Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination in Memphis Tennessee of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. This was just one of the many events that took place in 1968 that we will be hearing about this year.
In the Washington Post’s Daily 202, James Hohmann gives what I think an excellent analysis of MLK’s final speech. “His case for the virtue of nonviolent protest, boycotts and pushing the country to live up to our shared ideals is timely. His paeans to unity, economic justice and the moral obligation to look out for the least among us are timeless.” I also believe that his proposal for a Poor Person’s March on Washington still resonates 50 years later.
It’s like, if things went differently in that year, this country would not have come to the state it is today; and I don’t mean the election of Donald Trump. His election is really the final product of things that have been wreaking havoc in my opinion this nation for 50 years and this utter feeling among people who see things have been falling apart. The idea of a Civil Society (let alone a Great Society or making America Great Again for that matter) has kind of evaporated. Of course, hindsight is twenty-twenty.
Robert F Kennedy was in Indianapolis on that day and that very night delivered what is considered one of his best speeches. Of the cities that rioted that night, Indianapolis wasn’t one of them. “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.” Where is there now in this country a man or woman who can say such things and we can sense that they truly mean it?
While journalists, historians, and talking heads on cable amp up coverage of this anniversary, and many do note how tragic it all was, for many now, it’s just another item in the background of their daily lives. In fact, for many who lived through that year, all those events that fill our history books in college didn’t seem to hit home then either. I know in the case of my Father, marrying my Mother in November of 1968 was something that was far more tangible than the Tet Offensive. Having come back from his stint in Vietnam in the Spring of 1966, that was all behind him and he had a new car, a steady job at a company called the Towmotor Corporation, and got engaged the December of the previous year. He has never mentioned to me who he voted for in that year for president, or even if he bothered to do so.
As for my Mother, she had a younger sister who got married in March of 1968 about a week before Lyndon Johnson announced he wasn’t going to run again for re-election. Last month, I went to her house to celebrate her fiftieth wedding anniversary to my uncle. They had a big crowd, and not just family, but many of their friends were there too. There was a very nice cake, plenty of snacks that made a meal, and champagne to toast the couple. It was a very nice evening and the weather was much better than it was when they tied the knot. Later, just for the heck of it, my uncle brought out another bottle. It was of a rare brandy from France called Liqueur de Mirabelle. Flavored with the plum that only seems to grow in the Lorraine region, and, if I heard right, it was a gift from my grandparents in 1968 or he got it somehow to give to my grandfather who never took it. Anyway, for the first time in 50 years, he opened up the bottle and a few brave souls like myself took a sip. It had become pure rubbing alcohol.
A lot of things in the past fifty years have left a bitter taste in many people’s mouths. Of course, the reasons vary. For me, as someone who worked on political races in the past and had a History major in college, I do honestly believe that we have lost a lot as a nation since 1968, and not just in terms of the economy. We had another armed gunman, this time a woman, attacked YouTube’s headquarters in the Bay Area, wounding three before killing herself; all over how they treated her videos it seems. Meanwhile, Congressman Rohrabacher (R-California) speculated publicly, with no grounds, that she was probably an illegal alien. Madness breeds madness.
I think I will look back at those two speeches now.