3 Generations In Memphis Reflect On Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy Robert Tunstall, his daughter Karen Hartridge and his grandson, James Hartridge, discuss their family's experiences with racism in Memphis and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
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3 Generations In Memphis Reflect On Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy

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3 Generations In Memphis Reflect On Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy

3 Generations In Memphis Reflect On Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy

3 Generations In Memphis Reflect On Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/599361730/599361731" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Robert Tunstall with his grandson James Hartridge, both from Memphis. Tunstall is a retired airways systems' specialist with the Federal Aviation Administration, where he worked for 39 years. Jeffrey Pierre for NPR hide caption

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Jeffrey Pierre for NPR

Robert Tunstall with his grandson James Hartridge, both from Memphis. Tunstall is a retired airways systems' specialist with the Federal Aviation Administration, where he worked for 39 years.

Jeffrey Pierre for NPR

As Memphis marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., NPR sat with three generations of a Memphis family to find out: What does Dr. King mean to you?

The family is Robert Tunstall, 67, his daughter Karen Hartridge, 40, and her son, James Hartridge, 11.

When Tunstall was a kid in Memphis, racial prejudice was as much a part of life as breathing. Schools, libraries, the zoo and theaters were segregated. He spent most of his time with black people, though he got his first taste of what he calls "in-your-face" racism when he was 13. And though King preached social and economic equality, when he came to Memphis in 1968, a then-17-year-old Tunstall was full of fear.

"Dr. King wasn't universally popular, because of him being a lightning rod. And it wasn't him; it was the movement that he represented," he says. "And so even for those who you want to bring change to, there's fear, there is anxiety, there is concern over what will that look like."

Karen Hartridge, a criminal prosecutor who went to law school at Howard University, grew up in Memphis' historically black neighborhood of Orange Mound. Jeffrey Pierre hide caption

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Jeffrey Pierre

Karen Hartridge, a criminal prosecutor who went to law school at Howard University, grew up in Memphis' historically black neighborhood of Orange Mound.

Jeffrey Pierre

Unlike her dad, who spent most of his time growing up around black people, Hartridge was constantly being made aware that she was in the minority. She grew up after legal segregation had ended and attended majority white schools as a child, where she was one of only a few black students. For her, King was a man who led a movement that had broken crucial legal barriers but hadn't really changed society.

"In high school, I dealt with a lot of racism. Being the only one in the class, in a lot of my classes, I'm asked: What do black people think about this?" she remembers. "It caused me to be very, very angry."

Her son, James, who's in fifth grade, learned a lot about King's legacy from his mom — not from school. His social studies textbook does not say where King died or that he was in Memphis in 1968 to support striking black sanitation workers.

"I'm fine with the first few chapters being about America, but I want the next few to be about what was going on in America, not just who started America," James says.

To hear the full interview , click the play button.

Jeffrey Pierre and Reena Advani produced and edited this story for broadcast.