Memphians Barbara and Michael McCloskey remember where they heard the news that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Barbara was at home watching the news and Michael was working a shift at a Seven Eleven.
The regional manager of the Seven Eleven immediately called Michael and said: “Lock the beer up, and after you do that, lock the store up and go home.” That’s exactly what he did.
Barbara McCloskey was teaching third grade at Hamilton Elementary during the Civil Rights Movement. Hamilton, located in South Memphis, was a predominantly black school, and out of 42 teachers at the school, only four were white. Barbara was one of the four.
“The children considered us an oddity because we were different,” she recalled.
Both McCloskey’s supported civil rights, and Barbara was especially supportive of school integration.
“It had been separate but supposedly equal, but not necessarily so,” she said.
The black community was fighting for their basic rights as well as an end to the impoverishment within the community during the Civil Rights Movement.
“I worked with my dad and we always had black people that worked with us that lived in these little projects and it was horrible,” said Mr. McCloskey. “There were four families living in this one house, there was one bathroom and one kitchen.”
The McCloskey’s view the assassination to be a black eye on Memphis and have only recognized societal change in the last 10 to 15 years.
“I hate to say it, but racism was so entrenched at that time. Ya know John Kennedy got shot in Dallas and they got over it. The city of Memphis never got over Martin Luther King, ever.”
For the McCloskey’s, breaking through the city’s racial divide enriched their lives in numerable ways.
“Some of my best friends and the people I look up to in teaching and in life in general are black,” Barbara said. “I’ve got a lot of friends and taught a lot of children, and I hope I’ve made a difference.”