I just came to the dismaying realization that 1968 was one hell of a long time ago. In thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his day and his legacy, the thing which stuck in my mind wasn't a memory of the day he died or of any of his speeches, but a personal memory associated with his death.
I was just a kid in the 60s. Dr. King was shot a little bit after my 9th birthday. I guess it's normal for memories of childhood to fade after so many years. I do remember seeing his speeches on TV and hearing about marches and protests from my parents, but my most personal experience of his influence came in the aftermath of his death.
In 1968 I lived in the suburbs of Washington DC where my parents worked. We were well isolated from the run-down neighborhoods and troubled conditions of the city. While I remember hearing that Dr. King had died and having some idea what he stood for, but I only know the details from reading about them after the fact. And even though I lived only a few miles away I don't even have memories of the DC riots which broke out in the aftermath of his death, despite the fact that 12 people were killed and 1000 buildings were burned and damaged.
What has stuck with me over the years are memories of going to a Martin Luther King memorial rally held on the Mall several weeks after his death. I suspect these memories stayed with me not so much because of Dr. King, but more because it was the first rock concert I ever attended.
Now, I can't give much of a review of the event from a 9-year-old's perspective writing 36 years later, but I do remember that it was a sudden immersion in the turmmoil of the era in ways I had not experienced before. My first recollection is of my parents talking about going down to the rally despite the possibility of danger or even rioting and fearing they might not be able to park our car safely and having to walk long distances to join up with the anticipated crowd of 100,000 people. This kind of discussion of imminent danger certainly pricked up my ears.