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1968: Living in fear

Fierce race rioting spread quickly through the United States after Martin Luther King's assassination on 4 April 1968.

Linda Dunham was an 11-year-old living in Washington DC and witnessed first hand the fear and paranoia that gripped the country in the wake of the civil rights leader's death.

When Dr King was murdered, Washington erupted into rioting and many fathers on my street were stranded elsewhere in the capital.

My mother had four children from the ages of 11 through to three and was expecting another in November. Our neighbour from across the street came to my mother and told her that we had better be prepared because, "They would be coming for us".

Apparently because so many maids worked in the neighbourhood and they had keys to the homes they worked in, our neighbour was quite convinced they would come in the night and kill us.


" It is hard to believe it was the 20th century "

I was listening on the stairs and was very scared. I couldn't imagine the gentle Mrs Ferguson, who came every day and helped my mother with laundry and light cleaning, creeping through our yard and killing us in our beds.

But I had never seen a near hysterical adult. My mother was quite calm and told her we would all be fine.

When Mrs D left to scurry back to her house, I asked my mom, what were we going to do? And she just looked at me and said, "Homework and to bed".

That night she went to bed but I sat at the top of the stairs, just in case. But nothing happened and my mother never discussed it with my father. But I remember thinking it was the scariest night of my 11-year-old life.

It is hard to believe it was the 20th century.

In Context
The race riots spread to more than 100 US cities and the violence did not abate until 14 April.

Linda Dunham now lives in Richmond, Virginia, and is an editorial assistant with the Richmond Times Dispatch.


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