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  • Writer's pictureGeorgie Davis

The Dreamer

Atlanta, Ga. April, 1968

Atlanta was in an uproar. People were angry, hurt, and frustrated over the events surrounding The Dreamer's (Dr. Martin Luther King) death. Rumors of potential riots had white folks concerned about going out in public. Despite warnings from his peers, Daddy was determined to take his family to view the body of the fallen martyr, for he knew one day I would understand the significance.

Although too young to understand the significance of my first memory, it stands clear in my mind after all these years.

I saw a man in a long box with dark makeup plastered around his lower right jaw. Daddy said an evil man had shot him.

I saw a man in a long box with dark makeup plastered around his lower right jaw. Daddy said an evil man had shot him.

We stood outside Spelman Chapel in Atlanta with thousands of others, trying to reach the front door. The line began at the compound's entrance and wound around brick buildings and under cover of the blooming dogwoods. People moved forward at a snail’s pace. Unconcerned about where we were or why we were there, I thought about the ice cream shop we had passed earlier while we eased bumper-to-bumper along the road leading to the Atlanta University Center Consortium.

My mouth watered, and I imagined the sweet cream on my tongue. “Strawberry, please,” I would say if given the option.

That morning on Palm Sunday, 1968, we had attended Holy Temple Church, an all-black congregation, where Daddy had been invited to speak. Like us, many who waited in line wore church attire. Uniformly, the men in the crowd sported fedoras with dark suits while the women donned black dresses and long white coats.

My sister, Bertie, and I were three and four. We looked like Irish twins with short blond hair—hers was curly, and mine was straight—and bright blue eyes. Our outfits matched: black and white checkered print jumpsuit dresses, white socks laced at the top, and shiny black shoes. Our young white family must have stood out like a sore thumb as we nestled in the crowd consisting primarily of black Americans, with only a speckling of other whites.

When we entered the building, we waited our turn as people, five or six in clusters, shuffled forward. Reflective music echoed from the organ. I looked up at solemn faces as sniffles resounded through the building.

When we reached the front, Daddy nudged Bertie and me forward, placing us at eye level with the casket. The lid was open, and we could see the top half of a man lying in the shiny wooden box. His skin and clothes were dark, and he rested on a bed of fluffy white fabric as if asleep. I remember being sandwiched between adults touching the glass above his face.

Some kissed it.

Others waited to get a glimpse of the body, so Daddy pushed us toward the foot of the coffin. Daddy dropped my fingers that had been safe in his large hands. I looked up. He pulled out a white handkerchief from his front pocket and wiped his eyes. He grabbed his camera from around his neck and snapped a few pictures. People pressed in harder. I was anxious and hot, and I wanted ice cream. “Daddy, Daddy,” I whined.

Satisfied with his picture-taking, Daddy grabbed my hand again, and Mommy took Bertie's. "Let's go," he said as we squished through the doorway, walked past the people still in line, and out the gate where our car was parked.

Walking toward the car, I asked, "Daddy, can we get ice cream?"

My sister, Bertie, didn’t chime in. She had been crying, obviously more concerned about her surroundings than me. Her compassionate nature shone even at the age of four.

“Please, can we get ice cream?” I continued.

Mommy nudged Daddy and insisted I had been too good not to fulfill my request.

“Georgie, what flavor do you want?”

“Strawberry, please.”

Bertie chose chocolate. While we enjoyed our ice cream, Daddy and Mommy continued discussing the man in the casket while we drove to my Uncle Bill and Aunt Louise’s house.

~ an excerpt from a WIP

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