Memoir of a War Resister—A Novel of the 1960s

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Chapter 14—"We Shall Overcome"

Four days later. Thursday. April 4, 1968, 7:30 p.m. I was in my dorm room when Ginger called. “King’s dead,” she said. It didn’t register.


“Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis. He died about a half hour ago.”

“What?” It still wasn’t registering. “This has got to be a joke.”

“It’s true.” She was crying.

See what happens to non-violent resistance? See what happens to a dream? It dies violent. It dies ugly. It dies dead.

We gathered at Bradley Hall but there was nothing we could do. It was done. It happened. It was over. No amount of crying or letter writing or marching with signs would make it any different. We were powerless.

Chicago rioted and burned. The hopelessness of an entire race raged through the streets breaking store windows, walking away with what they needed, what they wanted, what they deserved.

Then the unbridled aggression by the Chicago police began. Mayor Daley eventually ordered police “to shoot to kill arsonists, shoot to maim looters.” The mayor instituted curfews, ordered the use of tear gas and closed roads. The rage of the people continued, unabated, all weekend. More than a hundred and fifty buildings burned. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” King had said two years before. The whole city suffered.

We couldn’t remain passive. Members of the anti-war committee walked through the streets of Lake Forest, knocking on mansion doors, asking for donations of money, food, or clothing for those displaced by the riots in Chicago. The people of Lake Forest were generous.

God truly had it out for my beginnings. My friend and President Kennedy during my freshman year in high school. And now King my freshman year of college.

I remember walking back from school the day President Kennedy was shot. My dad met me on the sidewalk by my house. “I haven’t been this shocked since Franklin Roosevelt died,” he said.

“That was different. He was sick,” I said.

“True. But we still thought he would live forever.”

I haven’t been this shocked since Kennedy died. I guess I thought King would live forever too. That hope that comes from new beginnings began to fade.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 25,156

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