Martin Luther King Day

In the spring of 1968, I was photo editor of The Ohio University Post and a photography major. One of my classes – it might have been Magazine and Newspaper Photography – had us form up into teams. We had to pick a geographical area, then document what happened in that area for a week. Classmate Lyntha Scott Eiler was on The Athena, the university yearbook. The publications worked out of the student union building on the Main Green and, since we practically lived there anyway, we picked that as our geographical area. We recruited two more team members and set to work.

The first part of the project was boringly routine: college students playing around with dogs, sunning themselves on the War Memorial, just light-hearted stuff.

A gunshot changed everything

The mood of the campus changed in a heartbeat with a gunshot in Memphis, Tenn. Dr. Martin Luther King was dead.

Memorial service changed to sit-in

My team was lucky enough that our area was where a National Day of Mourning service was going to be held. When it broke up, the crowd moved a block north to the major intersection in town at Court and Union Streets to conduct a sit-in. This wasn’t unusual. That was the traditional spot for the annual Rites of Spring riot and anti-war protests. Cops and students would do a choreographed chicken dance, then everybody would break up and go home. Few arrests were made and teargas wasn’t used until after Kent State.

We could have had a riot

This time, though, a redneck Athens police captain decided he was going to literally throw the demonstrators off of his streets. He didn’t realize how raw emotions were. It was as close to sparking a race riot as Athens has ever come. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the students were allowed to block the street for a “reasonable” amount of time.

I’ve been afraid for years that we had to turn in our film as part of the project, but I ran across it last week. I’m going to save the bulk of the photos for the anniversary of the National Day of Mourning to give me a chance to track down some of the students so they can tell me what they remember of that day.

I don’t recall what grade we got on the project, but I’m pleased with what I’ve seen so far.


3 Replies to “Martin Luther King Day”

  1. What an incredible set of photos you were able to take because of a college assignment and the particular time and the place!

  2. Ken, my daughter works for Holzer Clinic in Athens 1 day a week and we drove up there one day last november from a little “burg” in West Virginia and spent the day in Athens and it seems such a peaceful town compared to the impression your account here of the place, leaves. Of course we now realize what a traunatic time we were in then.
    Joe Whitright “45”

    1. Athens was a mostly peaceful place. I can’t think of an area I’ve loved being in more (sorry, Cape). I made the best photos of my career while roaming SE Ohio working for The Athens Messenger.

      Ohio Magazine ran a spread of my old photos in 1993, 25 years after I had taken them. I used that as an excuse to go back to Athens for only about the second time since I left it in 1970.

      Much looked the same, but I had lost my sense of place and direction. The most striking thing – after living in graybeard Florida – was that I had never seen so many young people in one place.

      Rooting through the negs looking for these pictures gave me a stirring to rush through the Cape years so I can start telling Ohio stories.

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