MLK's dream inspires 40 years on

Charlie Breitrose

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 40 years ago Friday, but the movement and messages King inspired did not die with him in Memphis.

At the time, however, some thought the fight for racial and economic equality seemed mortally wounded.

The Rev. J. Anthony Lloyd, pastor of the Greater Framingham Community Church, was a 12-year-old boy living in Philadelphia, and he recalls the somber mood around the city.

"At that particular time, were feelings that 'Oh, my. It's all over,' '' Lloyd said. "Knowing the sense of turmoil that resulted from the death, there was a sense of real loss and disappointment.''

King's assassination came five years after John F. Kennedy was killed, and shortly before Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down.

Former Framingham Selectman Esther Hopkins said it seemed like anyone speaking out for change was a target.

"I remember the shock (when King was killed),'' Hopkins said. "It was almost like, 'Now they started killing us.' It was the terror of the day.''

A candlelight march was organized, Hopkins remembered, with people marching from Framingham Common down to Grace Church in downtown Framingham for a vigil.

"People hoped what (King) worked for was not demolished or forgotten,'' Hopkins said.

David Magnani, a former state senator from Framingham, was a student at Northeastern University in 1968. He and his roommate Max, an African-American, had been attempting to start an after-school program in south Cambridge to bring teens of all races together.

The effort ended with King's death, said Magnani, who still remembers how he felt when he read about the assassination.

"I came home and my friend Max and I looked at each other and we just said, 'Oh, ...' and we used an expletive,'' Magnani said. "We looked at each other for the longest time, and we realized immediately what a profoundly devastating event had occurred.''

Losing King and Robert Kennedy in the same year sucked the life out of many young people fighting for civil rights, Magnani said.

Friday, Magnani plans to attend a remembrance of King in Boston Common.

Hopkins, who will attend a program at Boston University Friday celebrating King's life and work, believes the movement King helped build has continued after he was gone.

"I see it in the numbers of people have grown to accept the vision he had as a real possibility,'' Hopkins said. "People are telling their children to lead lives that correspond to the types of things he led us to do.''

Hopkins said she has experienced it personally, having moved to a majority white town of Framingham, and being elected to the Board of Selectmen.

Magnani has a bleaker outlook on the state of racial equality 40 years after King's death. Among other things, he cited the large percentage of African-American males in prison, compared to the proportion of whites.

"The African-American middle class has grown a lot, but I think the institutional racism hasn't changed,'' Magnani said. "If anything it has gotten worse.''

For Hopkins, having the chance to vote for an African-American for the presidency of the United States shows how far the country has come.

"It thrills me down to my boots that I might have a chance to vote for a black man for president of this country,'' Hopkins said. "Forty years ago, one would have thought that was an absolute impossibility.''

Lloyd said he will spend the day quietly at home preparing his sermon for Sunday. Though Lloyd said he does not believe King's dream has been achieved, his message was powerful enough to inspire people four decades later.

"Even with the dreamer dying, the dream has been captured by a lot of people since then,'' Lloyd said.

Charlie Breitrose can be reached at 508-626-3964 or

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