R is for RFK, MLK and a tumultuous 1968. Eighteenth of 26 posts in the April 2023 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: Endwell: My High School Years — adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.
The year 1968 — my senior year at Maine-Emdwell — is hard to describe to anyone who didn’t live through it. Those of us who were teens at the time were buffeted by a relentless series of national and world events that unfolded during that tumultuous year, as summarized on history.com:
The year 1968 remains one of the most tumultuous single years in history, marked by historic achievements, shocking assassinations, a much-hated war and a spirit of rebellion that swept through countries all over the world. Occurring at the dawn of the television age, the historic events of 1968 also played out on TV screens across the country, bringing them home in a way that had never been possible before.
The world in my living room
The media played a major role in how I experienced national and world events. From Vietnam battlefield reports and coverage of anti-war protests to dispatches from the front lines of rebellions against racism in cities across the US – I remember being glued to the evening news in my Endwell, N.Y., living room nervously wondering, “What’s next?”
And in 1968 it was next, and next, and next!
March 12 – Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson would not run. I’d campaigned for Sen. Eugene McCarthy as a presidential peace candidate – so I was shocked the night Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he would not run again and would endorse his VP Hubert Humphrey for president. Humphrey? How would that end the war!
April 4 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated. Within a month, a new catastrophe occurred – the brutal assassination of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968 while he was in Memphis supporting striking sanitation workers.
In the “long, hot summer” of 1967, rebellions had rocked Black communities across the US as frustrations over poverty, unemployment, injustice, and racism boiled over. Now new uprisings greeted the shocking news about Dr. King – and I felt sympathy and solidarity as I watched the nightly news coverage.
April 23 – Student activists occupied Columbia University. Meanwhile, student activism was exploding around the globe. At the end of April, Columbia University students occupied their campus to protest racism and the Vietnam war – the first in a wave of similar takeovers nationwide over the next few years.
The Columbia takeover was covered in our local Binghamton, NY, papers (see photo above). “What will campus activism be like when I go to the University at Buffalo in the fall?” I wondered
June 5 – Sen. Robert F. Kennedy assassinated. Then came the morning of our Maine-Endwell senior class picnic – which was supposed to be a fun, relaxing event at a nearby lake. I had a new clock radio my folks bought me for college, and it was set to wake me to the news. When it went off that morning I heard the announcer say, “Robert F. Kennedy has been shot and killed in Los Angeles.” Wait, what? That can’t be right.
But it was – and I ran downstairs to tell my dad, who was as shocked as I was and woke my mom to tell her. That day at the senior picnic, we teens tried to have fun. But I also remember hushed discussions here and there about this unbelievable turn events – particularly alarming because RFK was our last hope for even a moderate peace candidate.
And so went the rest of 1968: Police viciously attacked demonstrators at the Democratic Convention (Aug. 26-29); In an inspiring act, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute at the Mexico City Olympics (Oct. 16); but then — horror of horrors — Richard Nixon was elected president (Nov. 5).
And by the end of 1968, I was a freshman at one of the State University of New York’s most activist universities starting a whole new chapter of my life.
Up next, S is for Sewing a fashionable wardrobe. Please stop back.
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