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April 04, 2013

Remembering April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King's Assassination

I heard the news of this day in 1968 as a kid growing up in Saskatchewan. I was a young teenager and a huge consumer of television. Early that evening, news arrived of the assassination of Martin Luther King, a name and face and voice I knew largely through CBC News coverage of the man and the Movement.

I remember hearing the I have a dream speech, which gave me shivers then, just as it does now. I had already seen the terrible scenes of police beatings of demonstrators, of peaceful marches that were attacked by hooligans and of strange politicians spouting a hatred I couldn't comprehend. I also knew the Americans were at war with a tiny nation in south-east Asia and I couldn't understand that either. Somehow, to me, this man, Martin Luther King, and his message of peace and justice, had something to say about that war too. The reality of America seemed an alien world compared to the America portrayed nightly on its television shows and more importantly, through its commercials.

I remember seeing, probably the next day, Bobby Kennedy's speech at Indianapolis as he broke the news of Dr. King's death to a campaign crowd. That speech too sends shivers up and down my spine. Gently, calmly and eloquently Bobby spoke of memory, justice and peace.

Over the next weeks, and through the year, I viewed  coverage of events in America as they unfolded. I watched, sometimes in shock and sometimes in horror. Today, much older, I continue to view the US as an alien place; a nation seemingly always at war with someone, somewhere, and sometimes nowhere at all. A country still terribly divided by race and class, by money and power, by greed and violence.

In April of 1968 the horror was only beginning. It would continue with another assassination, and more state sponsored violence, and with upheaval around the world. The year would become an powerfully formative one in my young life, and inform my political sense for a lifetime. The dream remains.

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