Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

April 4, 1968

On April 4, 1968, the Los Angeles Sentinel published “Martin and Memphis” by columnist A. S. “Doc” Young. Young started with the story of Rosa Parks and described how the Montgomery bus boycott marked the “beginning of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s career an an internationally-renowned leader of the race.” Young praised King’s role in the 1963 March on Washington and his influence on Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. “But, now, it seems, Dr. Martin Luther King misplaced his magic somewhere along the way from 1963 to 1968,” Young argued. “I asked a Negro bookseller for a book about King the other night and he said, ‘Negroes have been shying away from King.’ The book I wanted, the bookseller said, just wouldn’t sell in his store.” Young suggested that King’s stance on Vietnam and the emergence of radicals like Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown drew support away from King. “But, King kept doggedly on. There were times, to be sure, when he flirted with threats of violence on the part of others...but, in the main, he maintained his course in a near-straight line. He maintained it, that is, until the other day in Memphis, when a protest march he was leading fell apart. A small number of hoodlum-minded ‘militants’ suddenly decided to get violent, to loot, and to riot. Staging a mini-version of the Watts Riots, they put Martin Luther King to rout. He fled the scene like a defeated warrior...There is fear in Washington, D.C., that the same will happen when (if) King stages his ‘Poor People’s’ protest demonstration...In any event, Martin Luther King said the day after the Memphis blow-up, ‘Riots are a part of today’s society.’ What a terribly-horrible thing of the champion of non-violence to say! Did Mahatma Gandhi ever cop out like that?” Like many white journalists, Doc Young was unsettled by King’s positions on Vietnam and economic rights.

Young’s column was published in the Sentinel the same day that Martin Luther King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The days following King’s murder brought grief and anger to black communities across the country, and many of these emotions were reflected in the black press. Here is a selection of black newspaper covers for the days after King’s death:

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