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Birmingham: The First Time

Everyone in the room, the policeman, the women, and Dr. King himself, is wearing a hat--except for the desk sergeant whose back is to us and whose hand is holding a pair of glasses on top of the counter that intersects the entire view. Are the glasses the desk sergeant's or do they belong to Dr. King? Two policemen, badges shining on their caps, stand behind King. One has pulled King's arm up behind his back and the other, holding handcuffs, grasps King's free arm palm-down on the counter just above the bent elbow. Dr. King's gold watch, like the whistle hanging from the policeman's pocket, is illuminated in the light afforded the arrested in this police station in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. King pulled down slightly on his right side, the right arm being held behind his back, looks straight at me. The line of the brim of his gray felt hat with the black hatband slants at a forty-five degree angle to the counter. Two black women stand with King, to his left behind the counter and the large forearm of another man (out of sight) extends to the rest of the wrist on the counter. One of the black women is moving. She seems a blur. In the background between the two caps of the policeman and above the brim of Dr. King's hat appears the indistinguishable (because Dr. King's hat blots out his facial features) face of a white man wearing a straw hat. He is the ghost of Southern racism.

I am seven years old. Things happen here that will change my life. In the next ten years I will grow and mature. Dr. King will be shot to death at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King is in Montgomery today to hear the Reverend Ralph Abernathy testify. A policeman arrested King earlier today on the courthouse steps for loitering. Police book King here at the Montgomery Police Station. In jail, King prepares to spend two weeks in jail pending his trial. Within the hour, the Montgomery Police Chief pays King's ten-dollar fine himself to prevent King from making good political use of his imprisonment. "The Letter from Birmingham Jail" comes five years later, same place, different world.

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