It is the Fall of 1964 and I am walking to my local shopping center deep in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. I'm a high school junior and I have 75cents in my pocket to finally purchase a paperback book that resides on a small revolving book rack near the front of the drug store that sells everything from make-up to first aid supplies, kitchen items to magazines and books. It takes me 2o minutes to walk home and I can't keep the book in brown paper bag because there is a center-set of black and white photos that comes with this edition. The Book is Why We Can't Wait by Martin Luther King. I want to read his thoughts on the Civil Right Movement as it is happening. Earlier in the year I did a paper for my American History class that changed my life. I'd heard on the evening news that voter education and registration was an important issue. In trying to find a topic I came across a Newsweek magazine with a small article on literacy tests still being used in Southern states. When I read the question "How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?" I felt the pain in a new way. Coupled with events like the murder of 3 civil rights workers, I felt my perceptions of my beloved country slipping away. I needed to read what wasn't in any textbook I carried. I needed to learn a wider, deeper context that my environment couldn't provide. I've often wondered how that book got to the rack with other pulp fiction and sci-fi and true romances.
It's 1968 and I've been in my poetry seminar for three hours. The sun is setting over the UCLA campus as I walk down the hills that separate the older buildings from the student union and athletic fields. Only a few people are walking the paths to and from the libraries and lecture halls. When I begin the walk up the narrow road toward the parking lots near the dorms I notice a car careening up and down those narrow streets. Occasionally it stops and the windows roll down and the people inside speak to somebody walking along. When the car stops at a stop sign near me I notice that everyone inside is African-American. "What's going on?" I ask.
A woman with large natural tells me that Martin Luther King has been shot and killed in Memphis Tennessee. It is 3 days before my 21st birthday.
This year, 2012, the MLK holiday seems all about "spectacular sales" and three day weekends. The ad for Sears seems blind and deaf. Like everything else in this culture the celebration of the birth of one of the last great orators and leaders has become quantified by slashed prices and limited time only propositions. In so many ways, we're still waiting.