By PIERRE B. BLAND, DVM
On April 4th, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated. I was 7 years old. It was around this time I began having memories of Dr. King. I don’t remember the actual event, but I do remember the sadness and concern of my parents. I have 4 older siblings and one younger by now so I am sure it has been explained to me who Dr. King was, what he stood for, and his death, all be it most likely not the circumstances. At 7 years old, there were a few things I knew for sure: I wanted to be an animal doctor, I loved cartoons and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, in that order, encyclopedias and medical dictionaries, and television. I knew something was going on so paying attention and maybe not asking so many questions may have been the thing to do.
Every night, we watched the evening news cast as a family. Walter Cronkite, thank you very much. My parents read the news paper every evening, so when they were finished I did my version of the same; looking at the pictures and the funnies, making a mess in the process. I remember seeing lots of pictures of Dr. King in both media. When we watched the news, we sat close and were very quiet and listened, so it must have been important. It was very sad and quiet at our house. That was a something new for us and not experienced again until many, many years later at the time of he death of my maternal grandfather. What came next is the most potent early memory of them all.
On the day of Dr. King’s televised funeral, we watched as a family as I am sure many did. – I watched and thought how strange the event was. I obviously had at least a rudimentary concept of death and it’s finality. With that in mind, how was Dr. King there in his coffin, but his voice was being broadcast over the television? I didn’t know it, but this was my first exposure to Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. I wanted to ask how this was possible, but knew this was not the time or place. The funeral ended and life in my home and world slowly returned to normal in the coming weeks and months as my community and the world progressed through the stages of grief. Similar events were to come, but none like this. I guess our collective innocence had been taken if not severely assaulted.
As I grew up, the memory of Dr. King became more that of a homogenized icon than of the radical thinker and visionary he actually was. As an icon, he became member of the Trinity, one of the portraits of Jesus, JFK, and MLK, found in the living rooms of our grandmother’s and older aunts, keeping watch over the hermetically sealed furniture sets and exotic lamps. I guess that is one way to protect his image and memory literally and figuratively.
In time, we began to see Dr. King as a man who was great, but had the foibles and weaknesses of any other man. In my eyes he became more relevant as a man and as the Dreamer we all aspire to be.
Dr. Bland is a small and exotic animal practitioner in Oakland Park, FL. He can be reached at 954 673-8579.