Some 7,000 people piled into the coliseum on the Ohio State Fairgrounds on Sunday, April 7, 1968, in a local memorial service meant to both honor the life and mourn the loss of the Rev. Martin Luther King. But it was a different time then, and the documenting of history was different.

The caption on the front-page photo of the Columbus Evening Dispatch identified the crowd as "interracial," and the story described an interruption in the service as having come from a "young militant Negro." It also said that one man, a member of the Congress for Racial Equality, "wore an African-type hat" when he spoke.

But coverage of the event showed that, as so many other cities erupted into violence after King's murder, there was mostly peace here.

Known as the “Holy Week uprisings,” the violence elsewhere across the country left 39 dead, almost 3,000 injured and more than 20,000 arrested. The property damage estimates were as high as $65 million. Some of the worst of the days-long siege was in Washington, D.C., where 1,200 buildings were burned and damages reached more than $25 million. In Chicago, 11 people died and hundreds were injured. Nationally, more than 65,000 federal troops and National Guardsmen deployed in close to 30 states.

Locally, a curfew was enacted and some pockets of protests emerged but little else, according to news reports from the time.

Instead, blacks and whites and community leaders and laborers all joined together to remember and mourn the leader of the civil-rights movement. The Dispatch described the service as having “few tears and little outward emotion," and noted that calm prevailed.

The coverage said many speakers — Mayor Jack Sensenbrenner and local pastor and King friend, the Rev. Phale D. Hale, among them — called for a unified city to work to end the problems King preached about.

Hale, pastor then of the Union Grove Baptist Church on Champion Avenue, called for a peaceful city.

“Dr. King believed in principles of nonviolence, of love and justice and mercy,” Hale was quoted as saying. “Nobody can steal, riot or rob in the name of Martin Luther King.”

Hale’s son, 61-year-old Hilton Hale, doesn’t remember attending the service with his family. But he said he believes that his father’s words helped to keep the peace here. "My father and other leadership were strong enough and respected enough to convince people that destroying your own neighborhoods was not the answer,” Hilton Hale said. “I think my father kept the people on an intellectual plane to weather that storm."

hzachariah@dispatch.com

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mlane@dispatch.com

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