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Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. I didn't know what they liked or how they thought of the world, how they handled their disappointments or whether they, like us, laughed at misery to keep from crying. As a nine-year-old kid in the Detroit ghetto, I was drawn to the television screen to view the funeral. The Gray Lady deemed the meeting important enough to give it pride of place above the fold.

One night, at an illegal after-hours joint where black folk were celebrating the return of two Vietnam veterans to the Motor City, police hostility made it clear that it was often easier to survive the Viet Cong than the vicious cops. Everything that hampered them hampers us; everything that hangs on the horizon of hope can be usefully exploited now, including the willingness to talk to one another across the crushing chasm of color. Perhaps that was why I paid such close attention to his funeral; I was in search of unspoken solace, of comfort that could only come if I could discern in his services some logic, some possible clue, for why he had to perish, some explanation. Solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site). The life given to us by the deaths of a few has altered the course of history and strengthened the heartbeat of justice in our breasts. Fifty years ago, on April 9, 1968, at 10:30.m., 1,300 people filed into Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta for the private funeral of a man who, like his father before him, had once served as its pastor: the Reverend Martin Luther King,. Not even Bull Connor's pressure hoses and the snarling teeth of K-9s at their worst could dissuade them. I had just begun reading Baldwin at the time King was murdered.

His youthful effort to tame our cynicism ended tragically in 1963 on a dark day in Dallas. I was just beginning to understand my blackness, just learning that it existed, that it was essential in a world where whiteness loomed as an unknowable force. In "Malcolm and Martin the essay he wrote four years after King's assassination, Baldwin recalled King's funeral "the most real church service I've ever sat through in my life" then grappled with the national undoing set loose by his death. The Birmingham movement took aim at segregated facilities by boycotting large retail stores and lunch counters. Baldwin knew that America could only survive if it underwent an extraordinary social transformation equality for all, hatred for none that echoed the most noble ideals set out by our founding fathers. I had never gone to school with white kids, had rarely even interacted with white folk outside of the neighborhood business owners for whom my father, and eventually I, worked. The sitting president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, did not come because he didn't want to drape the service in the controversy of the Vietnam War, a cause to which he had devoted significant resources. But the most memorable speaker that morning a haunting baritone piped out of tinny speakers that left his four children startled was King himself.

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Bobby Kennedy was the first white person I believed cared for black folk, and the sorrow and grief his death evoked in black America made me realize I wasn't alone. The movement there had been spearheaded by local legend Rev. Jimmy attended the funeral too, having wrangled his way through the massive throng outside before he was hoisted atop a car and seated inside the sanctuary. I've always wanted to read a book about that historic moment, and, more important, about its meaning for us today as we struggle with many of the same issues America confronted 50 years ago. "If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a long funeral King pleaded posthumously in a recording from his "Drum Major Instinct" sermon given two months earlier and played at the behest of his widow, Coretta. I already believed that America could only purge its hateful bigotry if it confronted its past with the same energy it embraced its founding fathers and celebrated the myth of American individualism. America, Baldwin believed, was split in two not between North and South but between the powerful and the disenfranchised. Bobby's eagerness to engage occasionally got him more than he'd bargained for, and that was never truer than when he had an encounter that felt as if he had stepped onto a fast-moving train of rage and grief. He didn't get his wish: The service lasted two hours, followed by a public, nationally broadcast funeral held that afternoon at King's alma mater, Morehouse College. He eventually sent me outside to play, but not before I eagerly drank in the mournful cadences of the folk gathered at King's public service.


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