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Oppenheim: MLK Memory

Adele-Oppenheim-20190121-c.jpg
Hy Edelstein
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Adele Oppenheim is the commentator's mother, shown here in the mid-1970's. Keith Oppenheim recalls his mother's reaction on the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

A couple months ago, I clicked on one of those listicles you see online. In this case, it was something like 10 things you didn’t know about the 1960’s TV show – Bewitched.

I certainly wasn’t expecting anything profound, but then I read that on April 4th, 1968, the broadcast of Bewitched was broken into to report the assassination of Martin Luther King.

I’d forgotten my sister and I were in the basement that night watching Bewitched on ABC, but otherwise, my memory is clear. I remember an abrupt break, a yellow graphic, and the announcement – “We repeat, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been assassinated in Memphis.”

I can’t speak for my sister, but I didn’t know who Martin Luther King was; I just knew this was a big deal. Moments later, we heard our mother come into the house, schlepping in food from Stop & Shop. We didn’t really know what this was about – but we blurted the news to her. And this part of my memory is vivid. With a grocery bag still in her hands, she slumped onto a kitchen chair and repeatedly said “Oh, my God.” We’d certainly seen our mother upset before, but never quite like this.

Mom felt the loss deeply. As a Jew with a family history of loss and persecution, she felt a connection to MLK and his pursuit of justice. When his birthday became a holiday, she learned something she didn’t know – that she and King were born on the same day in the same year - 1929.

Years later, I was working as a reporter, covering an anniversary of King’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Still somewhat embarrassed that, at age 7, I didn’t know who King was, I always felt some obligation to make up for that, so I read books and watched documentaries to learn more about the great man.

But for me, the thing I may associate with King the most is my mother’s reaction to his death. I also think about how things might have been had he lived – and for good reason – because just days ago, my mother celebrated her 90th birthday.