BARBARA BUSH: Leading 'awful garbage strikes.'
This was a very interesting time to be living in Washington. The Vietnam War was debated at all the dinner parties, and the whole country worried about racial and student unrest. Here is part of my diary entry from April 5, 1968, to show a little of what it was like then:
In truth I cannot begin to write the horrors of the day. Memphis, Tennessee, has been having the most awful garbage strikes led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Negro Nobel Peace Prize winner…Standing on a balcony last night Dr. King was gunned down by an unknown man. The reaction to this killing may turn out to be very bloody. A newsman at 11:30 called from the Houston Post. I asked about Houston and he said, "Small stone throwing and small groups wandering around the city." I am frightened.
Took children to school. Worked in tiny garden getting the flower beds ready for plants. I took Neil to his knee doctor only to discover that the entire city was rioting about 5 blocks away.
—-from A Memoir, by Barbara Bush (Scribner's 1994)
HILLARY CLINTON: Grief and rage.
Mark Wilson / Getty Images
Dr.King's assassination on April 4, 1968, near the end of my junior year [at Wellesley College], filled me with grief and rage. Riots broke out in some cities. The next day I joined in a massive march of protest and mourning at Post Office Square in Boston. I returned to campus wearing a black armband and agonizing about the kind of future America faced.
—-from Living History, by Hillary Rodham Clinton (Simon & Schuster, 2003)
ROSEMARY CLOONEY: Scapegoating Germans.
…the assassination of Martin Luther King. I heard the news on Armed Forces Network at one of the bases. It was either just before or just after a performance, because I would have otherwise been somewhere else. I can vividly recall my feelings as I walked down the streets of Weisbaden on one of my daily shopping sprees. Certain that everyone was blaming me specifically, because I was an American, for Martin Luther King's death, I reacted to this fantasy by putting them down in my own mind. How dare they accuse me after they had murdered six million Jews during World War II without feeling one bit sorry for what they had done? Can you imagine that line of reasoning? The anger inside me had to find a way to surface, so I found myself a whipping boy—the German people.
——from This for Remembrance: The Autobiography of An Irish-American Singer, by Rosemary Clooney with Raymond Strait (Playboy Press, 1977)
ANGELA DAVIS: Feeling helpless, guilty
APRIL 4, 1968
I spent the morning at the SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] office. In the afternoon, I went down to the Los Angeles Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights to see about some material I wanted to have printed.
The normal course of that Thursday was shattered by a scream "Martin Luther King has been shot!" A stonelike incredulity locked my face. The wound was in the head, put there by a white assassin, and there was little hope that he would survive.
My disbelief gave way to a sadness which made me feel, for the time being, very helpless, like I was sinking. An amorphous sense of guilt fell upon me. We had severely criticized Martin Luther King for his rigid stance on nonviolence. Some of us, unfortunately, had assumed that his religion, his philosophical nonviolence and his concentration on "civil rights," as opposed to the larger liberation struggle, had rendered him an essentially harmless leader. Never would any of us have predicted that he would be struck down by an assassin's bullet. …
—-from Angela Davis: An Autobiography, by Angela Davis (Random House, 1974)
DIZZY GILLESPIE: Blasted on white lightning.
When Martin Luther King was assassinated, in 1968, they were giving a "Day" for me in Laurinburg [S.C.], and I decided to drive over to Cheraw to say hello to some of my old friends. Martin Luther King got killed that day. I wasn't ready for that—not morally—I was totally unprepared. I went out to this guy's house who'd been selling whiskey since I was a little boy, for forty years, and never got busted. And I got blasted on that white lightning….
—-from to BE, or not…to BOP: Memoirs, by Dizzy Gillespie (Doubleday, 1979)
Dana Cook is a contributor to The Root.