What Dr. King's Death Meant to a Six-Year-Old

The Root's senior editor Teresa Wiltz reflects on childhood memories of King's assassination and the legacy he left behind.

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Editor's note: Even two years after it was first published, this remembrance is worth sharing. After you read it we hope you'll share your own memories with us in the comment area.

The principal's voice crackles through the intercom at Powell Elementary School, a surprising intrusion on a sunny April morning: We're closing the school. Run, don't walk. Go home. Now.

I run-walk through the streets of Northwest Washington, my head to the sky, looking up at the yellow-green leaves forming patterns of lace in the trees above me. I hurry along, because that is what they told us to do, but I don't really understand the urgency, can't grasp the importance of what is going on: Martin Luther King Jr.? Shot? Dead?

Never heard of him.

April 5, 1968. The day after. I am 6.

At home, life is put on mute. The phone rings, and my mother jumps. My dad hasn't made it back yet from his medical school assignments at D.C. General Hospital. Worry rides her. I hear her talking to her friends, about how female teachers at her school were warned to stash their cash in their girdles before heading home. Just in case. Because you never know.


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