‘It was frightening!’

AS protests raged throughout the United States following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, KD Knight watched the dramatic scenes on television. He was shocked at the inhumane way Floyd, a black man, lost his life when a white police officer kneeled on his neck and suffocated him in Minneapolis.

“If I was in the United States I would have been a part of Black Lives Matter,” Knight declared boldly in a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer.

His support for the militant group that led the Floyd demonstrations recalled another racially charged cause he supported during a troubled period in the US — the civil rights movement of the 1960s, led by Martin Luther King Jr.

King, who would have turned 94 yesterday, was assassinated in March 1968 by James Earl Ray, a white supremacist. The civil rights leader was 35 years old when Knight arrived in Washington, DC, in September, 1964.

His Gandhi-inspired campaign started in the late 1950s. His epic march on Washington, DC, took place in August 1963. One year later, he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Knight majored in philosophy at Howard University. After leaving Wolmer’s Boys’ School he worked for five years in the civil service then headed to Washington, DC, to attend that school — which had an almost 100 per cent black student body.

The St Elizabeth-born Knight admits his knowledge of King and his non-violent civil rights campaign was limited but he soon caught the black consciousness fever that swept the country, spurred by the passive King, a fiery Muslim called Malcolm X, and the militant Black Panthers.

“We looked at the Black Panthers as fighters for equality but we did not necessarily believe in their violent approach, we didn’t take that route. So, for example, when Martin Luther King was assassinated and Watts in California burned, Washington DC, 14th Street, 8th Street, Northeast and those places burned, we understood the frustration,” said Knight.

One of the most influential figures at Howard University was the Trinidad-born Stokely Carmichael who graduated in 1964. He maintained a presence there with student leaders, including Knight who was president of the school’s Caribbean association.

On the day King was killed in Memphis, Tennessee, Knight was returning to Howard University from Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. By the time he arrived in the capital, tension was at fever-pitch.

“It was frightening! Frightening!” he recalled.

The next day Knight was among the speakers at a campus rally. Following him on stage was Carmichael, the man who coined the term ‘Black power’ and had marched with King in the Deep South.

“We gathered right before Douglass Hall and I spoke immediately before Stokely Carmichael, and when Stokely came up on the platform he took a 38 [handgun] out of his pocket and said, ‘If you don’t have one of these, stay off the streets tonight!’ ” Knight recalled.

It was then that QT Jackson, his American friend and another key figure in campus politics, approached Knight with an ominous request.

“He came to me and he says, ‘Boy KD, you got any bullets?’ I said, ‘No, I ain’t got no bullets on me.’ He says, ‘Where you got them?’ I said, ‘They’re at home’ and he said, ‘Let’s go get some, man’. I started searching my pockets and said, ‘Damn man, I ain’t got my keys, my roommate’s got them!’ ” Knight told the Jamaica Observer, laughing. “Guess why I have to be going on like that? I don’t have no damn gun! But I couldn’t let QT believe that a radical like me, bearded and all that, don’t have a gun.”

Now one of the Caribbean’s leading lawyers, Knight later became minister of national security and minister of foreign affairs in the People’s National Party governments led by prime ministers Michael Manley and P J Patterson.

Forty years after Martin Luther King’s death, the US elected Barack Obama as its first black president. Knight acknowledged some progress in racial matters in that country but notes that a black man in the White House could never wash away centuries of hatred.

“There’s a song [called] I Believe in Miracles, but don’t expect miracles. Barack Obama couldn’t change the culture of the United States in eight years… he couldn’t,” Knight reasoned. “And if he had said, ‘In my first term I’m gonna knock down all these walls,’ he wouldn’t have had a second [term].”

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