The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Residents remember the day King died


April 4, 2018

Fifty years ago today, James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. The slaying inspired Americans black and white to take up the civil rights leader’s fight, which they continue today.

Joyce Pollard of Clovis described April 4, 1968, as “a very sad, dark day” in Fort Hood, Texas, where she lived at the time.

King had addressed death in some of his speeches — including one he made the night before his assassination — and Pollard was inspired by his conviction to live the best life he could.

“That’s what I believe in — just treating others as I would like to be treated. I think Dr. King, no matter how people did him, he always continued to love mankind, and that’s kind of my philosophy,” Pollard said on Tuesday.

Waking up after a late night working at a factory in Portales, Joan Martinez-Terry watched the news of King’s death the next morning.

“Before that, I had never really thought about the plight of the African American in society. I really had not,” she said.

While the day was a sad one for Martinez-Terry, who is Hispanic, it acted as a catalyst, opening her mind to the fact that “this country had a long way to go,” to reach equality for all of its citizens.

King’s dream was that we might all be judged by the content of our character, rather than the color of our skin. Martinez-Terry, the Portales city clerk, said she thinks we’re getting closer.

“It’s a whole lot better. I wouldn’t be in this seat if it wasn’t better,” she said.

Elaine Howell was teaching a drama class at Marshall Junior High in Clovis when a student rushed in with news that King had been killed.

Howell asked the same question she asks any time a killing happens in the U.S.: “Why?”

“Being the type of person that I am, I was shocked. I thought it was horrible, and I feel about that just like I feel about school shootings today,” she said.

The event, along with King’s message on the whole, reinforced Howell’s belief in equality, which she said was at the forefront of any interaction with her students.

“I have worked all my life to be fair to all children that I taught in regard to race,” she said. “I grew up at a time when the schools were segregated, and I had no knowledge, basically, of black people. I learned from the bottom up, and I’ve always tried very hard to be fair to all of my students,” she said.

After King’s death, Portales resident Linda Sumption, then a student at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, began to see links between civil rights and other issues like economic well-being and international policy.

“(King) had expanded from talking mostly about segregation and civil rights and racial issues. He had come out against the war in Vietnam. He called it senseless and unjust,” she said.

The assassination showed Sumption that the civil rights struggle would take serious commitment.

“There has to be a commitment rather than an immediate result, and I’m still, for many decades, engaged in that,” she said.


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