Like many of us this holiday has special significance for me. I was a young law graduate working for Senator Herman Talmadge. I had graduated from law school, passed the bar and done my basic training as a member of the D.C. National Guard. I went to work as a young legislative assistant for Senator Talmadge.
I was happy to attend a Democratic Fundraiser when Senator Hubert Humphrey was the prime speaker. As the event began, we were shocked to hear that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot. Senator Humphrey got up to relay the news to the crowd and call the event off.
There had already been racial unrest in some of the nation’s cities. I stood around for a while to listen to Humphrey talking with the press and then went home and answer the phone call I knew would come. I took off my rented tuxedo and put on my Army fatigues.
The riots did come, and I was on active duty for what seemed like forever. I was stationed in a fire house in what was known as the U Street Corridor. As the firemen were called to put out the many fires that were set, our job was to ride with them to put out the fires. We did not use bullets, just heavy doses tear gas. One of our guys would use a tear gas pump that blanketed the street.
The liquor stores fared especially bad. They were ransacked. As we were leaving the National Guard Armory, a nicely dressed black man begged us to help him. He said, help me, these boys are burning down my store”. We had to go to turn him down to go to our destination, but I will never forget that guy’s face.
When this unfortunate experience in my life was over, I would go to Atlanta to run Senator Talmadge’s Atlanta office. I got to know and admire Martin Luther King Senior. He and I would see each a community meetings. Unlike his son, who was cut down in his prime, he lived to the ripe old age of 82. Among the many stories was that of a friend at the Atlanta Farmers Market. Reverend King would bargain hard on the price of chicken saying “I have got to get a good price, so I can feed my flock”.
Michael R. McLeod