An Act of Resistance Honors Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by a James Earl Ray. My father’s name was James David Ray. The last name is common. There are a lot of Rays running around out there.
About a week after MLK’s assassination, I visited my family from college and my father, in a bonding experience, took me to his weekly luncheon of the Corona del Mar Kiwanis Club. It was in the back room of a local restaurant. The attendees were about 40 local businessmen and some were my dad’s buddies.
We were late and by the time we arrived, most of the men already were seated in a big square arrangement and were ebullient about Dr. King’s death. One stood and even toasted my father for having a name so similar to the assassin. Another said, “Hey, it took a guy name James Ray to kill that nigger,” and many of the men stood and applauded.
This is not an exaggeration. It really happened.
My father grew up in Republican Kansas in a era when some of the men who had fought in the Civil War still were alive. The Republican Party was Lincoln’s creation and it was the party of the Emancipation Proclamation. If you were a Republican, by the standards of that day, you were a liberal.
My father’s family went broke in the Depression and he rode the freights west to get a job. He was a hobo. He knew what it was to be poor and hungry and hopeful for a handout.
At the Kiwanis Club meeting, the comment stopped my father in his tracks. He stared around the room, swiveling his eyes slowly, then hung his head. I was next to him. I saw it. He looked up again and moved his eyes from one member to the next. He said nothing. He looked around gradually, almost gently, his head moving in a sweeping great arc. I think he looked into the eyes of everyone in the room.
As if by some agreement, the men who had stood sat down. It was slow and uncoordinated. They moved their chairs as soundlessly as they could. The whole room became still as the momentum of mob mentality drained away.
My father remained standing until everyone else found their seats. He was a big and burly man, a construction contractor with a big chest, who wore a well-tailored jacket, pants and tie. He swiveled his head around the room as everyone sat down.
He was magnificent.
Eventually, the quiet period passed and the club got around to its usual business and gossip. I sat beside my father and said nothing. My father never said anything either. Ever. He never mentioned the incident. None of his kids know of it except me.
Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and now lives in Laguna Beach. He makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur and is involved in many non-profits.