Coretta Scott King and Kathryn on the campus of Atlanta University in Atlanta, Ga., reviewing plans for The King Center, 1968.

Kathryn Johnson Collection

My Time with the Kings

A Reporter’s Recollections of Martin, Coretta and the Civil Rights Movement

By Kathryn Johnson

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shakes his fist during a speech in Selma, Ala., Feb. 12, 1965.

AP PHOTO / Horace Cort

It was raining hard in Atlanta on the night King was assassinated.  At the King home, I made a dash in the rain for the modest redbrick home with its barred windows. I recognized a New York Times reporter talking to a policeman, who told us no reporters were allowed in the house.

The door opened to let someone out. Down the long hall, I could see Coretta. Spotting me, she told the officer,

"Let Kathryn in."

Kathryn in the AP bureau office in Atlanta, Ga., 1978.

Kathryn Johnson Collection

Meet Kathryn Johnson

The ’60s were powerful days. To say I was unprepared for plunging into chaotic events is an understatement.

I’d barely begun as a full-fledged Associated Press reporter when the civil rights struggle spread rapidly across the South.

I knew the Atlanta bureau wanted no women on its staff. Sit-ins, protest marches and Freedom Rides came my way, I felt, because I was green, cheap labor and the men with experience didn’t want to cover them. At least not until Martin Luther King became famous.

Kathryn with Andrew Young shortly after she was appointed as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, 1976.

Kathryn Johnson Collection

“Whenever anything was happening, Kathryn seemed to be there.

She has been trapped in a phone booth by several Ku Klux Klansmen when a Freedom Bus was arriving and forced to sit in a hot courtroom gallery while covering the trial for the random killing of a black Army Reserve officer. Such thorough, accurate, courageous and firsthand reporting is sometimes slow, and by the standards of today’s social media generation, may seem old-fashioned. But of such stuff is a great reporter made.”

—Andrew Young

Video Gallery | Kathryn Johnson on assignment

Kathryn Johnson discusses her coverage of the Civil Rights Movement, from hiding under a table at Gov. Wallace's stand against integration at the University of Alablama to walking with protesters from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

A movie marquee provides an ironic touch for a memorial march for slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. April 8, 1968. Mrs. King led 10,000 persons in a march through Memphis in memory of her husband, slain a few blocks away by a white sniper.

Bettmann / Corbis / AP Images

By the time services began, tens of thousands of people lined Auburn Avenue, determined to pay final respects. Coretta had asked that King’s recorded voice be piped outside as it was being played in the church:

“Every now and then, I think about my own death... I don’t want a long funeral. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. If you want to, say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice….”

Listening again to the sermon, made me appreciative that AP had preserved this moment so that the world could hear that thundering call for equality at this very moment.

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My Time with the Kings

By Kathryn Johnson

A Reporter’s Recollections of Martin, Coretta and the Civil Rights Movement