Riot Days of my Life: 3.4.1968 and 4.4.1968

When I was 10 years old, my world as I knew it in Omaha, Nebraska, changed. Two riots and my ‘gentle giant’ Dad cruelly, physically battered by the police within a 30-day period that spring,  shook me wide awake.

It was the year I decided that I would become a journalist. To get ready for my adult career choice, I reported and wrote stories that I believed presented the whole truth as I learned from listening to adults whom I admired.

The first upheaval that touched my life began on March 4,  1968. Then American Party presidential candidate and segregationist George Wallace brought his racist campaign to Omaha. During and after his late night (started at 9 p.m.) speech at the Civic Auditorium, a race riot ensued. Majority market media reports focused more on the “unruly” protestors rather than Wallace’s baiting speech in Omaha.

My Dad who made it a daily practice to eat dinner with his family, was not home for the meal that fateful evening.  My mother explained that he was peacefully protesting at the Wallace event. That was not unusual since both parents participated in many civil rights protests. Yet, this time, I felt something was wrong.

My Dad arrived home early the next morning covered in his own dried blood. His left eye was bruised and sloped; his bloodied knuckles looked broken.  As I learned over the next several days, my Dad and a few other black men were forced into an empty room away from the rowdy Wallace speech site.  My Dad recalled how the white officers took off their badges and other IDs. They swung billy clubs that landed all over the men. If it were not for a well-known community activist arriving on the scene, my Dad believed he would have died that night.

One month later, just after dinner, we learned that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated. A long period of rioting and looting and deadly clashes with the police dominated the newscasts and newspapers.  Noticeably, I did not see or hear news accounts that included or balanced the reporting. I learned of the different perspectives from the  mostly whispered conversations from the countless adults who visited our home.

Yet, children can hear with their hearts and ears. While the adults would not share any details with my siblings and me, I heard enough to figure out that times in this Midwestern city would be perilous for an indefinite period. For those next days and weeks, I had the internal shivers. I was scared. I felt the police nor the media would protect us from hurt, harm and danger. For the first time in my young life, the racially divisive realities were real.

In my youthful heart and mind, I had to do something to bring about change in this world in a non-violent and important way.  I started writing  about my confusion, anger, frustration and news stories in a journal. It is a practice I have kept up for 50 years.

From a 10-year-old’s view, the world looked bleak and the only way for me to change it was to become a journalist. I kept my career choice a secret from my parents since journalists and the media were not in the favored category. My mother and father’s friends and family were critical of the news coverage.

I often heard the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword.”  As a child who listened with a literal mind, I believed those words. I still do.

I recalled the deeply impactful speeches of Dr. King and Malcolm X, who was born in Omaha with the surname “Little.”  Both leaders imposed a ton of ideas in my head and it allowed me to explore historical and contemporary documentation on activism.  It opened up my eyes and my world became clearer. My family stressed non-violent actions.

Years later, I had the pleasure of meeting Martin Luther King III while we were college co-eds in the Atlanta University Center consortium of higher education institutions. I attended Clark College and he was a Morehouse College student. Remaining friends throughout the years since college, I appreciate Martin, his wife and his daughter (who spoke so eloquently during the March 24, 2018 youth march) for ‘walking the talk.’  The last time we talked, my son revealed to Martin that his son (and my grandson) Kingston was named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I wanted to name my son “King,” W. Earl Kimbrough said.

earl and mlkiii fam

At the end of the season of the tragic anniversary of Dr. King’s death, I salute the genius, courage and vision of Dr. King, his family and all in the ongoing civil rights movement.

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness”  — Dr. Martin Luther King, Ph



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