Martin Luther King that Sad Night

Remembering April 4, 1968

Celebrating January 15

By Herman Hall, Editor & Publisher, EVERYBODY’S, the Caribbean-American Magazine

Coretta Scott KingI vividly remember the night of April 4, 1968 and the morning after, Friday, April 5th.

First, let me briefly describe my life during that era. In 1968, I was a young and new immigrant with no relatives in the US. My two adventurous friends, Cecil and Cadore, came to NY before me and encouraged me to join them. I came on a student visa. Life was rough. I was determined not to violate my immigrant status, in any event I desired to seek a better education, so I attended school. My night job provided me $40 per week after taxes. $8 paid my weekly rent; about $23 for weekly school fees and about $9 left for food, transportation and other needs. I think subway tokens were 10 or 15 cents. I was not yet a big eater so one meal per day and orange juice then about 15 cents for a quarter gallon was enough to take me thru the week.

My biggest problem was my plastic factory job and missing Grenada.  Brooklyn had many plastic factories. It was a 4pm to 12midnight shift with 20 minutes for dinner  and two five minutes break.  For 7.5 hours I had to stand, keep up with the machine door which opened every 20-second. Some machines opened every 15 seconds. It was boring and the plastic was hot as fire when it came from the mold.

The Civil Rights movement was at its climax. To me, the Caribbean people in NY I got to know saw themselves as different to African-Americans. They felt the civil rights struggles was an African-American problem and not a problem for Caribbean immigrants in the US. It was a time when West Indian wives and other West Indian women  came to the US to work as domestic servants for white families. It was the easiest avenue for a woman to get her Green Card or Permanent Visa. Upon getting it she sent for her husband, children and parents.

West Indian women working for white folks in the suburbs of Westchester and Long Island by listening to their bosses  regard the civil rights struggle as purely a Black-American-white American issue.

However, what they did not know was people such as Harry Belafonte, Cecily Tyson, union boss Peter Ottley were of Caribbean heritage and part of the civil rights movement.

Older generations and their children were involved in the civil rights movement. Many were veterans of Marcus Garvey organization and experienced what life was really like in other states.

At 4pm on the afternoon of April 4, 1968, I arrived at the factory located near Broadway in Brooklyn located between Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg neighborhoods. By 8pm, I sensed something was wrong. The African-American foreman who hailed from South Carolina was not observing us work. He was on the phone with his boss. He looked perplexed.  News did not spread or confirm as easily as today.

Finally around 9pm, he asked everyone to turn off their machine, announced Martin Luther King had been shot and killed, we should hurry to our homes before riots break out.

I lived in Bushwick. Every morning I took the J train at the East New York station then switched to the always crowed A train for Manhattan. The A train was quiet that Friday morning. I saw tears from many as they read newspapers.

Minor riots did occur in Harlem and on Fulton Street in Bedford Stuyvesant but the riots were not major in comparison to what occurred in other parts of the US.

Every 4th and 5th of April, I reminiscent of the chilling days in 1968 and about how Governor Nelson Rockefeller provided his personal plane to transport civil rights leaders in the NY area to King’s funeral in the South.

Years later, the late Percy Sutton, a former Borough President of Manhattan and Malcolm X lawyer, introduced me to Mrs. Coretta Scott King at a luncheon in Manhattan.

“Coretta, I want to introduce you to this young man. He used to work for me at WLIB but he is a big shot now; he has his own magazine,” Sutton amusingly told Mrs. King.

Mrs. King asked if I had a copy. Fortunately, I had one; moreover it was an edition showing photos of the annual March in Washington, DC led by Steve Wonder and others asking January 15 Martin Luther King birthday be declared a national holiday. She was thrilled.

She chatted with  me for about five minutes and invited me to Atlanta.

“Make sure you come to Atlanta for Martin’s birthday next year,” she reminded me.