This is a poem I wrote a few years ago reflecting back on Martin Luther’s death and how I experienced it as a young black women in the late 60s at a mostly white liberal arts college in California.
Hot, sweaty, tired from a late tennis practice
I wound my way through the dining hall of familiar pale faces,
the air heavy pressurized pre-storm hushed.
I looked to my roommate, a friendly freckled red head,
her usual ready smile was missing; her eyes seemed reluctant to meet mine.
“What” I said puzzled by the subdued sad expression.
Then she blurted out like a cannon ball, “Martin Luther King has been assassinated,”
it hit my chest and pierced my heart and I muttered “it figures,” turned around and left.
As I sat on my bed I knew they would not understand my angst,
would take my withdrawal as anger at them for being white.
But they would be wrong.
The pain was because Martin symbolized hope
that hatred and division need not rule
and someone had tried to extinguish that hope.
The only way to not let that “them” win was to withdraw until I could tend my wounds.
Wounds which the guilty/sorry feelings of my white college friends
could not mend and with whom the pain I could not share.
Wounds that the anger of the few other blacks I knew would have deepened.
So I lay there in the dark waiting for courage to return.
Till I was strong enough to get up and go out
and live and work with them again with an open heart and mind.
For this particular act of violence made me more acutely aware that
there was indeed a gulf between the races, a them and an us,
one I had naively tried to forget.
I had thought mistakenly that Martin was the bridge that would connect us.
It would take me several more years before I would know
only Jesus can and has bridged that span not a man.