A Chicago history lesson

Tomorrow is a holiday here in the US, Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. Some people try to dismiss the significance of this holiday as if it is a token gesture to appease African-Americans but as I hear about some of the celebrations planned I think it is as valid a Lincoln’s birthday, Memorial Day etc. th (3) th (2)

It has special significance for me- MLK was assassinated on  my 10th birthday so I remember it well. It was a weekday and my grandparents had driven out from their apartment in Chicago to the suburbs to have dinner and cake for my birthday. They were already there when I got home from school so we were just waiting for my dad to get home from work.

There was some whispering between my grandparents and my mom and some news checking but as a 10 year old girl with a spring birthday all I could focus on was cake and presents. About 4 or 5pm, my grandpa made the decision that they couldn’t wait for my dad and  needed to leave to get back back home…. sooner rather than later.

I was a voracious newspaper reader at that time-mostly checking on the cubs but I couldn’t help but start to piece together why my grandparents left so quickly. Massive riots took place in Chicago and many other urban cities in the US in the days following MLKs assassination.

It was just the beginning of a summer that would really change the country…. and me. Robert Kennedy was killed the day before my brothers birthday in June and I spent hot summer nights watching the Democratic convention with my mom. She was opposed to the war in Viet Nam and explained to me who the players were…politicians, police, protesters. She also made it clear that everything that was happening on TV was going on for real just 20 miles away-not across the country or the other side of the world-this was serious and Chicago would be judged by these events.

This was such a long time ago I wonder what younger people know about these events. I suppose most people are just happy to have the day off from work or school.

Watching this again after all these years makes me wonder if maybe this is exactly what our country needs now??? A real confrontation over beliefs and the direction of the country.

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