By Ralphine Major
Many events that occurred when my generation was growing up have now become part of history. I remember both the Kennedy and King assassinations during the sixties. As Corryton native Perry McGinnis continued his journey in the field of dentistry, the McGinnis family of four found themselves in Memphis, Tennessee, during a critical time in our nation’s history. I think back to those somber days as Perry recalls them and their impact on America.
“When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed, we lived in South Memphis in the Whitehaven area,” Perry remembers. “You have to recall history from that time to remember that racial tensions were beginning to run high in many parts of the country. This was especially true in Memphis because of the visit of Dr. King and his support for the striking Memphis sanitation workers. Otis Clapp and Carol’s mother (both now deceased) were visiting with us from Corryton, and Otis and I were driving into mid-town Memphis to pick up a to-go order of barbecue from Leonard’s, a restaurant famous for its Memphis pit barbecue. On our way up South Bellevue Boulevard (we had to drive several miles along that major thoroughfare that is today called Elvis Presley Boulevard), the breaking news came on the radio of Dr. King’s violent death a few minutes earlier in downtown Memphis, only a few miles from where we were traveling. That created deep concern in us because of the area through which we had to drive to reach the restaurant.”
“While I watched the news unfold on television, far from Memphis, the McGinnis family lived in the very city where the violence took place.” Perry continues his reflection of that period of time.
“We made the decision to continue, while nervously and cautiously observing our surroundings along the way. There was a welcomed feeling of relief when we successfully completed our journey without incident. At home, Carol’s mother was also very concerned for the family’s safety and wanted Barron and Roland, who were outside playing, to get in the house before something really bad happened. Even though some civil unrest had begun in Memphis prior to Dr. King’s death, his murder sparked further widespread rioting and destruction not only in Memphis, but across the U.S. In our minds, this was the single event that ultimately and permanently changed a city that we once loved so dearly to one that would from that day forward be a different place.”
Perry’s memories of Memphis provide a close-up reminder of April 4, 1968, a sad day in our nation’s history. Years later, at the University of Tennessee (UT) College of Dentistry Alumni Association’s 2006 annual meeting and the awarding of the Association’s Alumnus of the Year Award, Dr. Perry McGinnis, the very appreciative recipient, makes acceptance comments at that Alumni Association’s awards luncheon held as part of the Mid-South Dental Congress at the Memphis Hilton, Memphis, Tennessee, in March 2006.