With the nation's capital gearing up to celebrate events and activities surrounding the formal unveiling on Aug. 28 of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at the Tidal Basin, the"Washington Informer" queried locals on their fondest memories of the slain civil rights leader:
Ron Harris, 58, director of communications, Howard University
I 'm from Memphis and I was there when Dr. King got shot -- and my heart just dropped. . . It was like someone [squeezed] the breath out of me.
At the time, I was personally going through sort of a radicalized period and was leaning more toward Malcolm X than Martin Luther King Jr. But I had an uncle, James Bevel, who was one of King's close aides; so King had been at our house long before he got shot. I was actually going to a school that we (blacks) had partly integrated in Memphis, and in my graduating class of 400, about eight of us were black. So, I was beginning to have less confidence that white people were ever going 'to get it.'
But, then for that -- King's assassination -- to happen, I really shut down. I didn't want to talk to any of my white friends (classmates) for a long time, even though I was head of the senior class and graduated with honors. However, I have many white friends today -- in fact, I owe my career to two or three of them.
But getting back to the assassination, I remember being so infuriated, and I said, 'it's over. It's over.'
A couple days after that, my whole family marched in a Memphis protest on King's death. I also recall that just a few days before he was shot, my two younger brothers had marched with [King], and that deteriorated into people looting and breaking into stores . . .
Leo Alexander, 47, D.C. business owner
I was two years old at the time Dr. King was assassinated but what I [later] gathered from it was that social accommodations weren't the answer. It's more about equality.
The assassination also struck me as being one of those wild moments . . . and all of the marches and everything that King and our other civil rights leaders had to go through to get us the right to vote or to be physically be freed from second class citizenship in the United States , I came to the realization years later, that that wasn't enough. Only equality in the United States is really valued. [Also] as long as we don't control the economic future, we'll only be just consumers and that's something that was concerning Dr. King. So that's what I get most from him.
Dr. Robert Williams, 66, family medicine physician, Howard University Hospital
I was a volunteer physician during [the March on Washington that was connected to] the Poor People's Campaign. But I got the opportunity to praise Dr. Dorothy Height the last several years of her life and I was always filled with delight hearing her talk of the Civil Rights Movement and how she had given of her time at the March on Washington. She said at one point she had been the only woman asked to speak, and that she said she preferred Dr. King to speak instead. I had no personal relationship with Dr. King but just hearing her talk about his accomplishments with the struggle served to enlighten me that much more about him.
Roger Newell, 61, teamsters union official in D.C.
I grew up in D.C. and it would be the 1963 March on Washington and the city's preparation that went into it, and the huge turnout that stuck with me.
I was a young student activist and was impressed with the logistics involved handling 250,000 people. I had a chance to watch many of the people like Dr. King who were associated with the civil rights struggle, work their magic to make sure the crowd would be taken care of.
Michael Fauntroy, 45, political analyst, George Mason University
One of my uncles was one of King's lieutenants. But my fondest memory of King is watching the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There's a picture of my uncle standing next to King watching him sign the document. (get photo from George Mason web site)
Peggy Seats, founder and CEO, Washington Interdependence Council
I lived in the neighborhood where he once visited in Chicago's West Side. I remember that I was a teenager and he was there to protest the savagery and hatred he saw in Chicago.
Hilary Shelton, 53, director of advocacy, Washington Bureau NAACP
I am most fond of his humanity. I've been told stories of the marches and his going to jail with other civil rights leaders like Andrew Young and Hosea Williams.
All those folks were like a tight-knit family and he was Uncle Martin to my wife (he's married to Young's youngest daughter) and all those children of the civil rights leaders. He was able to give so much to enhance civil rights, and I've always thought of him in that capacity.
Paula Young Shelton, 50, youngest daughter of civil rights leader Andrew Young
I guess what I remember most about Dr. King is just his very warm and friendly interaction with me and with other children; that he was always very attentive to children. I have this vision of him with open arms, smiling whenever I would be around him. He would pick us up and throw us up in the air like fathers like to do.
We very rarely accompanied our parents on the marches, as they were very careful about shielding us from any danger. But in the third Selma to Montgomery march, my mother decided that she wanted to participate so they brought my two sisters and me along. We were there for one day and then they took us to our grandparents' house while my mother and father continued on in the march.
I've shared some of these memories in a children's book that I wrote about the Civil Rights Movement, because I wanted children to know what a kind and gentle person Dr. King was, and that he was a real human being and not just an icon or a statue -- but a real person who cared deeply about the lives of children – his own and others', and wanted to make this place a better world for them.
Mildred Purvis Williams, 92
I remember he was a smart and peaceful man. He was for equal rights he wanted everyone to enjoy life and to be brotherly-like. He wanted all of us to be able to sit down and eat together -- he believed in integration, and he was a Christian man and he believed that all people should be treated equally. He wanted us to sit in restaurants and hotels . . . he thought we should have the same rights that everyone else had. He was a man of nonviolence.
I remember Dr. King visited several places in North Carolina but I never saw him. But you knew about him because we had seen him on television. He seemed that close to us . . . like you could talk to him without any problem. He was just a man you could feel comfortable in talking with him.
Before, we had to go to colored restrooms, colored water fountains -- we'd go to the back door to get a hotdog from a restaurant. That even happened in hospitals (going to the back door). It made me feel very uncomfortable -- it hurt and you couldn't go to the water fountain -- Why? We wondered. So Dr. King was against all of that.
Virginia Ali, co-founder Ben's Chili Bowl
I heard about Dr. King for the first time in the '50's. I heard about this young black leader, but what really got my attention was the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, and then the March in Washington on March 6, 1963. Since he taught non-violence and worked hard for equality for all people he impacted the lives of everyone. He was very instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
My most poignant memory is about how such a gentle man died so violently and how we would no longer have our great leader for the African American community. After Dr. King's assassination, we [Ben's Chili Bowl] were the only business to remain open during the aftermath of his assassination although there was a curfew in effect.
I think the new monument to Dr. King is a great tribute to a great man!