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Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

It was March 27, 1968 and Dr. Martin Luther King, the civil rights leader from Atlanta, visited Newark, NJ, where he held a news conference in a small hotel room jammed with reporters and photographers.

As New Jersey state capital bureau chief for United Press International (UPI), I was there covering that event, followed by a march in Newark's riot-torn streets as Dr. King rallied supporters to his cause, the Poor People's Campaign.

While I cannot find my notes from that day or a copy of the articles that I subsequently wrote, my memory of that news conference and that march is vivid. I recall the determination evident on Dr. King's face, his dark eyes shining, as he led that march, arm in arm with his supporters, down those streets of Newark.

His words echo in my mind even today. "If you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.” I cannot swear that he uttered them that day; perhaps I heard that famous phrase later on the news. But it was a mantra that I've lived by to this day.

When I left home early that morning for the drive to Newark, my wife said to me, "You be careful. One of these days, Dr King is going to get shot." She knew that as a reporter, I would be near him, and I was.

Eight days later, in Memphis, TN, that terrible prediction came true at the Lorraine Motel.

Newark was a poverty-stricken city racked by riots just a year earlier, riots that were sparked the early evening of July 12, 1967, when a black cab driver was beaten and arrested by two white police officers for a minor traffic infraction in Newark’s Central Ward area. So it was no accident that Dr. King had chosen Newark for a stop in his Poor People's Campaign.

When President Obama was elected, I thought our country had come a long, long way in overcoming the racist mentality that Dr. King fought so hard to overcome. Instead, it only stoked the simmering racism -- and related sexism -- that eventually resulted in Donald Trump's election as President.

I wonder what Dr. King would say about the direction of our country today.

I think it would be well for all who oppose him to remember his words:

"If you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.”

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