© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You Count on Us, We Count on You: Donate to WUSF to support free, accessible journalism for yourself and the community.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has faced criticism over his decision to reject an Advanced Placement course on African American studies to be taught in Florida high schools. February is Black History Month, and we asked educators, historians, and community members to weigh in on why teaching the full scope of history is more important than ever. We’re sharing what they had to say, in their own words.

An anthropologist recalls how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death changed her life's course

Woman wearing a black cardigan and red and white dress, along with glasses, turns toward the camera. She's sitting in a studio with a microphone to her right.
Kerry Sheridan / WUSF Public Media
Maria Martin Thacker, in the USF Sarasota studio, in February 2023

As part of our ongoing series asking for your stories about Black history, we hear from an educator who recalls hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s final Sunday sermon before he was killed.

During Black History Month, we are hearing from members of our community as they reflect on major events like the civil rights movement.

Today we hear from an educator who recalls living in the US capital when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

"My name is Maria Martin Thacker and I'm a retired applied cultural anthropologist, and I live in Sarasota.

"I loved my Western Civ classes. I loved government. I loved history. I loved the interconnections. I thrived in all of that through high school and college. I was a government major. But it wasn't until later that I realized that the way those courses were presented was very slanted toward a white point of view.

"Martin Luther King's death had a huge effect on me. At the time, I was living in Washington, on the sixth floor of an apartment building that overlooks the city. And on a Sunday, I remember hearing Martin Luther King speak. He gave this sermon at the Washington [National] Cathedral. And I remember hearing it on the loudspeakers, sitting in my apartment.

Archival audio of Dr. King: "One of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change. And yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping and through a revolution."

Hear a full recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his final Sunday sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on March 31, 1968:

"He was assassinated on that Thursday night. And I heard about it seven o'clock Thursday night.

"At the time I was working on Capitol Hill. So the next morning, I went to work. And all during the day, I was hearing what was happening outside in Washington. But I was on the fifth floor of the Rayburn Building, which you can't see the ground from up there. But I could hear a lot of what was going on. And everyone on the radio was saying that Washington was burning.

Archival audio of CBS news reel: "At one point early in the evening, more than 100 fires were burning, some of them in an area, just 20 blocks from the White House."

"But the congressman that I worked for, he didn't think this was such a big deal. But by the time I got out of there at five o'clock, I came down on the ground, and it was just chaos. And I walked across Washington to a friend's house.

"And then the next day I walked on home to my apartment, because the whole town was under martial law. And I remember looking down and seeing the tanks going by on my street. And from my window. It was at night, I could see little red dots. It was like a necklace over there. But what was happening, it was all burning. Those were the Washington riots.

"And within two weeks, I'd gone in and handed in my resignation. I thought, I'm getting out of out of this Capitol Hill job. And I'm going to enter a program to learn how to teach in the inner city, which I did. I got a degree in multicultural education and that sort of set my career from then on.

"It's my responsibility to try and rectify the wrongs."

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.