The Picture, April 5, 1968

On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King was assassinated. It was for many Americans the lowest point in a rough and troubled decade. The following day a photographer for the Duluth News Tribune took a picture of a memorial for King. Someone acquired the photograph and sent it to Mary Cameron its chief subject. 

I saw the picture shortly after I met Mary and it haunts me to this day. 

That year my family hosted the first black student, in memory, to attend Mankato High School. Bedru Beshir was a foreign student who reveled in America's freedom though he too felt its racism. My family, like Mary Cameron's family the decade before, had moved to Minnesota from further south. In moving north we had both entered largely white communities. At least I could blend into Mankato, an all white community, until I opened my mouth and let my soft Kansas accent out into the open.

My family was a political one. My Mother's father was the Kansas State Auditor and my father was a political junkie. Dad watched every national political convention on television from gavel to gavel. We stopped family vacations to follow the national conventions while my Dad tabulated the votes as state delegations called them out. His figures were always a step ahead of the network commentators. 

In 1968 Robert Kennedy was challenging Hubert Humphrey for the Democratic Party's nomination. The evening he won the California primary our family was crowded around the television with Bedru watching the returns. Bedru, like many people around the world revered John Kennedy and was following Robert Kennedy's campaign eagerly. He was so engrossed in the, to him, novel exercise of democracy, Ethiopia being a dictatorship, that he watched the news from California long after the rest of us turned in. The rest of us were content to rest once it was clear that Kennedy had prevailed. Bedru came to bed late in the morning quietly and did not wake the rest of us.

The next morning we woke to the news of Robert Kennedy's assassination. Bedru had watched the murder and the confusion following it by himself late into the morning. Bedru, who was to become a victim of his own nation's despotism some years later, witnessed the perils of our freedom that night. Kennedy, like his brother and King before him was mowed down in the land of the free and home of the brave.

Mary and I are the same age. When I look at this photograph I see a quiet anguish in Mary's eyes. The hurly burly of life does its best to banish reflection but those of us who choose to take time to remember can recall life's disappointments and sorrows. When I look at this picture I clearly remember these disappointments but I also see something else.  Though they are bruised and battered Mary's eyes also shine with hope.