Mike Conklin '69, longtime Chicago Tribune columnist and writer, and president of the Alumni Board of Directors: "The news of the assassination hit the campus like a lightning bolt. That spring had been the most politicized, acrimonious term you could image on the Hilltop. The students were sharply divided on Vietnam-and I mean sharply divided-to begin with. There had been nasty confrontations and highly-charged, polarized programs and convocations. A bunch of us were out stumping for Gene McCarthy on weekends in primaries in Wisconsin and Nebraska, and everyone was stunned when we heard of the shooting in Memphis. As I recall, there was a convocation that night. A lot of us tried to get into the minds of the black students and commiserate with them as best we could. Those of us involved in the McCarthy campaign tried to figure out how this would impact our effort, but most of us felt it was that much more proof of a need for change in the system. It was very disturbing to read of the rioting that had taken place in Chicago after his death."
Joe Gebhardt '68, a DC-area lawyer, was one of the outspoken student leaders on campus."Students gathered on the Orange Carpet informally that evening and over the next few days to talk about it and share each other's concern and pain about it. There were a number of very concerned students, and the Orange Carpet was pretty full with 20 to 50 students at a time. What everyone really felt was shock. It was totally unexpected. Dr. King was considered a great figure; he had been a Nobel Peace Prize winner. I don't think anyone anticipated that he would be assassinated. It was felt that the Nobel Prize had given him respectability and protection. A number of students who admired his work met for about three days or more.
"I found out about it just before running the laundry concession at Merner Hall that night. I had a lot of friends in Merner Hall. When they came in to get their laundry I would say, 'Have you heard that Dr. King was shot?' Most of the students expressed shock and were quite upset and concerned about it. And Merner Hall was mainly athletes and rowdy souls, and that group was touched by it.
"I'm in Washington, D.C., a few miles away from the Pentagon. The main part of my law practice is representing federal employees in employment cases. I have a client in a building across the parking lot from the Pentagon who saw it happen. A number of clients lost friends on that plane. A lot of the people who died in Washington were civilian government employees. Terrorism has really affected us here. While they are going about their business here, a lot of people are really upset. The war effort is somewhat upsetting, too. But there is a lot of residual fear and concern about the terrorism. Many of us feel that the plane that went down in Pennsylvania was destined for here."
Richard Barrett '71, an African-American now working in juvenile corrections in Minneapolis: "The assassination of Martin Luther King was not a great momentous occasion on campus because Cornell was an isolated environment. We were still in the post-Eisenhower era of good manners. We were aware of reactions around the country. There weren't, of course, many black students there at the time. The death certainly did accelerate people's consciousness and awareness of the larger world. And it certainly set up the fall of 1968 when more students came in and students began to be a lot more activist-oriented. That culminated in the Old Sem incident."