Black History Month: The Hearse of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA-- Last year I had the honor to help WGNO's News With a Twist commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  with a year-long series honoring black achievement and culture.  These "MLK50" stories led up to my travel to Memphis, Tennessee for the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination.  During that year, I traversed around parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee to tell the remarkable stories of people in conflict within a world who deemed them unworthy of dignity.  As journalists we tell the stories of everyday people and what effects them.  When articulating history, you are often telling the stories of people who are not around to be heard.  Every smile under the sun of this earth has a right to shine.   When speaking of the civil rights movement, it was not just the major events that altered history's course; it was the local heroes who acted upon hope.  It is our responsibility to listen and find the voices of those who did not have the chance to tell their story.  After all, their story, might have changed yours.

One of my fondest memories of Memphis, was hearing the roar of a impassioned crowd of hundreds submit to will of silence as the bell on the Lorraine Motel tolled.  In that moment, I like to think, it rang not only for brother Martin, but for all of the heroes I had met on my journey through change.

Recently I went to the Louisiana, capitol city of Baton Rouge to honor an artifact that traveled from Memphis; the hearse of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Joey David is the curator of the Capitol Mark Museum and gave the history, saying, "It picked him up after the assassination at the hospital and carried him to the R.S. Lewis and Sons funeral home. After a short viewing at the funeral home, it carried him to the Memphis airport where Ms. Coretta Scott King would accompany the body back to Atlanta."

All the emotions came surging back from the year before during my visit.  I was surprised to hear that the hearse, is now owned by Todd Graves, the owner and founder of Raising Canes.   Even though February is black history month, people who would like to see the hearse can experience history anytime this year because the hearse is on loan to the museum through the end of December.

I'll assume that those reading this article will pay Baton Rouge a visit to see the hearse.  While you are in the "capital city,"  I would advise you to drive over to the Mt. Zion Baptist Church as well.  Joey David perfectly said, "history happened right here at home. Right here in Baton Rouge. Reverend T.J. Jemison and other African American leaders orchestrated a bus boycott back in 1953. Which is just a few blocks from us here at the museum.  The bus boycott in Baton Rouge, would ultimately be the model that Dr. King would model his Montgomery bus boycott after."

It's a lesson that history is made everyday in every booming metropolis and every small town.

Joey David shares this sentiment, as he looked at the hearse, saying, "this hearse just shows us that history is living with us all the time. Major events such as this are not that far removed.  You see it in videos. You read about it, but to actually see the real thing and imagine Dr. King lying right there; it brings a whole part of history to you that you don't normally get."

For me, the hearse was so much more than a ride to the morgue.  It symbolized the point at which Martin's dream became eternal.  Like in classical greek literature, I imagined the hearse as a pegasus-drawn chariot carrying a hero onward, after a job well done.  Perhaps all of this in only in my head.  If this is a dream... that may not necessarily be a bad thing.

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