From The Archives

Waiting for the Bullet

As Reverend Martin Luther King marched in Chicago, his bravery knew no bounds

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For the August 11, 1966, issue of the Village Voice, staffer Richard Goldstein traveled to Chicago to report on Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights march through that volatile city. The opening paragraph tells us much about the times and King’s acceptance of the dangers his principled confrontations against racism in America held:

Hit squarely between the shoulder blades, Reverend Martin Luther King closed his eyes and fell to one knee. He waited for the impact of the bullet. But King had been struck by a rock. He brushed off the back of his neck, told reporters he was fine, and signaled his followers on.

Goldstein paints a vivid portrait of hate: “The demonstrators inched their way through a hail of bricks, bottles, firecrackers, and spit. Seven thousand white residents of the area screamed abuse from the sidewalks but police formed two tight blue lines around the demonstrators and kept the murder verbal.” 

The Voice article contains fascinating historical details. Goldstein mentions a “black power schism” —  the fact that some activists believed King’s nonviolent approach was too timid. He writes of one “militant leader, who wore a Black Panther insignia as he spoke.” Some scholars might want to ferret out more facts about that insignia, since it predates the founding of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California, which occurred more than two months after this article appeared. 

“I hope King gets it,” one white youth waving a Confederate flag tells Goldstein. The reporter talks to the working-class Polish and Lithuanian Catholics who don’t want black neighbors, one saying, “I’ll go to school with ’em and I’ll work with ’em, but I won’t live with ’em. I seen what they did to their neighborhoods and I don’t want ’em doing it here.” 

One activist, Lewis Cole, working for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, blames the city’s Roman Catholic education system for the vitriol spewed at the marchers. “These folks actually believe Negroes have tails,” he tells Goldstein. “I’ve never seen people so sick with hatred. This puts Mississippi and Alabama down.”

Cole, however, is a true disciple of King’s. He tells Goldstein, “You don’t beat a crazy man; you take him to the psychiatrist.” When a cherry bomb explodes at his feet, Cole grabs his knee and rolls over in pain as some onlookers delightedly squeal. And then he says to the Voice reporter, “I still love ’em.” 

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