Her Dad Was A Slain Civil Rights Leader. She Remembers His Assassination

Mar 22, 2019
Originally published on March 22, 2019 9:07 am

Miriam Pratt was five years old when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. She remembers that after her father, Seattle Urban League leader Edwin Pratt, found out, he paced back and forth in his bedroom.

"He was emotional," Pratt's daughter tells Jean Soliz, her godmother, at StoryCorps. "I had never seen him like that."

Nine months later, her father would suffer the same fate. On a snowy night in 1969, Edwin was shot in his home, while Miriam and her mother, Bettye, were inside.

A family photo of Bettye, Miriam and Edwin Pratt together in 1966.
Courtesy of Jean Soliz

"I remember, I heard my mother cry 'Edwin!' and I sat up in the bed, and I was immediately engulfed in fear," Miriam, now 55, tells Jean.

Jean and her mother were Pratts' neighbors. They rushed over after receiving a phone call from Bettye.

"When I saw that front door was open, I knew. I knew," says Jean, who was 21 at the time. "I'll never forget walking into that family room and I could see your dad laying there and, of course, he was totally still. He died instantly."

Jean Soliz and Miriam Pratt raise fists a few months after Edwin Pratt's assassination in 1969. Inspired by Edwin and his wife Bettye, who had been a social worker, Jean went on to have a career in social services.
Courtesy of Jean Soliz

Jean ran and got Miriam from her room. For Miriam, that's when "I knew everything was going to be alright," she says.

Edwin had spent his last day playing with his daughter. "He played snowballs with you and took you on your little sled and spent that whole day with you," Jean tells Miriam. "Which I think is a marvelous thing."

After his death, Miriam's mom didn't talk much about Edwin, because it made her sad. Miriam was able to learn about him through a photo album that Bettye had put together. It was filled with newspaper clippings, obituaries and personal pictures of Edwin.

"I wish she had been able to talk to you about him though — about his sense of humor, his astonishing singing voice," Jean says. "And he was somebody who was quiet, but had all the power in the room."

Bettye died in 1977. Miriam was 14, and Jean comforted her.

"I get sad, but I don't stay in that frame of mind," Miriam says. "Because my parents didn't stay here long. But while they were here, they did everything humanly possible to make this a better world before they left it."

Edwin Pratt was killed 50 years ago in January. Law enforcement determined three white men carried out the hit, but were unable to figure out who orchestrated it. The case has never been officially closed.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Kelly Moffitt.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And it's time now for StoryCorps - today a story about the assassination of a civil rights leader. Throughout the 1960s, Edwin Pratt was the head of the Seattle Urban League. He argued that city to rally against discrimination in hiring, education and housing. On a snowy night in 1969, three men shot Pratt in his home while his wife and 5-year-old daughter Miriam were inside. Miriam came to StoryCorps recently with her godmother, Jean Soliz, who was her babysitter and neighbor at the time.

MIRIAM PRATT: When Martin Luther King was assassinated, my father was pacing back and forth. And he was emotional. I'd never seen him like that. So I ran back to my mother. And I'd said, daddy's in there crying. Daddy's in there crying. And she was like, it's OK, baby. Give him some time.

JEAN SOLIZ: That was only nine months before your father himself was killed in the same way. Now, he was a really busy civil rights leader, so he wasn't home all that much.

PRATT: Right.

SOLIZ: But your father spent his last day with you. He played snowballs with you and took you on your little sled and spent that whole day with you.

PRATT: I remember. I heard my mother cry, Edwin. And I sat up in the bed, and I was immediately engulfed in fear.

SOLIZ: My mom and I rushed over there. And when I saw that front door was open, I knew. I knew. I'll never forget walking into that family room, and I could see your dad laying there. And, of course, he was totally still. He died instantly.

PRATT: Then you came and got me, and I knew everything was going to be all right.

SOLIZ: You guys never lived again in your house.

PRATT: After his death, I was always frightened that whoever that was might try to come get us. She didn't really talk to me about him. If I brought him up, it would make her sad. She kept a photo album with all of the pictures of the assassination. And so I learned about him, basically, reading that.

SOLIZ: I wish she'd been able to talk to you about him, though...

PRATT: Me too.

SOLIZ: ...About his sense of humor, his astonishing singing voice...

PRATT: Right.

SOLIZ: And he was somebody who was quiet but had all the power in the room.

PRATT: I get sad, but I don't stay in that frame of mind because my parents didn't stay here long. But while they were here, they did everything humanly possible to make this a better world before they left it.

SOLIZ: That's right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNAKE OIL'S "BLACK BAND OF WATER")

MARTIN: That was Miriam Pratt and Jean Soliz remembering the assassination of Miriam's father, Edwin Pratt. The case of his assassination has never been officially closed. Their interview will be archived along with hundreds of thousands of others at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.