, among others, the opportunity to march together earlier that day. After all, Martin Luther King Jr.'s entire life was about interactions with different races, would he want this separation on his death day?
I thought this was very different than what most people hear. Usually it’s all about how people march together every year in Memphis in King’s honor. But this shows just how much hurting there was that day. And it was not all anger on the part of African Americans, which is contrary to most beliefs.
What are your thoughts on this side of the story? How would you feel in the same situation? What would you have done if you were my friend? What would you have done if you were thier black friend?