Atlanta Author Writes Behind the Scenes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Funeral

Written by  //  March 6, 2013  //  Community  // 


By Courtney D. Ward
Apr 2012

44 years ago at 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN. Outrage, violence and controversy ensued.

Atlanta-based author and former Atlanta Magazine Editor-in-Chief,Rebecca Burns has captured readers with her compelling book, “Burial for a King” in which she covers the days leading up to Dr. King’s burial.

“Burial for a King” was released in 2011, and the book has received praise from Andrew Young, O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly just to name a few.

Atlanta was the center of attention globally, and Mrs. Burns takes readers to Mrs. Coretta Scott King’s home, Ms. Xernona Clayton’s living room, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s oval office, college student’s dorm rooms, and the Atlanta streets filled with supporters.

Esteem Magazine sat down with Rebecca Burns to discuss her background, inspiration for writing the book, and her perspective on race relations in Atlanta today.

Esteem Magazine: Tell us a little about your background.
Rebecca Burns
: My parents were missionaries, and so I was raised mostly in India.  I received my Masters degree in Communications from Georgia State University. I was the Editor-in-Chief of Atlanta Magazine for seven years, and currently I am Director of Digital Strategy for Emmis Publishing, Atlanta Magazine’s parent company.

EM: Give a brief synopsis of your book, “Burial for a King”.
: The book is about Dr. King’s absence, and his leadership, and how it transformed Atlanta.

EM: What inspired you to write the book?
: It started off as me doing a story about Atlanta, but as I researched more, Dr. King’s story became more of the story. I started researching Atlanta in the time of 1968.

EM: What was your goal or mission in writing the book?
: I wanted readers to take a look at the dynamics in the city (Atlanta); especially the leadership at that time.

EM: In your book, you highlight events at different times and locations. How long did it take to write the book?
 It took me two years to write the book. I really wanted to show the behind the scenes events. I wanted the everyday people to be seen in this book.

EM: What was the atmosphere like in the city of Atlanta once Dr. King passed?
Burns: It was very tense and sad. At the same time there was a level of pride, and mixed emotions.

EM: Approximately how many mourners attended Dr. King’s funeral?
: There were approximately 150,000 people in the street that day.
EM: Through your research, who would you say was the key person in keeping the peace in Atlanta on the day of Dr. King’s funeral?
: I believe Mayor Ivan Allen helped keep the peace in the city. He went out in the community to comfort the people.  The students who attended Morehouse and Spelman also went out in the community to help support the community. They were the real heroes, and they also helped with the viewing.

EM: What influence did Dr. King have on you?
: He’s my greatest hero. He kept moving and never let the trials and discrimination stop him.

EM: 44 years after Dr. King’s assassination and funeral, what is the state of race relations in Atlanta from your perspective?
: Obviously, on many broad levels, the state of race relations is better. We have a black mayor, following a legacy of African-American leadership in City Hall, led by Maynard Jackson, who, as you recall in the book, was compelled to get involved in politics after the King and Kennedy assassinations. We don’t have the legalized segregation and barriers to inclusion and opportunity that existed then.

But it would be short-sighted to make a broad statement such as “King’s dream has been realized.” In Atlanta, as in cities and towns across the country, there is still discrimination across racial, social, and economic lines. One of the things King was fighting for at the time of his death — economic justice — is still an issue, perhaps even more so today as we see income gaps grow wider. Atlanta has the highest gap between wealthy and poor citizens of any city in the U.S. We also have a more complex issue to consider when it comes to civil rights, because it’s not just an issue of black and white, but also a wider spectrum of people of color. The immigration law in Georgia is very discriminatory.

In short, it’s a case of a few steps forward, a few back. But we are heading in the right direction.

EM: What steps can be taken to make race relations better?

Burns: We need to take a holistic view – look at issues of fairness across civil, human, and economic rights. Americans need to understand the legacy of white privilege and legal and de facto segregation and know that we can’t expect to erase four centuries of discrimination in four decades. By talking – honestly – about our shared past, we can learn from it and improve the future for ourselves and our children.

Esteem Magazine: What other books have you written?
: I’ve written three books. I’m currently working on a book that will be released in 2014, with the working title “The Second Burning of Atlanta.”

Other Books about Atlanta written by Rebecca Burns:

Rage in the Gate City, 2009,

Atlanta: Yesterday & Today, 2010

Burial for a King, 2011


Courtney_Ward-NewCourtney D. Ward
“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” -Maya AngelouAs an up and coming journalist, Courtney D. Ward is determined to be an accomplished writer. A native of Atlanta, GA, Courtney attended Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications with an emphasis in News Editorial. In 2009, she received the Journalist of the Year Award at the Bethune-Cookman University Massey Awards Ceremony. She is currently a Feature Writer for Esteem Magazine.Visit her in “Twitter-land” @ writedayz.

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