Memphians Remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Meagan Mobley

Oxford Stories



On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN. Dr. King was a leader, hero, and symbol for many people. He was a man that stood for peace, love, and equality and he saw something that most people could not. He saw a future where race did not matter and a country that stood by each other. Most importantly, he believed in the redemption of a broken world.

One of King’s most famous speeches is his “I Have a Dream…” speech. In this speech he says, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” In this sentence, King reveals the hope and hurt he felt in his heart for not only himself but for the world as a whole.

Although Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left the world almost fifty years ago, his dream still lives in the people today. Jannie Whinfrey, 97, is a woman who has seen the world in ways that most people have not. She has lived in Memphis, TN almost all of her life and was living there when King was assassinated. “I was with my husband and three children when I heard the news. We were eating our dinner. It ruined my night. I don’t think anybody else wanted to eat after that. We just couldn’t. Not after that.”

Whinfrey says she still remembers everything that happened like it was yesterday. “I remember the first time he was supposed to come to Memphis. It was in March, I believe. I was a teacher at the time and I remember them saying that school was out. We had a big snow hit Memphis and Dr. King couldn’t come that day. I think that was just what was meant to be. The Lord knew it wasn’t time.”

“I can even remember when they had black and white water and even different restrooms. When I took cosmetology, we had a conference that we had to travel to. We rode the bus there and when we got to the rest stop, we walked inside and they told us we had to go upstairs. The water fountains said ‘black water’ and ‘white water’. Can you believe that? The same water. We were all drinking the same water.”

When King was alive, he preached about love and equality. He stood for change and he prayed for the people. “He was a God-sent man. He didn’t back down but best of all, he just wanted equality. Equality for all people. Not just you. Not just me. He wanted equality for all of the people.” Whinfrey says of King.

“His spirit still lives today but it is starting to fade. We say ‘One nation under God’ when we say our pledge but we don’t get it. We might not have separate water fountains anymore but we are still divided.”

Memphian, Roy McGowan, 76, a former participant in the Memphis march following King’s death, says that King brought love back into the world. “That was the problem. You know? Some people just can’t accept love. But whether they like it or not, he brought love into the people. He brought black and white together. Love. He just preached love.”

“I remember it clear as day,” McGowan says as he recalls the day of King’s assassination. “I was at work. I was a supervisor at Kroger at the time so I got to walk around and make sure people were doing their job. I overheard a white man saying, ‘I know somebody’s gonna kill him. I just know somebody’ll shoot him.’ and I didn’t understand why someone would say something like that. Not about someone like him.”

Whinfrey adds, “I think that he was born to do what he did. He tried, you know? He tried to make the world better by helping people. He was the man for the job but no one wanted to see a black man hold that type of power. He just wanted the world to be a better place. He was meant to show the world how to try.”

Although racial discrimination is not as obvious as it used to be, it is still a problem in the world we live in today. Progress has been made but there is still much more to be done. His dream is still in the works of becoming a reality but what he stood for continues live on.

King had the courage to speak up in a world that wanted to drown him out. He was a man that showed love even when the face looking back at him showed hate. He proved that all it takes is one person to change the world.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was more than just a man with a dream. He was the beginning of a movement.



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