oF The king

“Everyone was expecting a truly violent racial outburst,” recalled Ver-
non Jarrett, a prominent African American journalist working in Chicago,
thinking back to April 4, 1968, the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassi-
nated. Indeed, racial unrest had been steadily mounting throughout the de-
cade, and the previous three years had been marked by uprisings in Watts,
in 1965, and Newark and Detroit, in 1967. Even as racial discord increased
and King’s positions on the war in Vietnam and other issues became more
controversial, for many Blacks and whites he continued to be a preemi-
nent national symbol of the hope for racial harmony. High- profile assassi-
nations, controversy over the Vietnam War, and a tremendous divide be-
tween races had left the country riven, and many Americans apprehensive
about the future. Many feared that the possibility for racial consensus was
irrevocably lost after King’s murder. Across the urban United States, local
government officials and white business and property owners alike feared
another, even larger uprising by African American residents; Washington,
D.C., Newark, and many other cities erupted with riots when King’s death
was announced. Local television stations around the country offered ex-
tensive footage of King’s funeral. The funeral broadcast on wlS-Chicago
attracted a large- enough audience that the station decided to initiate a
Black television program, For Blacks Only. Of course, the assassination and
funeral were major news stories, but my research points to the telling im-
plication that another goal of the significant airtime given to the funeral
was to induce African Americans to stay in their homes, in front of their
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