Stories told in July, 2010

The last time I saw Dr. King

This story takes place in 1968. It was told on July 5th, 2010 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

The Summit Hotel was not my favorite place to stay in New York. It was a big modern thing, all glass doors in black marble walls, more of a place for straight-ahead businessmen than I liked. I preferred something smaller, less formal and far away from Midtown. But I was at the Summit on March 25, 1968 whether I liked it or not. All the hotels l liked were booked up.

I was in New York to see someone about a booking, I don’t remember who, and I was already late. Irritably I dropped my bags off in my room, walked down the hall and stood waiting for the elevator, realizing that I should have gone straight to the Village from the airport.

The bell dinged, the elevator doors opened, and there was Dr. King, holding out one hand to shake mine while his other hand kept the door from sliding shut. He was with Ralph Abernathy, another of the SCLC guys, and a couple of younger men I didn’t recognize.

“How about this! It’s my friend Frank Fried,” King told Abernathy as I boarded the elevator. “How are you, Frank? And how is Francoise?”

“Just fine, thank you,” I lied. Francoise was not well at all, but he didn’t need to know that. I told him he was looking hale, and wondered what he was in New York for. “We’re meeting with Harry tonight,” he replied, surprised. “Aren’t you going to be there?”

I told him Harry hadn’t mentioned anything to me, but King urged me to come along anyway. “It would be useful to have you there, Frank,” he said. I begged off. I didn’t think I could get out of my meeting downtown.

“So, what’s the word from the Kennedy camp?” he asked.

“Wrong guy to ask about that,” I protested.

“I might have known you’d be a skeptic,” he laughed. “What could have given me the idea you were a Kennedy man?” I shrugged.

“I’m thrilled that the Democrats are finally facing up to this horrible war,” l said, “but that doesn’t mean l think a primary fight inside the party is going to help anything.” The elevator spilled us into the lobby, where we stood blocking traffic until King motioned us off to one side. l couldn’t help noticing the stares from the upper-middle-class business types walking in and out of the elevators.

King was looking at me, waiting. “lt’s not that l don’t think it means something that the Democrats are dealing with it,” l said. “But we can’t forget that it’s only the struggle that’s going on in the streets that has forced it onto the agenda. That and the fact that we’re getting the shit kicked out of us in Vietnam.” King looked at me and said, “You see, Frank, the only way we can stop the war is if we shake up the Establishment, and the only man who can do that is Rockefeller.”

Ten minutes had gone by, and King and his men had to be off. l looked hard at him as we shook hands. l thought – and I still think – that Dr. King genuinely loved the masses, took responsibility for them. You could say he gave his life for them. But l don’t think he ever fully trusted them to solve their own problems. ln the final analysis, we were left with Rockefeller.

l wanted to chase after him, to stop him and say, “But, but…” But l didn‘t. Ten days later, he was dead.