April 4, 1968, as Told by Black Reporters

  • Three Describe the Night of King’s Death
  • 1. White: Editors Had ‘Domino Theory of Rioting’
  • 2. West: A Need ‘to Put Our Imprint on the Stories’
  • 3. Caldwell: ‘I Took It to Be a Bomb’
  • The Athletic Making Little Progress on Diversity
  • NAHJ Reaches 7-Year Membership High
  • Immigrants Found to Drive Crime Down, Not Up
  • Ex-Anchor Depicted as ‘Raunchy Philanderer’
  • Black-Owned Broadcasters Urge ‘Buy Black,’ Voting
  • Palestinian Journalists Injured in Gaza Protests


Jim Vance and Tom Sherwood of Washington’s WRC-TV look back at the 1968 uprising in 2008. (YouTube)

Three Describe the Night of King’s Death

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis 50 years ago on Wednesday. Earl Caldwell, reporting for the New York Times, was at the scene and phoned in the story to his newspaper. To this day, he told Journal-isms, he is more convinced than ever that the killer was never apprehended.


Riots broke out in black communities around the country, “And for twelve days, riots erupted across Washington D.C., killing thirteen and injuring thousands,” (audio) as WAMU-FM’s “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” summarized in April 2008, on the uprising’s 40th anniversary. “The unrest left scars on Washington D.C.’s physical and cultural landscape still felt today. . . .”

Caldwell, 81, recounted that night for Journal-isms by telephone on Monday. Then-Post reporter Hollie I. West, 80, did so by email on Monday, and then-Post reporter Jack White, 71, recollected the events in the 2008 interview with Nnamdi, which is still online.


Caldwell filed his material by telephone to reporter Peter Kiess in New York. When author Gerald Frank interviewed Caldwell for Frank’s 1973 “An American Death: the True Story of the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Caldwell was chastised by fellow black reporter C. Gerald Fraser, who told him, “the problem with the black reporter is that you are going to give this story to the white man.”

Troops were deployed to the streets of Washington, D.C., during the 1968 riots.
Photo: Warren K. Leffler (Library of Congress)

Fraser said Caldwell should have written his own book, but Caldwell replied that he did not have the access that Frank did.

Fraser said Caldwell should have written his own book, but Caldwell replied that he did not have the access that Frank did.


In Washington, West said, “After spending two or three days of phoning in stories to white reporters rewriting our material, we had enough of those guys inside getting all the credit. I don’t remember who initiated the idea of protesting the arrangement. . . . It was important to us as African American journalists to put our imprint on the stories being written. We knew much more about the streets than the white reporters who were designated to tell the story. . . .”

It was barely a month after the Kerner Commission, officially the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, wrote that the news media shared some of the blame for the riots.


“. . . Along with the country as a whole, the press has too long basked in a white world, looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and a white perspective. That is no longer good enough.”

1. White: Editors Had ‘Domino Theory of Rioting’

From the “Kojo Nnamdi Show” in 2008:

“I was working the night shift at the Post that night, and we got word that Dr. King had been shot around 7 p.m. and I was dispatched to go to 14th and U Street. Other reporters went to other areas of the city, but I went to 14th and U. When I got there, I could see [Stokely] Carmichael [of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] through the glass doors of the building . . . he was on the line to Memphis, Tennessee, getting the latest word about Dr. King’s condition.

Jack White
Screenshot: C-SPAN

“. . . the word about Dr. King’s death came shortly after 7 p.m. on the night of April 4, and I heard Carmichael say on the phone ‘He’s dead. That’s it,’ and he stalked out. That’s how I learned that Dr. King had actually died.


“Carmichael then proceeded to walk up the street to where the SNCC headquarters were located; it as about a block away. And when he arrived there,” lots of people were gathered, including members of the Black United Front such as Chuck Stone, who had been editor of the Afro newspaper, and there was a heated discussion about what they should do, and a lot of people, including Lester McKinney, who was the Washington leader of SNCC, a grizzled and very wise veteran of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, were sort of counseling, let’s figure out how we should respond.

“Carmichael was in no mood to do this and he jumped up and said, ‘No, we’re going to ask the stores here to close, out of respect for Dr. King. That’s all we’re going to do. We want them to close down.’ He proceeded south on the corner of U, stopping at each store, telling them that Dr. King had died, asking them to close. A crowd began to gather; the store owners were for the most part as shocked as anyone else and closed their doors quickly, but a crowd began to gather, and . . . I was no more than about 10 feet from Carmichael during this entire time . . . things began to get out of control. . . .


“You have to remember there were very, very few black journalists employed in the local media in Washington at the time. At the Washington Post, where I worked, we had eight or nine reporters, many of whom went on to have really terrific careers in journalism, but who at that time were young, just starting out, like myself.

“And we were all on alert there, but the belief was almost that, among the white editors, was almost a sort of domino theory of rioting, that the rioting was jumping from one city to another and it was going to somehow jump to Washington, D.C., an almost mechanistic belief structure about the way that social change develops.


“TV had — I believe Max Robinson was on at that point, but he was one of a handful of blacks in prominent roles on local television. On the other hand, you had black radio, [which] played a much, much larger role in informing people than I think it does now. WOL was the most popular radio station in town, and on the night that Dr. King was killed, one of the disc jockeys, I can’t remember whether it was [Bob] ‘Nighthawk’ [Terry] or which one of ‘em it was, actually, literally calming the city.

Trying to get people to understand that the violence was the opposite of what Dr. King stood for, and it was an inappropriate way to honor him at the time of his death.


“But you basically had — you have to remember the Kerner Commission report, which looked at the causes of violence — racial violence across the country — had just come out. And they were making the point that one of the reasons that there was so much anger and frustration in the black community was that the news media simply had not told their story, had not told their story of how blacks were still being exploited, oppressed, and held down by a — by white racist oppression all across the country, and one of the things that happened as a result of that riot and the Kerner Commission report is that a lot more black journalists did in fact get hired.

“You can see it now, 40 years later. That’s one of the legacies of the riot,. . . . We have so many, comparatively, black journalists in prominent positions now in the news media who weren’t there before. . . .”


2. West: A Need ‘to Put Our Imprint on the Stories’

Hollie I. West, another black reporter on the scene, offered his recollections Monday for Journal-isms:

“On April 4, 1968, I had been at The Post just shy of a year and was covering the newly installed city council, banging heads with Paul Delaney [at the Washington Star] on stories.

Hollie I. West
Photo: Maynard Institute

After a day’s work at the District Building (now the Wilson Building), I went back to the paper and was getting ready to check out for the evening when Bill Brady,” a night editor, “asked me to hang around because a bulletin had just come across that King had been shot in Memphis.


“Later, a bulletin crossed the wire that King had died. Brady told me to go find Walter Fauntroy,” a pastor who had been appointed to the city council, “for comment. I headed to his church, but he wasn’t there and was told he might be in the 14th & U Street area, which was my next destination. He was nowhere to be seen. However, I saw activity bubbling and brimming over into violence.

“I planted myself in the group following Stokely Carmichael going up and down 14th Street asking store owners to close in honor of King. Soon, a brick was thrown and a store window was broken. Quickly, all hell broke loose.


“I remember seeing Jack White on the scene but no one else from The Post right away. It was an all-night affair, followed by action the next day. [Black Post journalists] Bob Maynard, Jesse Lewis and Bill Raspberry joined the fray. . . .

“After spending two or three days of phoning in stories to white reporters rewriting our material, we had enough of those guys inside getting all the credit. I don’t remember who initiated the idea of protesting the arrangement. Maybe Jesse made the connection because he was close to [Deputy Managing Editor] Ben Gilbert (his wedding reception was held at the Gilbert home).


“Following the time the paper went to bed one night, we had a meeting with [Managing Editor] Ben Bradlee and Ben Gilbert in the coffee shop at the old Pick-Lee House at 15th & L. and thoroughly aired our grievances. Maynard, Jesse, Raspberry and I definitely were there. . . . . I don’t remember details of the meeting, but it went on for a while.

“Bradlee and Gilbert decided to bring in some black reporters from the field to do some writing. I believe that Jesse and Raspberry got most of the writing duties because the editors needed Maynard and me out on the street.


“It was important to us as African American journalists to put our imprint on the stories being written. We knew much more about the streets than the white reporters who were designated to tell the story.

“In addition, we had experience in writing stories from riot areas. Maynard had reported and written for The Post from Newark in 1967. I had reported and written from Chicago for the AP in 1966, from Newark for The Post in 1967, and Jesse had reported and written for The Post from Detroit in 1967.


“It was a knee-jerk action for Post editors to send black reporters out to the field and depend on white reporters to spin the tale.”

3. Caldwell: ‘I Took It to Be a Bomb’

Earl Caldwell

Earl Caldwell came to the New York Times in March 1967, and the fears of “long hot summers” occupied the minds of editors. There had already been such summers in 1964, 1965 and 1966, and larger uprisings in Newark and Detroit were to come the following summer. On April 4, 1967, King linked the civil rights and antiwar movements in a major speech at New York’s Riverside Church.

Caldwell and reporter Gene Roberts, a white southerner, were assigned to keep watch on potential unrest for the Times’ National Desk. Thomas A. Johnson was the only other black reporter on the staff, but Johnson was to stay close to New York.


Claude Sitton, the national editor, told Caldwell that King “has just got to be stopped. He’s lost control of his people.” When King decided to go to Memphis in 1968 to support the striking sanitation men, Sitton told Caldwell to get to the city a couple of days ahead of King. “Wherever he stays, that’s where you stay,” Sitton instructed. Caldwell followed King to the Lorraine Motel.

King and Caldwell spoke in King’s room on the civil rights leader’s second day there, but a planned follow-up did not take place because King’s other meetings ran overtime.


On the third day, as Caldwell would write in 1979 for the Daily News in New York, “It was near 6 p.m. and the evening light was still good. I was in my room at the Lorraine Motel. I was in Room [214] on the ground floor of the motel, only a few doors from the room that the Rev. King occupied. It was deadline time, and I had been trying to get a long distance line to telephone to New York the story that I had been working on.

“The shot sounded like an explosion. I took it to be a bomb. It was my fear working. Bombing was one of the [terrorist] tactics used against Blacks, and — . . . all this welled up inside me. My response was automatic. There was no hesitation. I was already on my feet. . . .


“From the doorway, my view was of the thicket across the street and my attention was drawn to a man who was stooping low in the bushes. He did nothing strange or suspicious. My attention focused on him only because he was there. There was no one else, and my eyes stayed glued on him. He was [straight ahead]. He appeared to be coming out of a crouched position. He was alone, partly hidden in the thicket. He did not look in my direction. His attention was trained on something else — something I could not see . . .

“Now, from the rear, came the moans and then the cries. I learned that attention was behind me, up on the balcony. It was Rev. King. It had not been a bombing. It had been a rifle fire, and the Rev. King was the target.


“It was 11 years ago. Still I wonder about the man who climbed up from the bushes that night. The police, their reports, say the man did not exist. But I know better. I was there. And today, I’m like Andy Young. I do not believe that James Earl Ray alone was responsible for the assassination.”

Caldwell also told Journal-isms that the police never came to interview him, though he was registered in the hotel and “the biggest crime of the century happened. The people I interviewed said the same thing. There was no investigation.” He now says there were two men in the bushes, likely winos, and that a third man came through and fired a shot.


Meanwhile, Caldwell had already identified a pay phone in the alley that he would use to file his story. When someone else came to use it, Caldwell told him, “This phone is going to be tied up for the rest of the night.” But the man pulled out an ID and said, “I’m from the Justice Department of the United States. I have to commandeer this phone,” mentioning Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

It was just as well, Caldwell said, as it gave him a chance to look at the motel, where King was laying on the balcony.


“The guy says, ‘Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll make sure you are the one who gets the phone” when he was done.

Ray pleaded guilty to the murder of King on March 10, 1969, and Ray was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Members of the King family say they don’t believe Ray was the killer.


Caldwell says he never found out what the Justice Department man was doing at the Lorraine Motel. A photo of himself at the motel with King and the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, King’s lieutenant, has somehow disappeared. Frank’s book identified one of the men in the bushes as Harold “Cornbread” Carter, who said he saw the shooter. However, authorities dismissed Carter’s statements, said he had contradicted himself.

To Fraser’s chiding that black reporters always turned over their stories to white journalists, Caldwell said he had no problem working on deadline with Kiess that night. “We were tight,” Caldwell said.


Caroline Bauman, Chalkbeat: ‘Genius grant’ writer to Memphis: ‘We’re losing the only gains we’ve made’ against segregation (March 23)

John Beifuss, Commercial Appeal, Memphis: Memphis, Martin Luther King Jr. focus of media spotlight during week of tragic anniversary


DeNeen L. Brown, Washington Post: The determined father who took Linda Brown by the hand and made history

Jarvis DeBerry: NOLA.com | Times-Picayune: 50 years after MLK’s assassination, the white moderate claims to be his biggest fan


Leonard Downie Jr., Washington Post: In segregated D.C., few officials feared rioting. They had not considered the suffering of black residents. (March 27)

Paul Duggan and Clarence Williams, Washington Post: After bloodshed in earlier U.S. riots, D.C. police showed restraint in 1968 unrest


Editorial, Dallas Morning News: Linda Brown’s legacy serves as a reminder: School segregation is still a real problem

Editorial, Philadelphia Inquirer: Linda Brown’s death a reminder that America’s schools are still segregated


John Eligon, New York Times: A Black Evangelist Who Opposed Dr. King

Aram Goudsouzian, Washington Post: This black photographer befriended rights leaders and fed info on them to the FBI


Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Sun-Times: Ruby Bridges: Civil rights icon looks back; subject of famous Rockwell painting

Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Sun-Times: Nation set to commemorate 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King assassination


Jesse Jackson, New York Times: How Dr. King Lived Is Why He Died

Colbert I. King, Washington Post: Fifty years on, there’s cause for weeping — and for hope


Nina Lin, WRC-TV Washington: Then and Now: Scenes From DC After MLK’s Assassination

Jean Marbella, Baltimore Sun: The fire both times: Baltimore riots after Martin Luther King’s death 50 years ago left scars that remain


Marya Annette McQuirter: dc1968 project. 365 stories re DC in 1968

Jack Moore, WTOP Radio: ‘The mayor saw it with his own eyes:’ Reporter chronicles 1968 chaos of DC riots


Adrian Sainz and Kristin M. Hall, Associated Press: Witnesses remember day MLK was shot

Maritza Silva-Farrel, Daily News, New York: Sanitation workers & the mountaintop

Ahmed Tharwat, Star Tribune, Minneapolis: A lesson from Martin Luther King Jr.: Political movements need to march together, not alone


WBEZ-FM, Chicago: Sorrow, Then Rage: Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination shook Chicago, and ignited riots on the city’s West Side.

Wendi C. Thomas, New York Times: How Memphis Gave Up on Dr. King’s Dream

Tonyaa Weathersbee, Commercial Appeal, Memphis: MLK Jr.’s ‘Beloved Community’ also included those who didn’t speak English


The Athletic Making Little Progress on Diversity

The CEO of the fast-growing subscription sports website the Athletic acknowledged that “we’re having issues creating a diverse team,” this column reported last August, after the site published a photo of the staff of the All-American, a premium national college football site whose staff appeared to be all white.


“But a few months later they have not improved their hiring much as you can see from this tweet,Gregory Lee Jr., former president of the National Association of Black Journalists and a former chair of its Sports Task Force, told Journal-isms on Monday.

“So, I decided to do some research on who they have hired. This is based on information from their website staff listings, APSE [Associated Press Sports Editors] On The Move Column, Twitter announcements.


“Here is what we have found so far of their Full time staff reporters and editors and contributors . . . “

“106 white males — 74.6%

“18 white females — 12.6%

“6 Black males (five full time) — 4%

“10 Asian Males — 7%

“2 Hispanic Males — 1.4%

“87.3% percent of their staff is white.

“0 Blacks in management. 0 Black females”

A spokeswoman for the Athletic did not respond to a request from Journal-isms for comment, but the organization tweeted in response to Lee’s figures:

“Thanks for holding us accountable Greg. We assure you that diversity is a priority for the company and we have been working closely with the NABJ to accelerate these efforts.”


NAHJ Reaches 7-Year Membership High

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists now has 2,227 members, “a 7 year high for us,” Alberto B. Mendoza, the executive director, announced on Facebook Monday.


That compares with 3,754 members for the National Association of Black Journalists, “over 1,300" for the Asian American Journalists Association and 500 for the Native American Journalists Association, according to representatives of those groups.

Asked what factors contributed to the increase, NAHJ spokeswoman B.A. Snyder replied with this statement:

“The pillars of NAHJ focus on our Next Generation Initiatives, Training, Partnerships and Leadership. These areas are what bring the most value to current and potential members. We are very intentional with our approach on how to support these pillars and uphold the mission of NAHJ, both on a short term and long term basis.


“In between conferences and bigger events, we rely heavily on our communications strategy to keep us relevant and engaged with our members daily.

“Our digital editorial calendar is filled with initiatives that help us stay in the forefront of our members minds with diversified and engaging content.


“We’ve also worked to really bridge the gap of communication between the national leadership and local chapters to better support their initiatives on the ground. It’s important we work as one team to promote workshops, jobs fairs and training opportunities. Together we’ve been able to identify where our strengths lie, and what realistically provides the top resources and opportunities to elevate a [member’s] experience.

“As we approach July, we’re extremely excited for attendees to experience our International Training Conference and Career Fair. It is a concept inclusive of our colleagues from LATAM [Latin America], serves our members at all career levels and both the English and Spanish language newsrooms.


“While it is a lot of work, this will be an event that is game changing for attendees and our membership numbers reflect people taking notice.”

Maddie Burakoff, Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University: Medill announces Latinx, Hispanic multimedia journalism award to honor former Prof. Cecilia Vaisman (March 20)


Immigrants Found to Drive Crime Down, Not Up

The Trump administration’s first year of immigration policy has relied on claims that immigrants bring crime into America. President Trump’s latest target is sanctuary cities,” Anna Flagg reported Friday for the Marshall Project, published in collaboration with the New York Times’ Upshot.


“As of 2017, according to Gallup polls, almost half of Americans agreed that immigrants make crime worse. But is it true that immigration drives crime? Many studies have shown that it does not.

“Immigrant populations in the United States have been growing fast for decades now. Crime in the same period, however, has moved in the opposite direction, with the national rate of violent crime today well below what it was in 1980.


“In a large-scale collaboration by four universities, led by Robert Adelman, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers compared immigration rates with crime rates for 200 metropolitan areas over the last several decades. The selected areas included huge urban hubs like New York and smaller manufacturing centers less than a hundredth that size, like Muncie, Ind., and were dispersed geographically across the country.

“According to data from the study, a large majority of the areas have many more immigrants today than they did in 1980 and fewer violent crimes. The Marshall Project extended the study’s data up to 2016, showing that crime fell more often than it rose even as immigrant populations grew almost across the board. . . .”


Michelle Chen, NBCTHINK: Trump wants to reframe the census to fit his definition of America, not protect Americans

Steve Coll, New Yorker: When ICE Tries to Deport Americans, Who Defends Them? (March 21)


Shikha Dalmia, The Week: ICE’s tyrannical campaign to silence dissent

Ryan Devereaux, the Intercept: He Spoke Out Against Somalia’s Terrorist Groups. Now ICE Has Deported Him There.


Editorial, Dallas Morning News: Use the census to count people, not divide us with a citizenship question

Editorial, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.: We all share blame for Dreamers’ nightmare


Editorial, Chicago Sun-Times: Citizenship question could put 2020 Census down for the count

Editorial, Philadelphia Inquirer: Truth the first casualty every time Trump opens his mouth about DACA and immigrants


Emil Guillermo, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund: Census citizenship question? Only to harass people of color. Plus, Ass’n of Asian American Studies meets in SF 50 years after historic strike

Roy S. Johnson, al.com: No, America, the face of domestic terrorism is not brown

Ruben Navarrette Jr., Washington Post Writers Group: A heartbreaking price for immigrants to pay (March 21)


Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald: Is Trump using citizenship question on Census to undermine minorities’ count? You bet

Ex-Anchor Depicted as ‘Raunchy Philanderer’

Malcom Maddox

On camera, Malcom Maddox was the smiling TV anchorman who came off as a friendly, easygoing and trusted face of WXYZ,” Tresa Baldas reported Saturday for the Detroit Free Press.

“Off-camera, coworkers say, he was a raunchy philanderer who sexually harassed women at work, flashing cell phone pictures of his penis to multiple coworkers, asking them to rank his genitalia on a 10-point scale.


“At least four women complained to the station’s human resources department about the pics, sources said, but Maddox never lost his job.

“Then came the #metoo movement. . . .”

Baldas also wrote, “Last month, Maddox left his six-figure anchorman job with WXYZ after the station got socked with a $100-million lawsuit by former TV reporter Tara Edwards, who claims that Maddox sexually harassed her, but that the station failed to adequately respond.


“The Free Press spoke to five former WXYZ employees who said the station supported an unhealthy work environment that allowed Maddox to engage in inappropriate behavior and ignored staff complaints about his conduct, which included engaging in sexual activity at the station, bringing girlfriends to work when he was married and talking about things that made female coworkers uncomfortable. . . .”

Black-Owned Broadcasters Urge ‘Buy Black,’ Voting

The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, Inc. Monday announced a “Use Your Power” campaign, referring to both buying and voting power.


“The campaign is directed at the listeners of NABOB member and African American targeted radio stations,” a news release said. “The campaign is designed to educate our audiences about the $1.2 trillion dollar consumer buying power of African Americans and to encourage them to use that power wisely.

“The campaign will have two goals. First, we will encourage our audiences to patronize establishments that support our stations. Second, to encourage our audiences to vote in every election in which they are eligible to vote. . . .”


Palestinian Journalists Injured in Gaza Protests

Israeli authorities should independently and credibly investigate reports that Israeli security forces injured journalists covering protests in the Gaza Strip on March 30,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.


“At least 10 Palestinian journalists were injured while covering mass protests on the Gaza border, according to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), the Palestinian press freedom group Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom (MADA), the regional press freedom group Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CFJ), and news reports.

“Thousands of Palestinians joined the protest in Gaza Strip on March 30 against Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their pre-1948 homes, news reports said. At least 17 Palestinians have been killed and 1,400 injured in the protest.


“ ‘Journalists should be able to cover demonstrations without fearing for their safety,’ CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington D.C. “We call on Israeli officials to hold to account any security personnel who commit violence against journalists. . . .”

Adam Johnson, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting: NPR Runs IDF Playbook, Spinning Killing of 17 Palestinians


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Richard Prince’s Journal-isms originates from Washington. It began in print before most of us knew what the internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a “column.” Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.


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