I Met with Martin Luther King Minutes Before He Was Murdered
He was the only man with the power to unite my militant Black power group and his civil rights movement. Then, 49 years ago today, a single bullet changed history.
In the summer of 1967, I was back in my hometown, Memphis, Tennessee, after serving two years in Vietnam. I was a “young blood,” 24 years old, full of hope and promise. I had a job at the defense depot, owned a car and rented my own pad. I lived a bachelor’s life and loved every second of it. My childhood friend, Charles Cabbage, who grew up with me in Riverside, a neighborhood on the north side of Memphis, had also returned home. “Cab,” as we called him, had graduated from college and was enraptured by the Black Power movement.
One sweltering evening, Cab and I had an intense discussion about Black Power while driving in my car. He had joined the movement, but I felt those cats lived in a make-believe world. I joked, “You don’t even have a job, with your broke Black-power ass, you should have learned how to make some money when you were getting an education.” Cab responded with a rant about how Black people should be in control of their communities, because the white man would never let us determine our own destiny. I didn’t understand his discontent. Racism, in my mind, was perpetrated by a few individual white folks.
As Cab and I debated these issues, I pulled into a gas station in Riverside. A white attendant started filling up the tank. When we were leaving he said, “I see you don’t have a gas cap. I can sell you one for a buck.” I had lost three previous gas caps at this very station. Every time, the attendant had sold me a new cap. But now, I took a closer look at the guy and saw something bulging under his uniform. He had stolen my gas cap! Unable to contain my indignation, I shouted, “I’m calling the cops!” When they arrived, they ignored me, heard the attendant out instead, then arrested Cab and me.