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Spending a Night in the Concord Jail When Martin Luther King, Jr. was Assassinated

Martin and me

One of the big influences in my decision, shortly after my 18th birthday in 1967, to go to the local draft board and register for the Selective Service, at the same time telling the woman staffing that office that I would not allow myself to be drafted, was reading about King’s momentous address at Riverside Church in New York, made on April 4 of that year, in which he clearly linked that criminal war and its violent repression of the Vietnamese people to the brutal racism and class struggle at home in the US. (I urge all those reading this piece to take the time to read his remarkable, revelatory, heartfelt and sadly prophetic address in full or, better yet, listen to him deliver it ihimself here.) It was a lot to take in for an 18-year-old high school kid but King made it crystal clear that all these things were connected, and that making real change meant tackling them all, with a broad coalition. (Many, myself included, believe that it was that speech, so dangerous to the Establishment power structure, that sealed King's fate a year to the day later, with a bullet whose timing seemed ominously designed to send exactly that message.)

My short time spent in a dormitory cell at Occoquan six months later, while short, was probably the most important time in all my four years of undergraduate college study. Locked up with me in that cell were hardened veterans of political action, in particular the civil rights struggle against segregation and for the right of African Americans to vote in the South. These veterans of the struggle, along with other veteran leftists caught up along with me by the Federal Marshalls guarding the entrance to the Pentagon, became the impromptu adjunct faculty of a makeshift “people’s university” who opened my eyes to the wider issues of US imperialism, racism and the corrosive, destructive role of capitalism in America. They helped me to refine what King had said a year earlier.

It was with all that swirling in my mind, and with the knowledge that the war in Indochina had become even more serious and violent following the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Tet Offensive earlier that year and President Lyndon Johnson’s subsequent surprise announcement wees earlier that he would not seek re-election that year, that I headed out on the road for Concord on the morning of April 4, 1968. It at least appeared (wrongly it turns out), that the tide had turned and that perhaps the anti-war movement of which I was a tiny part was helping to end the war, and perhaps might also eventually lead to positive changes in the US, too.

At any rate, at the time King was slain, I was out in the early evening, under darkening skies that threatened rain, making my way by thumb along secondary roads in Massachusetts trying to get to Concord and to my destination, Walden Pond. I didn’t know that the main subject of my paper, yet to be written, had already been shot and was being rushed to the hospital to be pronounced dead as I walked the last mile or so to the little park that contains the pond.



story | by Dr. Radut