1968 2.0…2020-2021

As 2020 ended I hoped for a brighter 2021…hoped the cockroaches with 2020 embossed on their backs would scurry for the safety of darkness as the bright sunlight of 2021 hit them.  Then visions of white supremacists and nationalist storming the Capital hit my TV screen and news feed on January 6.   People in red hats and animal skins carrying Confederate Battle Flags among many, made it surreal.  I couldn’t help but think about my earlier year of discontent, 1968. 

Most of us, I hope most of us, will celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday January 18 this year. His life ended with an assassin’s bullet in 1968.  That same bullet triggered national unrest similar to what we saw this past summer. 

Despite being a proponent of nonviolent protest, King’s assassination prompted violent protests and riots in major cities across the US as news of his death led to anger and disillusionment, and feelings that now only violent resistance to white supremacy could be effective.

Known as the “Holy Week Uprising”, the riots and unrest began after the April 4th murder of King lasted well into the remainder of the year.  These uprising weren’t the first expression of unrest and would not be the last in 1968. 

Vietnam protests joined Civil Rights protests, walkouts, sit ins, hostage taking along with the riots that saw Chicago policemen in battle gear wading into crowds and beating Vietnam War protesters and news correspondents, This was during the 1968 Democratic Convention and played out during August on our television sets.

We weren’t alone in our discontent.  Social unrest seemed to grip the world.  Movements sprang up worldwide as protests were registered in over two dozen countries.  Here at home, in addition to our Vietnam War and Civil Rights movements,  Anti-nuclear movement, Environmental movement, Hippie movement, Women’s liberation movement, Chicano movement, and Red Power movements staged protests.  During the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, two medalists raised their glove clad fist in a Black Power protest.  That was in October. 

Some historians believed 1968 saw the greatest wave of social unrest the United States had experienced since the Civil War.  Of course, that was before 2020 and the beginning of 2021.  I don’t know what historians will believe about these, there is so much misinformation to sift through I doubt a consensus will be reached during the remainder of my lifetime.

I also wonder what Dr. King might think had he lived to be ninety-two.  Despite his own move toward greater militancy, I wonder if his influence would have made any difference in what continues to play out on my television. 

Our Capital is locked down. National Guards men are moving to the nation’s capital and sleeping in the building itself.  Buildings being boarded up.  Gunmen have been arrested attempting to breach what is known as the Red Zone…even using descriptors like Red Zone. My depression and anxiety are growing by the minute as the inauguration approaches.

Despite my anxiety, I find comfort and hope in Dr. King’s words.  Yes, I still believe in hope.  In 1964 he closed his Nobel acceptance speech, beginning his final paragraph, “Let me close by saying that I have the personal faith that mankind will somehow rise up to the occasion and give new directions to an age drifting rapidly to its doom. In spite of the tensions and uncertainties of this period something profoundly meaningful is taking place. Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away, and out of the womb of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born.”

I have hope that his words will come true and that the reaction to what happened on January, 6, will prove to be an impetus for better days. 

***

Quote is from Dr. King’s Nobel acceptance speech.

His image from his “I have a dream” speech.

Much of my research came from experience but I used Wikipedia to fill in the gaps of my memory.

My own rantings and writings may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1m9HXR3YH52tj33iUxPkzyf1PvTdt2BaXLwT3hka344adJ4sa6n3sIkr4

Sunday September 15, 1963

Sunday September 15, 1963…I doubt I paid much attention to the happenings in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.  I probably paid more attention on Monday when Walter brought the CBS Nightly News as the family gathered around the black and white TV, chewing soggy TV dinner fried chicken and cardboard mac and cheese. 

I pay more attention now. The past can be painful. Ignoring the past can be moreso. Four young girls, Addie Mae Collins (age 14, born April 18, 1949); Carol Denise McNair (age 11, born November 17, 1951); Carole Rosanond Robertson (age 14, born April 24, 1949); and Cynthia Dionne Wesley (age 14, born April 30, 1949), were killed in the attack as they attended Sunday school…Sunday school. Addie Mae’s sister, 12 year old Sarah, had twenty-one shards of glass embedded in her face. She was blinded in one eye. Fourteen others were injured and there was another death. Some nineteen or more casualties to the war that was Civil Rights.

1963: Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church
Sarah Collins recovering from the attack. Photograph by Dawoud Bey.

I do not know what I thought.  I do not know what my family thought.  We were not the types to sit around the dinner table discussing Civil Rights, race relations, and the deaths of four young girls in the city that became known as “Bombingham.” I honestly don’t know where my parents stood on racism and Civil Rights. Considering all possibilities I guess that is not a bad thing.

I don’t know for sure what my classmates thought during school that Monday morning. There was no discussion of the travesty that had occured in my eighth grade civics class…my all white class in my all white little school.

I was thirteen. Just about the ages of the girls killed at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.  I wonder what I thought.  I am sure I was more concerned about the pennant race in the National League than four deaths in Alabama.  The Dodgers were battling it out with the Cardinals and held a one game lead.  On September sixteenth they would begin a series with the Dodgers one game up.  In the American League the Yankees had run away and hid in 1963.  I knew baseball standings, but I didn’t know the names of the girls now gone.

It is not that I was unfeeling, I was thirteen, probably an immature thirteen.  I was more concerned about baseball and the Playboy magazine I had snuck into my bedroom.  There was that little blond-haired girl that stirred feelings and reactions I simply did not understand.  Alabama was a place far, far away and the lives lost unknown to me.

Occasionally thoughts would enter my teenage mind.  “How is this right?”  I was not ready to go marching with Martin Luther King but images of burning buses, fire hoses, and now rubble were having an effect…a lasting effect.

My grandmother had taught the Golden Rule. I couldn’t understand why we weren’t treating these people the way we wished to be treated.  Why were people so angry and why did they all look like me? Why didn’t I have the guts to act?

I couldn’t understand the lack of empathy from friends either…as I can’t understand now.

The last of the three bombers died in prison this past June.  I will not speak his name. He was eighty-two.  He was not brought to justice until 2001…none were brought to justice in 1963, not because their identities were unknown, because of the system that was in place…a system that is still hanging on in many places.  The three freely lived their lives as if nothing had happened, one for thirty-seven years.  He lived freely thrice as long as the little girls whose lives he helped to take. 

I’m thankful I’m not the same person I was in 1963.  I was a child of the time and carried my racism with me well into my adulthood.  My change occurred over time, there was no sudden flipped switch.  It was the realization that what I saw and heard was at odds with what I had learned despite my grandmother’s best teachings.

I still have my moments.  I still carry my racism. Thoughts I wish I didn’t have, thoughts I pray forgiveness for.  I pray for understanding, pray for peace among all God’s children.  Prayers that don’t include forgetting but do include forgiveness.  Prayers for taking the first step toward healing which is the recognition and acceptance for our sins. 

Don Miller writes on various subjects that bothers him so. His author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0C336Kj_qD1fHk40ybRg8b7CHHd6f8KYcGIC44-qIqsbZJGjv0WdXaeKI