1968 would be the year seemingly everything came to a head and threatened to turn our entire country upside down. It began with so much hope – so much optimism. But as the year went on the optimism turned to dismay, the hope turned to disillusionment. It was a year of protest throughout the world – institutions were being questioned for their validity – entire governments were under fire. We were in a war we knew to be wrong, but were at loggerheads with those who believed it to be right. Civil Rights was still a battleground – those who waged peaceful protest were at odds with those who no longer wished to be passive. Dr. Martin Luther King was the unifying force – his message and influence were felt and echoed in other protests; from the War in Vietnam to the Farm Laborers in Delano California – the message of injustice spread, his message of peace prevailed. And Robert Kennedy chose to run for President – 1968 was an election year. Only days earlier Lyndon Johnson told America he was no longer willing to be President. For a brief, flashing moment, there were possibilities – possibilities that all the struggle and days of uncertainty would soon be over. That perhaps a new era would be just within reach, a star of hope glimmered.
But all that changed when bulletin after bulletin screamed the news that Dr. King was killed – dead from an assassins bullet in Memphis. The optimism and possibilities turned to rage – hope faded and the world became a place of grief and sorrow. Our innocence, which had been held together by so much string anyway, had snapped and a wave of cynicism flooded our thoughts. The loss and fear etched across our faces and we were no longer teenagers. The world had become a jaundiced and fearful place.
And 50 years on, we’re still in the middle of uncertainties – of fear and loss and our mistrust. Civil Rights continues to be a battlefield – our place on the planet is tenuous – our giddy innocence has been gone for ions and we wondered what it would have been like, had Dr. King lived – had Robert Kennedy lived – had the Vietnam War ended in 1968.
Perhaps that just wasn’t our journey – and perhaps it will never be. Perhaps we’re just not ready for Dr. King’s message just yet – perhaps we need one more shock – one more 1968, another series of events to shake us to our core. We’ll just never know.
But as a reminder of the shock and terrible sadness that descended over America, that April night in 1968, here are several news reports, including the initial report that Dr. Martin Luther King had been shot and killed while standing on a balcony in Memphis.
50 years ago – seems like another lifetime – seems like the blink of an eye.