Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at 39 in 1968.
By Michael Lewis
When he journeyed to the United States from his native Trinidad & Tobago in early 1968, 19-year-old Everald Cummings admitted he didn’t know much about the black culture and its ramifications.
“I didn’t know about Martin Luther King, racism, segregation and bigotry,” he said.
Like it or not, he learned soon enough, especially about MLK.
In fact, he wound up attending the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta at which Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, though he heard the elder King’s sermons and words because his son was on the go so much.
When King, Jr.’s body returned home for his funeral, an astonished Cummings could not believe he could attend the civil rights legend’s public funeral in Atlanta.
“Three things that happened to me in 1968 at the age that I will not forget,” Cummings said in an interview in 2018.
One was playing against Pele, two was winning the North American Soccer League championship and three was the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cummings remembered the exact date of the civil rights’ leader’s assassination — “the fourth of April.”
“I was coming from practice from the stadium because I lived about two miles from Morehouse College,” Cummings recalled in 1968.
He was in a car with some Jamaican friends and some black kids were beating on the hood of his car.
“I said, ‘What are they beating on?’ And they said, ‘Put your [radio] on.’ And we said, ”Why?’ and the guy said, ‘King was assassinated.’ I’m talking to you now and I am getting goose pimples. I was like 20-years-old.”
After the next practice, Atlanta Braves vice president Dick Cecil, who was in charge of the Chiefs soccer team, asked the players, ‘”How many of you guys would like to attend Martin Luther King’s funeral?,” Cummings remembered.
Cummings put his hand up.
As it turned out, even by early April, he had learned much about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his father, Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I got to know [about] him a lot,” Cummings said. “Living in the black area, the Baptist people, the people I stayed with, always talked about him. I had an opportunity to go to his church because of some friends that i had. They took me to church. The senior was carrying on the service, so i got to know a lot.”
Willie Evans, a Ghanaian native on the Chiefs, also attended the funeral.
Cummings said sports and entertainment people would be traveling together in a bus to the public funeral at Morehouse College on April 9.
“I said OK, I’ve got to be there,” he said. “I feel about this man. Every day I hear about him. I went to his father’s church and got a chance to see from a far and those kind of things.”
Evans and Cummings were picked up at Atlanta Stadium and the Chiefs forward in what had turned into an emotional wrenching day so many reasons. Still, Cummings could not believe what he had stepped into.
“I was like a kid in a candy store because the first person i saw was Aretha Franklin,” Cummings said. “Then I saw Stevie wonder. Then I saw Diahann Carroll.”
Ryan O’Neal and Peter Lawford also were aboard the bus, as were Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, who were starring in the hit TV series, I Spy at the time.
The bus had to make a clandestine stop to pick up a few more celebrities.
“The bus had to go into an alley and wait awhile,” Cummings said. “Then I saw the Supremes in black dresses come out of a limousine and they entered the bus. They didn’t want the fans to see them, so they came into the bus.
“In those days you had no cameras and cellphones. I never got a picture. but I also hoping one day that I would come in contact with one of those people and say to you, ‘I was on the bus, next to you at Martin Luther King’s funeral. I knew who they were, but they didn’t know who I was.”
While Everald Cummings certainly wasn’t in the same orbit of those aforementioned celebrities, he did make a name for himself, competing for the Soca Warriors on the international pitch, playing for the New York Cosmos and coaching T&T within a goal of reaching the 1990 World Cup.
Here is a related story:
CULTURE SHOCK: Future Cosmos player, Trinidad national coach experienced racism firsthand with Chiefs in 1968