Ma, Reverend King, is dead!

My great-grandmother, we called her Ma, died at the age of 79, about eleven years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She was a broad-chested woman with hips just as complete, and I remember her broad smile and big hugs. She was most relaxed in loose-fitting clothing because it allowed her to get her housework done comfortably. Therefore, every Christmas and Easter, she received—a new—what was called a housedress. The dresses were big and blousy, usually a garish color and covered in a floral print. She was a strong-willed woman who raised five generations of my family and barely broke under any pressures—one such occasion was the death of her “Reverend” King.

Before the internet, Apple watches and Bill Gates news traveled slower. It was customary that the neighborhood oral-scribe would get the information first and go from house to house bringing the word. Such as the day when Mr. Pagett told ‘Ma’ that President Kennedy had been murdered. On April 4, 1968, a few minutes past 6 pm (CST), a rifle shot across from the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, rang out, and the world changed forever. A bullet to the neck felled Dr. King and silenced his voice but elevated his message.  

As a young Black boy, I knew of Dr. King but was so caught up in my wants I did not appreciate how he had worked to make what I wanted a reality. When I got the news, my friends and I were outdoors playing a makeshift basketball game using the STOP sign on one corner and the ONE-WAY sign on the other as goals. The banging and clanging of the street signs, along with the unremitting cries of “good!” pierced the solemnity of the darkening skies and the neighbors’ ears. A lone figure approached us, and his mood was so somber, we all knew something was seriously wrong. We got the news around 8 pm (EST), the banging stopped, along with the victory shouts, and we all quietly walked home, trying to understand why this good man, our parents revered, was gone.  

When I opened my front door, the house was eerily silent, except for the floor model TV my uncle watched with tears in his eyes in the living room—Ma was nowhere in sight. I went upstairs to talk to Ma because I thought only she could explain why. When I got to the top of the stairs, my aunt’s room door was closed tight to my left down the hall. Ahead of me in Ma’s room, what I thought was a rhythmic whisper was her praying. She was on her knees, which was a feat with her crippling arthritis. I stood silently with my head bowed but not sure why. She rose, turned to me, and said, “come here, baby.” She explained that her mother and father, her daughter (my grandmother), her granddaughter (my mother) were born before “Reverend King” pushed President Johnson into introducing and eventually helping to pass civil and voting rights legislation. “That man, that man,” she said, pointing to the tv in her room, and holding back tears, told me, “I can stand with anyone, so today I kneeled for him in prayer.”

I got it, and on this day, as the country commemorates the day a great man was born, remember the dark forces of evil are actively trying to turn back the clock.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~ Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.

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