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January 19th, 2009
09:19 AM ET

Barack Obama's Essay for Martin Luther King Day

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President-elect Barack Obama
For The Washington Times

On the day of the first inauguration to take place in this city, a small band of citizens gathered to watch Thomas Jefferson assume office. Our young and fragile democracy had barely finished a long and contentious election that tested our founding ideals, and there were those who feared our union might not endure.

It was a perilous moment. But Jefferson announced that while we may differ in opinion, we all share the same principles. "Let us, then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind," he said, urging those assembled to begin anew the work of building a nation.

In the more than two centuries since, inaugurations have taken place during times of war and peace, depression and prosperity. Beneath the unfinished dome of the Capitol, a young lawyer from Illinois swore an oath to defend the Constitution a divided nation threatened to tear apart. In an era of unprecedented crisis, an optimistic New Yorker refused to allow us to succumb to fear. In a time of great change, a young man from Massachusetts convinced us to think anew with regard to serving our fellow man.

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April 4th, 2008
05:41 PM ET

Dr. King's driver remembers the reverend's life, and death...

Editor’s note: Tom Houck was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal driver. He shares his thoughts with the 360blog about working with the King family, Driving Dr. King, and hearing the news of his death…

WATCH

Tom Houck, personal driver for Dr. Martin Luther King, shares his thoughts with the 360blog on the 40th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination; Recounting driving Dr. King around town, and how she found out about his death. Watch an in-depth interview with Tom.

I became a fixture in the King household. I was usually there six days a week, starting with ferrying the kids to school. At midday, I might go over to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC, but I was always on call for Martin and Coretta whenever they needed me. I had a place at the table, for dinner with the family. I think I was the only chauffeur in the country afforded the luxury of lunch and dinner with their employer.

Dr. King’s hours with the family were at a premium. Every body wanted a piece of his time. He traveled constantly and was always in demand to make appearances across the country.

Our airport runs became more frequent. Whenever we drove back into town, there were three things Dr King always wanted. One was a pork chop sandwich from BB Beamon’s or Henry’s Grill on Auburn – neither of which are still around. He’d also crave a rib sandwich from Aleck’s BBQ Heaven on Hunter Street, which is now MLK Drive. Dr. King was a night person, often up until three or four in the morning, so he’d eat late whenever he could.

Third, he’d buy a pack of cigarettes. Like most smokers, Dr. King was forever trying to quit. Coretta thought Martin had stopped lighting up, until the day she found a pack of his favorite Salems in his coat pocket. He blamed the cigarettes on me. Naturally I agreed, even though Coretta knew I didn’t smoke at the time. From then on, he’d give me his cigarettes before we drove up to the house; but the next morning, he would always ask for them back...

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April 4th, 2008
05:02 PM ET

Restore the dream

Dr. King

Forty years ago today Martin Luther King was shot and killed.  I was just a baby, but everything about that day informed my childhood.  I was one of those four little children Dr. King dreamed would one day live in a nation in which we would not be judged by the color of our skin.  And that’s why his death tore a hole in our hearts. 

Martin had a voice so full of hope, so powerful that it could shatter the chains of oppression.  And thanks to him, we’ve come a long way.  A black woman is the face of America overseas, her predecessor, also black, has often been talked about for the Presidency.  And while he’s declined, another man is a viable candidate for that highest office in the land.  And all that’s good, but it’s not all good. 

The schools are still segregated, our cities are in decay, and one in nine young black men is in prison.  The dreams of true equality died with Dr. King on that day, so on this anniversary, let’s pick up the mantle and restore his dream. 

– Jami Floyd, “In Session” Anchor/360° Contributor

Read more Jami Floyd blogs on “In Session”
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April 4th, 2008
04:06 PM ET

Floyd Flake: Meeting Dr. King

Dr. King

I met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1964 when I was a student/driver for Wilberforce University in Ohio. I was assigned to pick him up at the Cincinnati Airport and transport him to the campus where he was the graduation speaker. He was a man of great stature, and used the time riding to impress upon me the need to get engaged in the civil rights movement. That was my last personal encounter with him. After his visit, I took several trips to North and South Carolina on the Freedom Buses to integrate the lunch counters. 

The day he died in 1968, I was working in the school cafeteria; and when the news came over the radio there seemed to have been a "darkness" everywhere. Students were crying and screaming in utter disbelief that a man who had done so much for his people had been killed. The most difficult challenge was realizing that he had focused on non-violence as the means to changing America and the world; yet his life was taken by the violent act of a gunman.

The last speech that he gave seemed to have indicated his sense that he would not be alive much longer. He talked about seeing the "Promised Land." The most compelling statement for me was, "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."

In this year, when an African-American or a female will head the Democratic ticket, many African-Americans are heading global corporations, and voter rights, housing laws, and educational opportunities are available to all, we are in the Promised Land. But, there is much needed to be done. And though Dr. King is not physically with us, his spirit continues to push us toward living the better life in this Promised Land.

– the Rev. Dr. Floyd H. Flake

Editor's note: Flake is the senior pastor of the 10,000 member Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica, Queens. Before assuming the pastorate of Allen Church, Reverend Flake was the Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center and Dean of the Chapel at Boston University. He is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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April 4th, 2008
01:23 PM ET

Tony Perkins: Martin Luther King on the place of faith

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Forty years ago, an assassin gunned down a spirited visionary whose days were spent crusading against the very violence and bigotry that ultimately took his life.

Taken in the prime of his years and the height of his influence, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King would never live to see his dream of racial harmony realized. 

In the four decades since Rev. King’s death, the gulf between black and white remains the most intense divide in America—largely because we have sought unity through networking, public policy, or lobbying techniques... 

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April 4th, 2008
11:50 AM ET

Remembering my brother, Martin...

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Christine King Farris, sister of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., shares her thoughts with the 360blog on the 40th anniversary of her brothers assassination; Recounting where she was, and how she found out about her brother's death.

40 years ago in the evening around 6, I was at my home in Atlanta and I was in my den with my children who were younger, actually, I was sewing, I was making my daughter’s Easter dress and watching the evening news with Chet Huntley.  It was the Huntley –Brinkley report. Suddenly, there came an announcement, saying that we interrupt this news cast and Chet Huntly said that we just received word that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot in Memphis.  My bother was there to work with the garbage workers who were on strike protesting low wages.

Shortly after the announcement, Chet Huntley came back and said we confirm this report that Dr. King has been shot in Memphis and that it is critical.  When I heard the word critical, I knew that it was serious and immediately I went to the phone to call my sister-in-law, Coretta.  The line was busy, I called my parents, the line was busy and I repeated that several times, and I could get no one.

My husband came in and he had heard the news, “we will have to go to Coretta,” he said.   I said give me a few minutes to change clothes, he said we don’t have time, we have to go and I got the baby sitter for my children and we proceeded to Coretta’s home.  When I arrived at the home, Coretta was coming down the stairs with then Mayor Ivan Allen.  She said “I am on the way to airport, I got word that I should come to Memphis” and she asked that my husband and I go with her. Mayor Allen got into the car, too.  My husband said “you will have to go to Memphis,” and I said “I was not dressed,” and my husband said “you have to go with Coretta.”  I was careful of my appearance; I just had on a house dress.

When we arrived at the airport, my brother’s secretary, Dora McDonald met us and someone had already purchased airline tickets.  I immediately went to the telephone, trying to speak to my parents.  The line was still busy.  So Dora summoned Coretta and took her down the hall to the ladies room. I followed and as soon as we got into the ladies room, someone came and knocked on the door and entered. It was Mayor Allen.  It was then that he informed my sister-in-law that Dr. King had died in Memphis.  What a striking blow. After a few moments, Coretta said, I had to go back home to my children, so we didn’t go to Memphis that evening.  And they carried us back to the house.  When we got there, the children came to the door,  the first was Yolanda, and Coretta was trying to explain things to them and everyone was moving to where the TV was because Lyndon Johnson was about to make an announcement.  And I recall him saying that this is a ‘sad time for all people, we have learned that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been killed in Memphis.’ And the rest is history. 

– Dr. Christine King Farris

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April 3rd, 2008
07:04 PM ET

As America remembers my father...

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Martin Luther King III, son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., shares his thoughts with the 360blog on the 40th anniversary of his father's assassination, and where we go from here.

As America remembers my father this week, I find myself reflecting on his great dream and the amazing strides we have made as a nation towards accomplishing the dream.  We have had two African-Americans serve as Secretary of State and in this exciting election either a woman or an African-American will be the Democratic candidate for President of the United States of America.  I am proud of the instrumental role my father had in bringing about systemic change and I draw strength from knowing so many people are working to continue this change and accomplish his dream.

My reflection on my father also leads me to his immense passion to overcome economic injustice.  A passion that is evident in his final sermon, given at the National Cathedral on March 31st, 1968, in which he declared, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.”  Sadly, forty years have passed and absolutely no strides have been made to combat poverty.

Therefore, as I look back on my father’s great work and incredible life, I am also looking forward to continuing that work and honoring his life.  I am looking forward to Americans rolling up their sleeves, joining together and working to bring about a systemic change that will forever rid the world of economic injustice, as my father asked us all to do forty years later. 

For this reason, I recently urged our Presidential candidates to publicly vow to appoint a cabinet level poverty officer, an officer with the sole goal of ending the economic injustice that oppresses so many Americans.  With over 36 million people living in poverty, 12 million of them children, something needs to be done and it needs to be done now.  The President has a nation to run and a world to work with, but a cabinet officer can have the sole dedication to ending poverty. 

It is a privilege to share with all of you today.  Please keep the discussion going, roll up your sleeves and help us to realize my father’s dream.

– Martin Luther King III

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April 3rd, 2008
06:57 PM ET

At the police radio in Memphis when the call came in...

Editor’s note: B. Venson Hughes worked at the Memphis Police Department. He was working the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. 40 years later, he shares his experience here:

On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, I look back and still remember that evening very vividly. I was the Police communications officer on duty when the words came over the radio saying, "Tact 10, we have information that Dr. King has been shot". Our response was immediate. We started to seal off the area around the Lorraine Hotel so no one could enter or leave. In just a few minutes, officers advised they had found the weapon on S. Main Street, just a block away from the shooting scene. The security perimeter was expanded to include those Main Street buildings. I am convinced our officers missed Ray coming out of the rooming house by seconds.

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Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968.

Those first moments set off the largest manhunt ever conducted in the U.S. It involved thousands of law enforcement personnel in this country and four or five other countries. Since retiring, I have been collecting all of the original investigative documents I could find in order to preserve the historic value of the investigation. As I collected information, I had occasion to see the many "mis-truths" others had written about the assassination to sell their books. I also found many unanswered questions among the investigative documents. Having an unanswered question does not, necessarily, imply anything nefarious. It simply means issues exists that have not been fully resolved. We may never know the complete truth surrounding the events of April 4, 1968 but we should not stop looking.

– B. Venson Hughes, Memphis Police Department (retired)

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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... 
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April 3rd, 2008
06:10 PM ET

The day MLK was killed, and my dad's shotgun

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. 

white Mustang
James Earl Ray paid $2,000 cash for a white Mustang, similar to this one, the seller told the FBI.

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.... 

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