April 2020 Kelley Kidd Doctor Martin Luther King Jr’s death hit me harder than any event in my adult life. I started crying when I heard the news and I cried for most of the following month. His body was brought back from Memphis to Atlanta within twenty four hours of his murder. The streets of many American cities were filled with angry Black folks and there were riots in some. Atlanta braced for violence.
A curfew was imposed in Atlanta and Atlantans were told by orders of the Mayor and the Governor of Georgia to stay at home after 8pm. But it was also announced that his body would be available for viewing around the clock until his funeral, which had been scheduled for a few days later. The viewing was in Sister’s Chapel at Spelman College on the Atlanta University Campus. West side of the City. I lived in Decatur on the East Side, and had never been to the University.
I could not sleep on the first night Doctor King’s body was in Sister’s Chapel. About 3am I got up and left my home with the single minded determination to reach that Chapel and to pay my respects to the man who had changed my inner attitudes profoundly five years before with his famous speech at the March on Washington. I went to and then crossed Peachtree Street,the line between East and West Atlanta, crossed it and began looking for someone one the street that could tell me how to get to the Atlanta University. I knew that the chapel was somewhere on that campus. Several times I stopped to question a law enforcement officer, heedless of the fact their job was to enforce a curfew I was violating. Each time the officer gave me some directional help without even mentioning the curfew. I believe the officers could see from my tears that I was on a mission more important to me than avoiding arrest.
Finally I got to a place to park near the chapel, went inside and stood back the casket. I gazed for a long minute or two at the man whose words had converted me to his cause of militant nonviolent action to end discrimination. My guilt was overwhelming. I had done nothing in the five years since my inner transformation in 1963. I silently vowed that my days of inaction were over. From that moment on I would do everything in my limited power to devote my life to the cause of the victims of discrimination and poverty. More than half a century later, that commitment remains central to what I do, and that commitment has been accompanied by a commitment to nonviolence as strategy and as lifestyle. Sometimes my actions have briefly lost sight of that commitment, but it remains central.