Kenny Anderson was an elementary school student, living in a second-floor apartment in the 16-story LaGuardia Apartments on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His family had just sat down to dinner on April 4, 1968, when the devastating news came over the radio: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot.
“I explicitly remember that night,” says Anderson, the City of Huntsville’s Multicultural Affairs Officer. “I remember he had gone to Memphis to help the sanitation workers. I remember the turmoil of that time and the reasons he was there.
“When the news came on the radio that Dr. King had been assassinated, I just remember, even as a 10-year-old, knowing that something insurmountable had happened, something that had perhaps changed the course of history forever. Something that had perhaps stalled the momentum of a movement that was gaining steam.
Dr. King’s legacy is one that should inspire all human beings to focus on basic values and principles, most notably service to one’s community above one’s self.
“I remember great sadness, great heartache,” Anderson continues. “I remember a sense of despair because so many people had looked to him as their modern-day Moses, who would lead them into the promised land.”
Dr. King’s life is celebrated annually with a federal holiday on the third Monday of January, a date that is typically near his birthdate of January 15. (Dr. King would have turned 88 this year.)
“It’s important to think of Dr. King as somebody whose life transcended a specific community,” Anderson says. “This holiday is often viewed as a celebration of black history, and it is. But even more, it’s a celebration of U.S. history and the best of what human history has offered.”
Anderson acknowledges his childhood awareness of Dr. King was perhaps a different perspective from one living in the South, which was more typically the battleground for social change.
“But I remember the previous summer (before the assassination) when he saw how challenging the notion of bringing people together really was,” Anderson says. “(King saw) that many of the traditional perceptions of how racism was entrenched in the South and how it became a reality to him that it was deeply embedded in the North, too. Where there were overt acts of racism in the South, you often had covert racism in the North.”
Anderson also vividly recalls that “incredible speech in Washington, ‘I have a dream,’ which became a seminal moment in history that really signaled this incredible sense of hope.”
Dr. King’s legacy, Anderson says, is one that should inspire “all human beings to focus on basic values and principles, most notably service to one’s community above one’s self.
“He was a man who would selflessly work on behalf of the disadvantage, marginalized, underprivileged people, who tried to represent himself as a person who cared about people and wanted the best in people, wanted to promote the issue of equality and demonstrate that no one person is better than another,” Anderson says.
“Those are principles that help us stand on one another’s shoulder as well as to find common ground to address many of the issues we’re facing today,” he says. “Dr. King’s life, to me, is the ultimate testament of what a person has the potential to do when, in their mind, it’s more important for ‘we’ as opposed to ‘I.’”