Martin Luther King Jr.

“When I was 25, I met Martin Luther King at a march he had in Benton. He shook my hand, and told me things were going to get better. I had already had one child and had another one on the way. But those words were touching.”

John Bove
Oxford Stories
jpbovesm@go.olemiss.edu

 

Mary Redmond

“(King) shook my hand, and told me things were going to get better.”

Mary Redmond was born in Yazoo City Nov. 16, 1938, and grew up in the segregated South during a time when African Americans “could only buy goods from a blacks-only grocery.” One particular trip to the store was different when Redmond had a confrontation with a white family.

“On the way there, my arm hit a little white girl’s arm,” she said, “and she told her dad, ‘That black girl just hit me.’ Her mom and dad started to hit my dad, and that’s when my dad told me to run home.”

As she raced home in the shadow of fear, adrenaline pumping through her veins, Redmond briefly turned back to see a group of white people beating her father. 

“I was scared,” she said. “I kept running until I got home, and I told mama. Mama got a call. That was the last time I saw my daddy.

“Mama never told me what happened that day, but at the funeral, I heard some people talking, and they said that they had beaten my daddy so bad, and still threw him in jail, and that’s where he died.”

Redmond eventually moved to Chicago after the death of her mother, but she returned to Mississippi in 1964 at age 16. She later graduated from a training school, a professional accomplishment for a black woman in the South in the 1960s.

“Things seemed a little better, but not much,” she said. “… I grew up in times when being black was a crime, a crime that we could not correct ourselves of.”

Redmond later met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“When I was 25, I met Martin Luther King at a march he had in Benton,” she said. “He shook my hand, and told me things were going to get better. I had already had one child and had another one on the way. But those words were touching. Later that year in March, I had my baby girl, my only girl.”

That year was 1968, and King was murdered a month later. However, his words lasted a lifetime, providing hope to the hopeless, especially for Redmond.

“He gave the black people hope and a dream,” she said. “And it did get better. Hell, I lived to see a black man become president. That was one of the best days of my life. I’ll never forget it.”

Redmond has witnessed change personally and nationally. Her grandson, Carl Tart, is a standout student at the University of Mississippi, a school she could have only dreamed of attending.

John Bove (3/3)

Carl describes his grandmother as a hero, saying, “She took care of me when I was younger due to the fact that my brother was born with a hole in his heart, and my parents had to move to Cleveland, Ohio, to be at the hospital with him until he was old enough to have surgery.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

“The interaction I had was short lived with him. After being released from jail, I was introduced to him as one of the youngest Freedom Riders during a march, and he asked for me to come up front with him.”

By Conner Owens
Oxford Stories
cowens2@go.olemiss.edu

 

Hezekiah Watkins

“After being released from jail, I was introduced to (King) as one of the youngest Freedom Riders during a march.”

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed. This act of violence echoed throughout the nation and sent the United States into hysteria. King had an impact on the lives of many who met him. Hezekiah Watkins had a personal encounter with King.

Watkins, who was one of the youngest Freedom Riders, said he was jailed at age 13 for being a participant. When he and one of his friends wanted to get a closer look at the people who were traveling and fighting for equality, they rode their bikes to the Greyhound Station in Jackson.

Watkins said he could not see across the street, so he and his friend ran over to look inside, but when he tried to stop at the door, he said, “Troy pushed me in.”

This put Watkins on a path to fight for freedom, but it was a scary road. He was sent to jail for being a Freedom Rider that day at the Greyhound Station.

“When I was in prison, I was there with convicted killers,” he said.

Since then, Watkins said he has been jailed more than 100 times for trying to find a peaceful way to become equal in society. As an avid civil rights leader, King noticed Watkins’ activism and asked him to march in Jackson when he was there.

Watkins recalls eating dinner with King. “This place on Farish Street called Steven’s Kitchen – it was known as the place for blacks to eat in the ’60s,” he said. “I recall sitting at the table with him maybe once or twice. He was like a family member … I recall having a hamburger steak with gravy and mashed potatoes, and I remember him saying to put mine on his ticket.”

Watkins said he was in the military at Fort Lee, Virginia, when King was assassinated. “One of the guys had a radio, and I recall them saying come to the dayroom,” he said. “That’s where the TV and lounge chair were to socialize.

“There were more whites in the unit than blacks, and I’m trying to listen to what they were saying, but also understand why this guy had been murdered.

“There were some white guys behind me, and I remember one of them just breaking down and crying. I remember one of them saying, ‘What is going to become of the world,’ and I guess within 30 minutes or less, a little riot broke out on the base.”

IMG_1847

Watkins said the mindset on the base was different. “It affected not just me, but every soldier who was there,” he said. “Either you were sad or you were glad. For the next few days, no one talked about it.”

Watkins said losing King was like losing a family member. “You just don’t have the words,” he said. “The interaction I had was short lived with him. After being released from jail, I was introduced to him as one of the youngest Freedom Riders during a march, and he asked for me to come up front with him. Several other times, he came to Jackson. There wasn’t a lot of times I got to see him, but even when he came to town, he asked me, ‘Hi. How’re you doing?’”

Watkins said we have lost sight of the Dream, but it’s not too late to reclaim it. He said all it takes is someone to stand up and push forward.