Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The report of Dr. King's death by an assassin's bullet on April 4, 1968, left the nation and the world stunned. The shock was especially pronounced because the minister had advocated nonviolence throughout his civil rights career. A victim of the violence he fought against, his death spurred blacks in Newport News to express their profound grief and respect with a memorial march organized by the local NAACP under the leadership of Rev. J. Cornelius Fauntleroy.
On April 9, a crowd of 5,000 persons walked from Huntington High School over the 25th Street Bridge to the Victory Arch at West Avenue. The marchers included Hampton Institute students, pupils from Carver and Huntington high schools, members of the Longshoremen's Association and other citizens wishing to recognize Dr. King.
The planned peace march was conducted with quiet dignity, although over 130 policemen were on duty in case of disturbance. As told by Rev. Fauntleroy, "Machine gun units were stationed on the roof of the post office and army helicopters flew overhead" to monitor the crowd. The Daily Press account stated that many of the policemen had worked 48 hour shifts in preparation. Newport News Police Chief W.F. Peach so completely expected an incident that he urged Mayor Donald M Hyatt to meet the marchers at the monument rather than walk with
them from the starting point at Huntington High School. However, the four-block-long crowd of marchers came across the bridge unscathed and arrived at the arch singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Several speakers addressed the crowd, including Mayor Hyatt, who urged the listeners to "work together to build this community...in mutual respect." The tenor of the other speeches was also conciliatory and exhorted the black community to continue to strive for freedom and civil rights and to be true to their fallen leader's counsel of nonviolence. Tributes were given in honor of the slain leader, and citizens reflected on his life and what he stood for. Afterwards, the program participants linked arm-in-arm marched back to East End signing We Shall Overcome.
When asked afterwards why the Victory Arch had been selected for the rally, Rev. Fauntleroy replied, "It was a chance to let the people know blacks could be anywhere in the city they wanted to be; it would be an open city. The arch was built as a monument for everyone in the community. It was put there to memorialize servicemen from all of Newport News...we went to the arch because it was the place where we would speak about our victory."
(Inscription under the image in the lower left) Mourners march over the 25th Street Bridge to the Victory Arch.
(Inscription under the image in
the upper center) The four-block stream of marchers progressing from Huntington High School on Orcutt Avenue towards the 25th Street Bridge.
(Inscription under the image in the center) April 1968 memorial service in St. Augustine Episcopal Church, 2525 Marshall Avenue.
(Inscription under the image in the upper right) Addressing the assembly from the podium, Rev. Jerry Cornelius Fauntleroy, president of the Newport News Chapter of the NAACP. On the stage at right, Jessie M. Rattley, Peninsula Cooperative Association representative.
(Inscription under the image in the lower right) Participants return from the Victory Arch rally. Right to left: Mayor Donald M. Hyatt (white man), Peninsula Cooperative Association representative Jessie M. Rattley (two-tone hat) and Newport News NAACP president Rev. J.C. Fauntleroy.