April 3rd, 2008
06:45 PM ET

iReporter on MLK assassination: "It took the air out of the neighborhood"

Editor’s noteCNN viewer Michael Johnson sent us an i-Report (send yours here) on his account the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Below he describes in detail how he found out: "To go outside and see people crying. It's something about it that I'll never forget." We share his experience here:

I was 11 years old, turning 12 in August, 1968. I was sitting in a soda shop in Baltimore having a cheeseburger and a cherry Coke. The lady serving me was named Miss Mary. She was a beautiful older black woman who everyone in the community loved and respected.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As I was sitting down waiting for my cheeseburger, a gentleman ran into the Reads Drugstore and said, "They done killed the King. The King is dead."

In the beginning, I did not get what he was meaning, and I saw Miss Mary starting to cry… not just tears, but the crying that only an older lady could do... the type that a grandchild of a slave gave, it almost had a musical sound to it, and for the next 40 years I can hear it as clear and as sad as it was then.

I went out into the street and I saw men and woman, grown people, stopping what was going on in there lives and crying. I had seen King five years earlier, maybe six, as he stopped in Baltimore to campaign for Kennedy.  But this was a death that took the sound out of the air. You could not hear cars or the sounds of the city… 
It was as if the air stopped. And then the wailing began... 
In a few days, not long, it burned, the city burned.  
Frustration had already made Baltimore a powder keg.  Poverty, unemployment, homelessness, discrimination... Maryland was not a friendly place for African Americans.  And then Dr. King was killed.  What happened next: civil disobedience... and random looting, burning, disorder...

I saw the National Guard come into our community, with fixed bayonets. I saw people place signs on their stores saying SOUL BROTHERS. 
I remember two police officers came on the basketball court and kicked the ball into the woods and told us, "Go Pray for your damn KING." I will never forget his eyes and the spit that came out of his mouth when he said it.

My father, who could have passed for white, put a "Soul Brother" sign on the windshield of his Cadillac so he and his car wouldn't be attacked as he drove to work…  My mother, who was a nurse, had permission to work past the curfew.
As the curfew came, the calm came. But what those four days did was change my life. It put me on a pathway of finding solutions in my community.  It was something I had to do.

Today I am strong, and today I do things to make my world better.

– Michael Johnson, iReporter

Comments to the 360° blog are moderated. What does that mean?

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Jerilynn Mabry

    My son, Marcus Mabry, was suppose to share his views on the very
    important legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., tonight on your show.
    I had relatives waiting, and excited from coast to coast. Your cancellation was very disappointing to ALL of his family!!!
    You owe us one. I am a regular viewer!
    Respectfully your,
    Ms. Jerilynn Mabry

    April 4, 2008 at 8:31 pm |
  2. reggina

    There is still lot of venom against people of color in south. Its basically passed on from generation to generation. Things have improved somewhat but a lot need to be done.

    I used to work in a company in south. All the indians ,chinese and one african american were workers bees (despite the fact that we all had masters degrees in computers ), our boss was a white high school drop out (who used to be a car mechanic 2 years back). He was less educated then all the worker bees, less experienced and had a nasty attitude. Still he was the boss and got promotions after promotions.

    When I took him on and started raising concerns about his lies and incompetence; entire company went negative on me. While in south I got another masters Degree..a degree in white segregation and social injustice. I left United States of South!!

    April 4, 2008 at 11:43 am |
  3. Cecile

    I agree, takes my breath away and brings tears to my eyes, born in 1965 and remember some things, not all. I hear the cries too and saw my Grandparents suffer, and heard tales being told. But hopefully things will continue to get better for all.

    April 4, 2008 at 10:22 am |
  4. thasan/ohio

    u ought to be ashamed of yourself to suggest the media is using the anniv. of Matrin Luther King to Obama's advantantage...is that your own biasness that I am smelling?

    April 4, 2008 at 9:54 am |
  5. Robert Jenkins

    I remembr Dr. King , and where I was when the news came out.
    It was a terrible day. I applaud you for having the courage to bring the subject matter up. In America we want to sweep the ugly under some rug or hide the truth , in some national file for 40yrs. MLK was for all people, lets just pray that history doesn't repeat itself!

    April 4, 2008 at 6:58 am |
  6. lois

    Michael, thank you for the trip down memory lane. A lane that has changed my life as well. A lane that, I believe was both beneficial and a indersence to the plight of African Americans and all Americans alike. From a personal point of view, it was a turning point in my life.

    My remembrance of Dr. King's assination, although somewhat different from yours, Michael, caused me to question my existense and everything I belived. I grew up in the suburbs of Newark New Jersey, where I lived a very comfortable life. To some; a fairy tale life, to many an unbelievable life, especially for African Americans.

    When Dr. King was assinated it made me think of, and question, my exsistance of being african american in America. What stands out in my mind so vividly, at that time, was the National Guard troops, rolling down "Park Ave", an influential black and white community. I recall waking up to the cries and conversations from my older sister, who was out on a teenage outing to the beach that night . Her cries of outrage from fear; fear of how the National Guard stopped their bus, with guns drawn, and harraesed them, just because they were African American. Needless to say it was unnerving, and unconceivable to me. This image has never left me, and shaped me into the person I am today. This event in the history of America was the beginning of change for not only me, but every American. It was a time of econimcal depression, inequity and disgrace to black people of America. On a positive note, it has brought about black pride, black awarness, and change in Black communities.

    I could go on about how our world (America) has changed in the years after this unrest, but that's a topic to huge to comment about.

    Long live the KING!!

    April 3, 2008 at 10:45 pm |
  7. Annie Kate


    Thank you for sharing your story – with the sadness, despair, and frustration of not only that day but that year. We had too many days like this in the 1960s; for a decade whose leaders sought peace and not strife. I'm glad that in your life the events helped you find the inner strength and the commitment to help make things better.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 3, 2008 at 9:46 pm |
  8. LJD

    It stil takes your breath away.

    April 3, 2008 at 9:43 pm |
  9. Wa'ab Micronesia

    the king is a global icon!!! long live the king!!

    April 3, 2008 at 9:23 pm |
  10. Mark

    Why is this the frist year Cnn news just had to make a story this, forty year old day?? I think is wired that out of the blue we bring this up?? Kind of Morebic idea!! Let this great American rest in pease! We all know this report is comming to light because of the Obama dude. We dont care black or white, we someone who can run the White House. Just because she a women , dont have to be so hateful.

    April 3, 2008 at 8:11 pm |
  11. Saera El Paso, TX

    it's so incredible to hear about this. i wasn't even a thought when this happened. my mother was around 14 at the time, and she never talks about it. she looks away... choked up and... distant.

    April 3, 2008 at 7:06 pm |
  12. Cindy

    Thanks for the great story in this IReport. As this happened way before my time it helps to really understand these events when people like yourself tell about them with such great detail and with such feeling. This was definitely one of the worst times in our history. I am glad that this helped you to become a person willing to get out and better your community and this nation.

    Cynthia, Covington, Ga.

    April 3, 2008 at 6:58 pm |

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.