The Death of Innocence | Sojourners

The Death of Innocence

Martin understood that his death could only be redemptive if it forced our nation to concede the idiocy of racial hatred.

The death of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4th, 1968, when I was 9 years old, was the death of my innocence. Of all the events which have shaken my world, few have conspired to alter radically the shape and content of my awareness as this event, writ large on my mind as a verdict: "You are no longer innocent; you are condemned to awareness."

I was sitting on the living room floor watching television when suddenly a news bulletin interrupted the regular program. The reporter's voice, a usual lesson in impeccable cadence and inflection, now dragged in somber monotone. "Martin Luther King Jr. has just been shot in Memphis, Tennessee," he managed.

Behind me, sitting in his favorite chair, my father offered a seemingly involuntary response that summed up the whole matter in one word, a hurting "humh." That "humh," ejaculated in the midst of strained disbelief and shock, became an unknowing utterance of eventual grief. Indeed, my father's reaction gathered into its dismal tone the horror black America felt about the loss of this black prophet.

King's mellifluous baritone voice was stilled by a piece of metal which traveled with ungodly speed and precision to explode its message of death inside his neck. After a few words by the reporter indicating that Martin was not dead, but seriously wounded, and that he was shot on a hotel balcony (an unholy shrine to the senseless murder of our dreams and hopes), the television permitted us to hear what became his last speech.

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