In a room on the second floor of the Lorraine Motel, in Memphis, Martin Luther King is dressing to go out to supper at the home of a local minister, the Rev. Samuel B. Kyles, who is with him now, along with Ralph Abernathy, King's deputy in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. There is to be a mass meeting after supper. A chauffeured Cadillac limousine, sent by a city funeral director to take King and his companions to Kyle's home, is in the parking courtyard downstairs; also waiting down there are Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, and a musician named Ben Branch.
King is fretful. He rummages in his suitcase and among his shirts in a dresser drawer. "Somebody on the staff," he bursts out, "took my tie."
"Martin," Abernathy says, "why don't you look down at that chair?"
"Oh," King says, picking up a black-and-gold-striped tie, "I thought somebody took it on me."
King is deeply depressed. He has come to Memphis twice in support of a strike by black sewer and garbage workers. (The verb "to waste" has begun to have a new thrust in the streets of American cities: it means "to kill.") Young black militants, taking up a line just uttered in New York by Adam Clayton Powell, "The day of Martin Luther King has come to an end," shattered some store windows during a march King was leading last week; Memphis police responded with clubs, Mace, and, finally, guns; a 16-year-old boy was killed, 60 were wounded. The National Guard was brought in. Non-violence! King, shocked to the bone at the loss of control in his presence, has talked of withdrawing from active life for a period of retreat and meditation, as Gandhi sometimes did.
King has been in and out of Memphis; while shaping dreams for a massive Poor People's Campaign, he and his followers have proceeded, despite his heavy doubts, with plans for another protest in Memphis and have been trying to persuade young hothands to stay away. The city has obtained a federal court injunction, barring King and all "outsiders" from demonstrating. He has decided to go ahead anyway. There have been repeated threats against his life, and at a church meeting last night he said:
"And then I got into Memphis, and some began to talk about the threats that were out, or what would happen to me from some of our sick brothers. Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been the mountaintop. I won't mind.
"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land.
"So I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. 'Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.'"
He forces himself in the roo now to be cheerful. He teases Kyles. "I think your wife is too young to cook soul food for us. She's only 31, isn't she? How can she cook soul food at that age?"
"Don't you worry," Kyles says.
"This shirt is too tight," King says.
"You mean you're getting too fat," Abernathy says.
"It's too tight," King sharply says.
King is ready. Abernathy says he wants to put on some after-shave lotion. King says he'll wait on the balcony.
Out there he called down to Branch, "Ben, make sure you play 'Precious Lord, take my hand' at the meeting."
Ralph Abernathy has shaving lotion in the cup of his hand. He hears a message from a barrel of a gun....
Rage. The first response was black rage. In 168 cities black citizens ran in the streets, howled, looted, and burned. Larceny reached within six blocks of the home of the President of the United States, fire within ten. The total arrested in the capital (7,600) and the total of the armed forces called in to quell (13,600) topped the totals for any of the big city racial riots of late years. In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley, sewing seeds for a harvest in August, announced: "I said to [the Superintendent of Police] very emphatically and very definitely that an order be issued by him immediately and under his signature to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand . . . and to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting any stores in our city." Before the reaction subsided, 34 blacks and 5 whites were dead; property damage ran as high as $130 million -- but no such statistics could give a sense of the unprecedented, shattering throb of mourning, in the form of violence, that gripped black America. No voice was so effective in calming the rioters as that of Robert Kennedy, who said he knew how blacks felt because he too, had lost a brother; and he quoted Aeschylus: "Even in our sleep, pain which we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until in despair, against our will, comes wisdom. . . ."
Newton's Third Law went promptly to work on the white reaction to the black reaction. At the very moment when administration officials were among the 150,000 at King's funeral in Atlanta -- on his tomb, words from an old slave song, "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I'm free at last" -- The New York Times was writing about black "criminals" and Congress was cutting anti-poverty funds for northeastern states. The Kerner Report was set square on its shelf of oblivion. Ten days after the assassination, a former FBI agent, Da Smoot, reiterated charges, often attributed in whispers in the past to J. Edgar Hoover, that King "was closely associated with Communists and sex deviates. His program for America was so unadulterated Communist program."
The FBI said it was hunting for an escaped convict who at various times had called himself Harvey Lowmyer, John Willard, Eric Starvo Galt, and James Earl Ray; he had left fingerprints in the rooming house across from the Lorraine from which the fatal shot had come. Rumors of a conspiracy sprang up, which have not yet died in '78: How had this jobless drifter been able to pay $2,000 cash for a white '66 Mustang, and buy a Remington 30.06 with a telescopic sight, and a pair of binoculars, and follow his quarry around the country for several months, with no apparent means of support?
That resonant preacher's voice -- "I have a dream ," with a throaty rise and then a quick dying fall on the word "dream" -- had been stilled. For militant blacks the silence stretched out into a baffling curve of depletion. "When white America killed Dr. King last night she declared war on us," Stokely Carmichael siad in a press conference the day after the assassination. "It would have been better if she had killed Rap Brown and/or Stokely Carmichael. . . ." Cleaver, Newton, Seale -- the Panthers and the others knew how to storm and rattle small arms. But somehow, very slowly, very slowly, it became evident that "the black revolution," as it had been devised by the militants up until then, had in this moment of loss turned downward toward a deep pool of stillness and inertia. The remedies for black poverty and pain were not yet -- are not yet, a decade later -- anywhere in sight.
over a terrain pocked dead as the moon's by 103,000 tons of bombs, a column slogs in to relieve the besieged Marines at Khe Sanh. . . . More shares than e ver in history are traded on the New York Stock Exchange. . . .Everyone is getting confused: Argentinian Roberto de Vincenzo has a score that could win the Masters, at Augusta, but he signs an incorrect score card -- out! . . .Johnson signs another faulty totting up -- the long-filibustered Civil Rights Act. . . .Two Soviet satellites dock automatically -- are they ahead? . . . Julie Nixon wrties in her diary at Smith: "I saw David for a few minutes. . . . Then I foolishly decided to go to the government department's mock Republican Convention. It was hell on earth for me. My friend Marsha Cohen was asked to give RN's speech, because there were no volunteers. As she spoke the word 'selflessly," it came out 'selfishly worked for his party.' The audience loved it. And then another laugh when she praised Daddy. I just couldn't bear it. I was sitting in the back of the room and walked out. ". . .