In Toledo and nearly everywhere else in America, people sensed a violent crescendo was coming for The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who foreshadowed his own assassination on April 3, 1968, when he said during a speech that he was prepared to die.
A day later, on April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray used a rifle to fire a single, fatal shot into Reverend King’s neck as the Southern Baptist minister stood on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
For the next 10 days, there was looting, arson, or sniper fire in 196 cities in 36 states. Toledo was one of those cities.
To memorialize this day in history, The Blade spoke to those who could help recall how black youth and police responded in the days following the assassination of the civil rights icon; how the community moved forward in the aftermath of the chaos, and how the community memorializes Reverend King’s legacy through education, the arts, and even basketball.
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America had been numbed by a series of assassinations by the time Reverend King was killed.
NAACP field leader Medgar Evans was killed on June 12, 1963, two months before Mr. King delivered his now-iconic “I Have a Dream” speech before 250,000 people participating in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Roughly 60 Toledoans boarded a bus heading to the nation’s capital to participate in the march.
Three months later, then-President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Black activist Malcolm X on shot and killed on Feb. 21, 1965.
America had been on edge for quite a while — a combination of frustrations over race relations, the Vietnam War, and other issues — and the mood was compounded weeks after Reverend King’s slaying by the June 5, 1968 assassination of presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy, who – among other things – had been a civil rights advocate.
In the summer of 1967, some 159 race riots broke out across the United States. The worst were in Detroit and Newark.
Almost simultaneously, fires and looting began a day later in Toledo, on July 24, 1967, near Dorr Street and Detroit Avenue. Some 500 National Guard troops were sent to Toledo. No one was killed, but there were 79 blazes caused by fire bombs.
A scheduled appearance in Toledo by Reverend King was postponed, but a few months later, on Sept. 22, 1967, he spoke to a packed audience of 3,500 at Scott High School — seven months before he was killed.
He did not waiver in his belief in nonviolence, calling it “the most potent weapon” for blacks to attain justice.
“If every Negro in America participates in the violence, I will stand as the lone man and say: ‘That is not the way.’”
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