April 4, 1968

As soon as the school-day started on Friday morning, April 5, 1968, my first-grade class at elementary school P.S. 183 in Rockaway Beach, New York listened as the principal told us the news that everyone knew. His voice came through the speakers next to the large clock in every classroom. “A great man was killed yesterday, but it wasn’t just by a bullet. It was by the hatred in the man who shot that bullet from his gun.”

Or, that’s what my memory tells me the principal said. Memory is faulty, and it could have been something I heard or read during any of the 40 years since. But it’s one of my only memories of that school where I was one of the white minority. The principal asked us to bow our heads and observe a moment of silence in honor of Dr. King. The picture is as clear in my mind as a snapshot: a couple of dozen kids in required white shirts and blouses, gray slacks and skirts, boys and girls, black faces and white, all with our heads down on the desks, sniffling and crying in the strangely quiet school.