YouTube download / AP video / Bells in Memphis and Atlanta are ringing to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination (April 4).
By HENRY FREDERICK
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- L. Ronald Durham, one of greater Daytona Beach's foremost black ministers, was just 17 years old when he learned in his history class back in Passaic, N.J. that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated while standing on the balcony of a hotel in Memphis, Tenn. That was 50 years ago today.
Durham, now 67, reflected on the half-century anniversary of King's assassination in a Question and Answer session earlier today by email as follows:
Question: What were your memories of the news of that fateful day?
Answer: I was a 17-year-old senior at Passaic High School in Passaic, NJ. Ironically, just one year before was when I told my pastor that I had been called by the Lord to preach. For some reason, I felt uneasy on Thursday, April 4th, but didn’t know why, and it was later that day when I was in my history class, and the teachers left the room for a few moments and came back in tears that I knew something terrible must have happened. She announced to the class the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot and killed at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. At that moment my heart literally skipped a beat, and I was overcome with an enormous sense of loss. It was as if I had lost a father, and for several minutes I couldn’t even speak.
Question: What did MLK mean to the black community?
Answer: As far as the black community was concerned it felt like we had lost our Moses. Dr. King metaphorically had taken the black community out of “Jim Crow” bondage. In the South, we could now sit in the front of the bus. We were now able to sit at the lunch counter and eat like everyone else, and not have to go to the back door of a restaurant to get our meals. No longer did we have to sit in the balcony at the movies, or drink water from the “colored” water fountain.
Question: What was it about MLK that made him such a heroic and inspirational figure?
Answer: With his Gandhian tactic of non-violent civil disobedience, he was successful in ending racial segregation and legal discrimination starting with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. His movement changed the trajectory of black social achievement.
Question: What is King’s legacy today?
Answer: Dr. King brought a voice to those without a voice. He showed through his willingness to endure the loneliness of a prison cell the power of what one man determined to make a difference can do. He gave up the comfort of his success, by going over to Memphis to lend aid to garbage workers who were under paid, and working under some serious health concerns with their exposure to toxic waste. King was always concerned about the lowest among us. Really, who wakes up in the morning concerned about the condition of men picking up trash? He showed us that there is value even in the lives of those we may consider to be less important than others.
Question: Why is today so important half a century later?
Answer: That we are reflecting on the 50th anniversary of his assassination with remembrances all over the nation is a testament to the enormous contributions made in his very brief life. He awakened the consciousness of a nation to the often brutal treatment of blacks in America, and forced this country to look at itself in the mirror and ask the question, 'Is this how a nation treats people who have contributed so much to what America is; and to what our constitution guarantees to every citizen, ‘life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?' I’m thankful that the vast majority of Americans answered “no.” We are better when we are 'One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'
Snapshot bio of L.. Ronald Durham:
Family: Married with three daughters, resides in Deltona;
Age: 67 (DOB: Aug. 20, 1950);
Current Employment: Hired by Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm as the city's community relations manager on Jan. 4, 2016, at an annual salary of $78,750;
Previous Employment: Former longtime senior pastor of the Greater Friendship Baptist Church of Daytona Beach for many years;