Editor's note: Randy Jones is now a commercial real estate agent living in Southaven, Mississippi, and father of 360 producer Kay Jones. In 1968, he was a senior at Whitehaven High School in Memphis.
This was my senior year in high school and we were all looking forward to graduation. I had gone with a friend to watch him play a few holes of golf at a local golf course. We were unaware of the shooting at the time.
When I got home, a Shelby County Sheriff's car pulled into our driveway behind me. Here's why: I was a white male with brownish hair wearing black-rimmed glasses driving a light-colored Ford Mustang. That was the description law enforcement officers were given of the suspect in the shooting.
As I got out of the car, the officers told me to open the trunk. This was my dad's car. My dad, also a Sheriff's deputy, kept a sawed-off shotgun in the trunk. I was not aware that it was in there. Imagine my surprise when I opened the trunk....
The deputies then started to question me about the shotgun. About that time my mother came out of the carport door and asked what was going on. The deputies recognized her and told her that they were looking for whoever shot Martin Luther King Jr. She assured them that it was not her son. They agreed and left.
Mom then told me what had happened and said Dad wanted all of the kids in the house because of it was going to be unsafe to be on the streets. My younger brother was at a friend's house, so Mom sent me to get him. I did and we stayed in the house watching the television for the rest of the evening.
For the first time in my life, there were curfews imposed by someone other than my parents and violating them meant serious consequences. Schools were cancelled for the next day, which was Friday April 5th.
Rumors were rampant. One that sticks out in my mind was that there was a large group of blacks marching down Highway 51 toward Whitehaven, where we lived, to start fires and beat whites. That rumor, fortunately, was just that. A rumor.
One thing that was for real was the National Guard tanks and armored personnel carriers patrolling the streets of Memphis. I can remember as if it were yesterday: troops and National Guard vehicles stationed at the intersection of Park and Airways. We were used to seeing these sights on the evening news but they were located in South Vietnam, not Memphis.
As an 18-year-old high school senior, I was beginning to think that the world was soon going to come to an end. As teenagers of the sixties, we experienced events that no generation before had ever seen and hopefully no generation to come will ever have to experience:
As a 13-year-old, I struggled to understand why a church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed, killing four little girls. I watched as Walter Cronkite emotionally announced that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, and listened to news reports that Medgar Evers, a civil rights leader in Mississippi, had been shot and killed.
As a 14-year-old, I watched as the evening news announced that three civil rights workers' bodies had been found buried in an earthen dam near Philadelphia, MS.
At 15, I didn't know about the man they called Malcolm X until he was shot to death.
As a 16-year-old, I watched the broadcast of the sniper shooting of James Meredith near Hernando, Mississippi, during his solitary "March Against Fear" from Memphis to Jackson. Just a few miles of where I lived n Whitehaven. Meredith had already made civil rights history by winning a federal court ruling that he had been barred from University of Mississippi soley because of his race. Then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy sent troops to protect him from lynching threats, and Meredith later graduated and wrote a book about his experiences, "Three Years In Mississippi."
Fortunately, Meredith survived the shooting.
When I was 18, two more were added to decade's assassination list. First, Martin Luther King Jr. and then Robert F. Kennedy.
I had thought when I became a teenager that these would be fun years. What was I thinking?
As these events took their place in history, I didn't realize the impact they had on my life until later as an adult.
They made me realize that I had racism in me. I grew up in a city where there were 4 restrooms and 2 water fountains in most stores. In those days, there was no such thing as the American Disabilities Act so you can figure out that the number of restrooms and water fountains was due to racial separation.
I also remember when I rode a city bus, there was a sign in the middle of the bus that stated Colored, the term used back then, must sit in the back of the bus.
I didn't attend a school that had black students enrolled until I was a freshman at Whitehaven. Memphis and Shelby County had two athletic divisions each. One for white schools and one for black schools.
All of these things, and even more that I haven't mentioned, were contributing factors in causing not only me but a lot of others to believe that, 1. Blacks were not equal to whites and 2. Blacks were not deserving of what whites had.
It's a shame that it took riots, shootings, murders and marches to wake me up.
I hope that this is not taken in the wrong way. Thanks.
– Randy Jones
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Filed under: Martin Luther King Jr. Assassination
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