The celebration of Martin King Luther Jr. day each January encourages people across the country to reflect upon the life and legacy of the civil rights icon. For one Montgomery County resident the annual holiday brought back memories of a very personal nature.
Eugene Brown, a long time resident of Norman, was one of the Memphis police officers who responded to the scene of King’s assassination. Eugene, or Gene as he was known to his friends, played a crucial role in the futile effort to save King’s life after he had been shot.
Brittanica.com states that after the civil rights leader had been shot an undercover officer tried to stop the bleeding from his wounds. Gene was that officer.
During a wedding anniversary celebration with his wife Joyce last year Gene brought up the subject. He has spent years silent on his role in the aftermath of King’s assassination. As he grew older he would share his account of the events on occasion.
Gene shared that he was working as part of a special division of the Memphis Police Department that dealt with stolen vehicles. He and his partner had just started their shift April 4, 1968. They drove past the Lorraine Motel on Mulberry Street in Memphis when they noticed a group standing on a second floor balcony of the hotel. They had heard King was in town and talked about how that must be him. The Lorraine Motel was a frequent stop for King in Memphis.
A few minutes later a call came over the radio that would live with Gene for the rest of his life. A call for officers to respond to a shooting at the Lorraine Motel. Gene stated that he and his partner looked at each other and immediately responded to the call. Their worst fears became reality when they arrived at the hotel to find out that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot.
Gene said that some patrolmen had been the first on scene. He and his partner were the first officers on scene. He jumped in and tried to help stop the bleeding from King’s wounds until emergency crews arrived. Gene stated that he and his partner accompanied King to the hospital. His partner manned the phones while he waited in the operating room with the doctors as they worked feverishly to save King’s life.
It quickly became clear that that their efforts were failing. Gene grew quiet as he recalled how his thoughts turned to what would come next. He knew that there would be riots once King’s death was reported. He pleaded with the doctors to continue delay declaring King deceased so police departments could begin to prepare.
Doctors worked to save King’s life but eventually had to accept the inevitable. At 7:05 p.m. Martin Luther King, Jr. was declared deceased. The riots that Gene feared erupted across the United States. He stated that he felt confident that the moments he pleaded with doctors were crucial in the police preparation for the riots.
Gene and his wife Joyce moved to Norman in 1988. They lived there until their deaths in 2022. Joyce passed from this life May 12, 2022 and Gene passed soon after on September 26.