Defiance and Freedom

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Ray and Katherine Haas in 1968. Photo: Katherine Haas

I had never defied Ray before this. Not in the ten years we had been married. I rejected the other nine suitors because they were pushovers. I chose Ray because he was intense, strong-willed, brilliant. At twenty years of age, his qualities intrigued me. I adored him and allowed him to mold me into an adult to his liking.

It was 1968. Ray’s birthday was coming up on April 4th.  The Man of La Mancha was playing in Chicago, and we lived in the suburbs.  Although money was tight, I bought two extremely expensive tickets to the show for April 5th as his gift because Don Quixote was his favorite novel.  We arranged for the babysitter to arrive at six on Friday, April 5th.  That would give us enough time to take the commuter train into the city from Mount Prospect where we lived. Ray loved his birthday gift and looked forward to seeing the play the next evening.

Then, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Riots ensued, and businesses closed the next day in Chicago. The National Guard was called to quell riots that exploded across the city.  Ray reached for the phone to call off the babysitter.  I stopped him.

“I paid a fortune for the tickets, Ray.  I want to go!”

“ Are you crazy? Do you know how much IBM lost today by closing our office? It’s much too dangerous to go into the city.”

“But Ray, the National Guard will protect us.”

“They are the ones who are going to shoot us, Katherine!”

I didn’t care. I insisted on going. He was furious. Ray was scary when angered. I didn’t care. I got out our insurance papers and our will for the sitter just in case.  I dressed up and left.

Ray didn’t want to go, but didn’t dare allow me to go on my own in the dangerous city, so he followed me about half a block behind. I arrived at the train station. There was a police officer speaking hurriedly and nervously into a walkie- talkie.  Two other commuters were also waiting for the train.   When it arrived, it was nearly empty.  We got on, Ray sat a few seats from me, fuming.  The tension in the train was palpable.  There was a cop in our car talking on his walkie- talkie the whole ride in.

As we approached Chicago, one could see smoke billowing in huge wads, a tsunami of black smoke.  Soon after entering Chicago, we exited the train.   It was eerie. There were no cars, no pedestrians…. Silent as if we were in a movie set after a cataclysmic war. Every few minutes a fire truck would whiz by, then a huge tank full of armed national guards… a cop car.   We walked nervously towards the theater.  Entered it.  In the huge auditorium, perhaps two dozen seats were occupied.  We sat in our expensive seats.

I don’t remember the show. I only remember how frightened we both were and how glad we were to get home.   When I told my father this story, he sighed and smiled, “I’m so happy to hear this.  Your mother and I worried that you had no voice in this marriage. Now we know.”

On that day April 4, 1968, we lost Martin Luther King, Jr., a beloved inspirational leader who sacrificed his life so that others might find the strength to speak up.  I will always remember that day as the day when I, too, found my voice.

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