April 4, 1968: A day of infamy at the Defender

It was early evening on April 4, 1968 – nearly 40 years ago – a day that would forever be etched on my memory. As woman’s editor, I was in the Chicago Defender’s lower level composing room, overseeing the final makeup and layout of my pages for the Defend

I heard a panicked voice from somewhere yell repeatedly: “Dr. King’s been shot! Dr. King’s been shot! Dr. King’s been shot!” Stunned, I ran up the stairs to the Editorial Department on the first floor to confirm what I hoped must be a false report. Colleagues were pouring over the teletype wire reports about the shooting in Memphis.

The reports, however, did not indicate the seriousness of the assault. But, we all knew immediately that a long night lay ahead. There was an indefinite hold put on “press time” and we decided to go out and eat dinner to fortify us for the hours that lay ahead.

Sam Washington, our news editor, Defender staffers Dave Potter, Betty Washington, Charlotte Hunt, Don Mosby, Arnold Rosenzweig and I quickly headed north to Batt’s Restaurant on Cermak Rd. Cassie, our regular waitress, other staffers and restaurant patrons were all in a stilled and somber mood. We ordered.

Our food came quickly and we ate with very little conversation. All too soon, a tearful Cassie come to our booth and announced: “He’s dead!” Without finishing our dinner, we began putting on our coats. The owner approached us and picked up our check. “No charge,” he said. ”It’s on me.” We quickly returned to the Defender newsroom.

In the meantime, several staffers, including Audrey Weaver, city editor, and Lloyd General, managing editor, having heard the awful news, returned to help in revamping the weekend edition. John H. H. Sengstacke, publisher and editorin- chief , was in Detroit, but he stayed in close contact by telephone as he made immediate preparations to return to Chicago.

Frederick Sengstacke, general manager, and Tommy Picou, executive editor, had also returned to keep a step-by-step watch on the proceedings. Assignments were made. Some monitored the wire services, others made calls to local and national leaders for their reactions to Dr. King’s assassination; others poured through and massive files kept on Dr. King; and still others began writing, editing and laying out.

Downstairs, Jesse Holmes and James Colley, composing room foremen, along with pressmen and linotype operators were working diligently with the editorial staff in order to include as much news as possible about the horrific act in the pages of the weekend edition of the Defender. We were all misty-eyed.

Periodically, over the next several hours, many of us actually wept. But, we all continued our mission. We felt our responsibility as journalists! We has just about completed the sorrowful task of recording one of the most horrific events of the century when John Sengstacke came into the office, having just arrived from Detroit. As his plane approached Chicago, he said, he looked out and saw fires burning, especially on the West Side.

He was envisioning his beloved city going up in flames and he prayed. As his taxi brought him close to his Chicago Daily Defender, Sengstacke realized the destruction and devastation had not spread to the South Side. Yet, he said, he was unable to relax. Finally, it was after midnight. We were finished. We had done all we could do. We had worked as a team. We had put into print the death of our beloved leader%uFFFDa husband and a father. We knew then that the world would never be the same. It was over, but we could not leave. We sat around until dawn, but the words spoken were minimal and infrequent. We comforted each other as best as we could. But it was all for naught! The King Was Dead! Long Live The King!

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