Dr. Martin Luther King’s death shocked millions around the world. One Youngstown man remembers that day, and what followed, like it was yesterday.
Artis Gillam said Martin Luther King was his idol as a young man and remains his idol today.
He said King’s death sparked a series of events in Youngstown that forced the city to take a good hard look at its issues with race.
Gillam said the day of the assassination remains frozen in his mind. He was 21 at the time.
“I came back to the record shop and my wife says that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. Knocked me off my feet.”
Gillam said Youngstown erupted with protests in the days following King’s death.
“It looked like a war zone on Hillman Street — and not only on Hillman Street, it was all over.”
Hundreds flooded Oak Street on the east side, vandalizing buildings and confronting police.
“They were angry, and so that’s why they were throwing rocks and so forth,” Gillam said.
That’s when he stepped in. Gillam talked to then Youngstown Police Officer Randall Wellington, who agreed to hold his men back if Gillam could stop people from throwing rocks at police.
“On Oak Street, could have been a bloodbath because the cops could have shot those youngsters,” he said. “But Wellington made sure that did not happen.”
Gillam said after the riots, he saw Youngstown start to change for the better.
“More people getting integrated together, trying to get along with each other. I did see that, yes.”
Fifty years following King’s death, Gillam said Youngstown still has plenty of room to grow in regards to equality and race relations. He said without collaboration and understanding, the city cannot progress.