Friday, April 04, 2008

It was 40 years ago today …

Unless you lived through it, you cannot even begin to comprehend …

The sheer ugliness. Hatred. Polarization. Turmoil. Strife. Divisiveness. Rancor. Anarchy. Chaos. Uncertainty. Trauma.

It was 40 years ago today: The murder of Martin Luther King Jr.

It was the tipping point for an already chaotic time amid the backdrop of: The Vietnam war. The draft. Student riots. The SDS. The Black Panthers. Nascent feminism. Radical activism. Flag-burning. An expanding counterculture. Growing drug use. Backlash. Tension. Fighting in the streets. Riots.

When James Earl Ray slayed Martin Luther King, Jr., it culminated a period of sheer ugliness, and triggered even more ugliness over the ensuing weeks, months, years. If you were just entering high school in certain neighborhoods in Pittsburgh at that time, well, good luck. Formative years? How about just trying to survive? Keep your head down. Avoid the fights. Because there were fights. Lots of them. Every day.

To say the environment was polarized is an understatement. Kids from different neighborhoods, socio-economic levels, racial divides and ethnic lines … everybody was fragmented and polarized. Everybody hated one another. The tension in the air, the hatred, the constant rancor ... that's when security guards and police started showing up in schools on a regular basis. Because that's when guns started showing up in schools.

After Martin Luther King, riots broke out in Pittsburgh. I distinctly remember the National Guard on my street. Low-flying helicopters overhead. A curfew. Riots nearby. All too close to home, man, way too close to home.

So, if you were young and impressionable, believe me, it all made an impression. Big time.

It was an intense period. It's a wonder we lived through it. Some didn't.

And just when things were beginning to look hopeful again, bam, Bobby Kennedy was shot down. And you couldn't help but think, "All right, so that's how it's going to be. Every time somebody comes along who looks like a leader, they get shot down."

It took years for the country to heal from the turmoil of those times, from Vietnam, and from the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. You would think we, as a society, would have learned some lessons. That's why it was so disappointing to some of us that the Bush administration would so carelessly start another disastrous war in a distant foreign land. That's why it's been so depressing to see the harsh divides of red-blue ideology in recent years.

The country is at another tipping point. We cannot go back to the way things were on April 4, 1968.

Recommended reading: Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman's "The last sermon, Memphis, April 3, 1968"

Remarks by Sen. Barack Obama on Martin Luther King Jr.

Remarks by Sen. John McCain on Martin Luther King Jr.

(we haven't come across remarks from Hillary)


Anonymous said...

Great post.
I was 12 at the time and "scared out of my wits."
My brother (who was 16 then) was in upper Oakland playing basketball that day. One of very few white guys, his black friends formed a huge circle around him to get him out of the gym.
I was home with my mother. She was hysterical with worry. She hadn't heard from my brother and sent my father out to get him. He couldn't very well stop to use a pay phone where he was.
When they finally made it home, I remember him telling me that he saw tanks rolling into Pitt Stadium. As a 12 year old I truly thought that the world was coming to an end. It took me years to get over that.

Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls said...

Thanks, Nel.

Yeah, unless you lived through it, it's really hard to fathom how intense that time was, especially right after MLK was assassinated. You and I were the same age (still are, evidently), so you know how it was. I suspect most people who were born much later have no real understanding how fractious that whole era was. They couldn't possibly know.

Looking back, I didn't exactly have what you might call a "frivolous" time of it during high school.

It was no time of innocence.

Anonymous said...

I hated the sixties. Now that I think about it, probably my hatred of high school in the early 70's also stems from being petrified most of the time.

Today got me thinking.

One more recollection, watching tv coverage from different cities and being so young, not being able to differentiate (sp?) what was happening in Pgh. or WDC or the south. THAT scared me. I guess my parents could have done a better job explaining that to me. I don't blame them though,back then they didn't stress talking kids through difficult times like they do now.
Plus the whole TV coverage thing being so new then.

I like being older. Very few times in my life have I ever wished I was young again.

Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls said...

Speaking of television ... and turbulent times, a few short months later in 1968 was the televised rioting in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. That was crazy.

The Chief said...

I really enjoyed this post.

I cannot say anything more than you have... 40 years is a long time and how wonderful it is that he's not been forgotten.