Back in Time: City reacted mournfully and peacefully after Martin Luther King’s assassination 40 years ago

More than 2,000 people packed a memorial service in Schenectady to honor slain civil rights leader M

Rev. Lloyd A. Duren asked for peace on Sunday, April 7, 1968.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had been assassinated three days earlier in Memphis, Tenn. People all over America were in mourning, and on edge.

“Let there be peace in this city,” said Duren, pastor of First Methodist Church in Schenectady, during a packed memorial service at Union College’s Memorial Chapel. “Let blacks be nonviolent. Let whites repent of the racism we commit in our whole manner of life.”

Riots had taken place in more than 100 U.S. cities. In Schenectady, more than 2,000 people reacted to King’s death by attending the service organized by local churches.

Duren used a quote from King during his address: “We still have a choice today,” he said. “Nonviolent co-existence or violent co-annihilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.”

People held hands and sang “We Shall Overcome” to conclude the afternoon service. But that wasn’t the end of the observance.

“Where do we go from here?” Duren asked. “We go immediately to City Hall, all of us; nothing else could so adequately symbolize the memory of this man . . . to City Hall, not just figuratively, but literally.”

Just about everyone in the chapel marched from the college campus to Liberty Street, and proceeded down Liberty to the seat of government. Men and women, black and white, and even small children stood on steps leading to municipal offices and sang “America the Beautiful.” Then it was time for a closing prayer, and trips home.

“Quietly and thoughtfully, the crowd dispersed,” wrote Peg Churchill, who covered the service for the Schenectady Gazette.

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