Last Sunday, April 4, was the day over 50 years ago when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. I was asked by a friend who knows I am a member of the national board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference what are my memories of that fateful day.
I was a teacher in Corrales on April 4, 1968, when Dr. King was assassinated. After I saw what had happened on the news, tears came to my eyes and I reflected on how much Dr. King had contributed to improving the lives of all people in America.
Dr. King knew that if he could influence how people related to each other on a humane basis, society would benefit and America could move forward without the burden of racism, which had a stranglehold on White society.
When I woke up the next morning, I debated whether I wanted to go to my school that day. But I thought that perhaps being around children would help overcome what I was feeling because children always found a way to lift my spirits.
During the third period, I had a break and I sat in the teachers’ lounge, all by myself, staring at an empty wall wondering, “Why?” Then, feeling lost, I pondered, “What is going to happen to us? What is going to happen to America?”
White people needed Dr. King as much as Black people. There was no one on the horizon to step in and take Dr. King’s place, no one to fill the moral gap that was and still is so desperately needed.
Into the teachers’ lounge entered the principal of the school, Dever Langholf. He said, “Charles, come with me.”
He led me to the flagpole, where he lowered the flag to half-staff and he said, “I hope this makes us both feel better.”
There stood two men, one Black and one White, who felt a common bond and shared a common grief. Dr. King would have appreciated that special moment when two men of different color, different culture, different race and a different political persuasion stood together saying, “We are in this together.”
This is my hope for America. “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” is my dream.
On behalf of the board of directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of New Mexico, I pray that those of you who read this letter will join us in helping to make this dream a reality.
Rev. Charles E. Becknell Sr., PhD, president,
Southern Christian Leadership Conference of New Mexico