Rebecca Elia's Blog

All about Feminine Health, Healing, and Greece

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Nightmare Day Martin Luther King, Jr. was Murdered

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Yes, you all recognize this famous quote by the late, great, Martin Luther King, Jr.

I remember the day he was murdered. Assassination is too mild, too clinical, a word for what happened. He was murdered, plain and simple. I was in elementary school in a small privileged hillside section of Oakland, California. My city was (and still is) predominantly African-American, composing over 80% of the population in the 1960’s. My mother, a public school teacher, reading specialist, and, later, professor of Education, had spent her entire life teaching minority children to read in the Oakland Public School system. She, herself, returned to school in her 50’s, to obtain a PhD in Education, which she then used to educate public school teachers. She held firm to her belief that any child can be taught to read as long as they had the prerequisite training.

Although my mother was acutely aware of problems with public education, she was a strong proponent. Even though the system fell short multiple times, she kept her children in the public school system. In fact, we remained in this system through college, all of us obtaining our undergraduate degrees from her alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley.

But the public school system failed many times. I remember the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, because that day, this small elementary school failed its children, miserably.

I remember being released early into a vast sea of children. Outside, it felt like a war zone. I don’t know if I actually saw the riots or if I just felt them. To this day, my memories are surreal, as if it didn’t really happen, but was, instead, a terrifying childhood vivid that it remains impossible to distinguish from reality. All Oakland teenagers and young adults had emptied into the streets of Oakland. Rioting was everywhere. It was a war zone. So different than what this remarkable gentle loving giant had tried to model for us all.

Every elementary school child was released, including my younger brother, who was in kindergarten. Parents weren’t notified. Older siblings weren’t instructed to pick up their younger siblings before walking home.

I did what I always did after school; I walked did all the older children. My younger brother went outside to stand on the sidewalk in the usual spot where he always waited. My mother, however, had no idea that we had been released early until she saw school children walking up the street. She rushed to the school to find my brother, who was waiting unattended and unprotected outside the school.

I have so many memories, all bad, of that day. Hate, fear, anger, violence, lack of responsibility, danger, disappointment... No not fear. Sheer terror.

Today, two of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s other quotes come to mind:

"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?’”

So, when everyone recognizes Martin Luther King, Jr. today, it brings back all of these mixed fillings, all bad, all sad. I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted it this way, but, honestly, have we learned anything since then? It has been over forty years. What would he think if he could see us now? Not to belittle the changes for which he so peacefully fought, and certainly not to ignore the advancements made in civil rights—no, that is not my point.

I’m asking, have we decided to stick with love? Have we recognized that hate is too great a burden to bear? What are we doing for others?

For more quotes from the great Martin Luther King, Jr., see this Huffington Post Article.


  1. You ask some very poignant questions Rebecca. I am sad to admit that hate is still too prevalent and too few ask "What are we doing for others?"

    Too little has changed since the Sixties and in some ways I do see that we have gone backwards. But HOPE still persists and the world still remembers Martin Luther King, Jr.

  2. Thank you so much for reminding us of the hope that he brought to our generation.

    For whatever reason (perhaps Haiti?) today, I feel deeply the continued effects of his (and JFK's) death on our generation. We had so much hope, such a zest for peace and freedom then. That day, our hope died. It was just too much to bear. I didn't realize until now just how much it affected us. I mean, we were children! But it did, and it has taken a long time for our generation to regain this. The effects run deep. My classmates are making similar comments.

    Thank you for reminding us of this.