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Weekly 150: 1968 All Over Again

At Least Let’s Hope Not

By Jason R. Martin
Posted 1/19/21

As 2021 began, I couldn’t help but hope some of the tension and hostility within the United States would subside. I am not one to editorialize, nor will I use this article to preach that my …

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Weekly 150: 1968 All Over Again

At Least Let’s Hope Not

Posted

As 2021 began, I couldn’t help but hope some of the tension and hostility within the United States would subside. I am not one to editorialize, nor will I use this article to preach that my beliefs should be the gospel for all to follow. As a matter of history, I see 2020 and 2021 setting itself in the pages of time to resemble 1968.

Reflective of 1968, we are in a time where there is too much strife and social unrest. With social media serving as the mouthpiece for the malcontents, too often individuals are posting every thought in their head without weighing the consequences of our words. For those who were alive in 1968, imagine the hostilities that would have erupted if social media was available. With COVID-19 taking a hold in our everyday lives and political divisions are magnified, we are in a time where not only democracy but humanity is being tested.

I am staying clear of voicing my political opinion and affiliation because it has no place in this news medium or historical recitation. What I would like to do with this week’s page is simply tell a synopsis of 1968 and tie in a little McKenzie history where possible.

1968 was a pivotal and promising time for the United States, but there was a wave of social unrest not accounted for the previous year. 1967 was a year filled with good and bad; the Doors had their debut album, Muhammid Ali’s refusal of induction into the draft, Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court, the Detroit race riots, draft card burnings, and the passage of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The underlying condition of the anti-war movement over Vietnam and the ever-shifting tide of the Civil Rights Movement left the door open for a hotbed of civil dissonance. Increased protests coupled with a pair of assassinations changed the United States forever.

In late January 1968, deep in Southeast Asia, North Vietnamese troops attacked more than 100 cities and outposts in South Vietnam. U.S. forces were able to hold off the series of attacks but the public’s opinion turned further towards the negative on American involvement in the conflict. By the end of March, President Lydon Johnson began limiting bombing runs on North Vietnam and announced he would not seek re-election.

By April 3, a demonstration against the war was known as the National draft-card turn-in day. It consisted of about 1,000 draft cards being turned in. In Boston, Massachusetts 15,000 protesters watched 235 men turn in their draft cards.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined in the Anti-Vietnam War sentiment. At the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., March 31, 1968, Dr. King said that he was “convinced that [Vietnam] is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world.” He linked three problems he saw plaguing the nation: racism, poverty and the war in Vietnam.

Dr. King’s battle against racism, poverty and the war would proved fatal. Early February 1968, Memphis African-American city sanitation workers were on strike. On March 28, 1968, Dr. King participated in a march that turned violent. In response to the violence, Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb declared martial law with 4000 Tennessee National Guardsmen sent to the city.

On April 3, he was back in Memphis attempting to organize a more peaceful march.

The following day, he was assassinated on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel. 30 minutes after the assassination, the McKenzie National Guard unit was activated and ordered to report to Memphis. The guard unit had completed training on riot control.

Reporting to Memphis from McKenzie: Captain David Miller — Company Commander; First Lieutenant Charles Argo, Second Lieutenant Dennis Barger, First Sergeant Ed McNeil.

Sergeants: James Bush, Robert Snead, Kenneth Brevard, Kenneth Doster, Charles Kemp, John Lemonds, Wayne Marr, William Marrison, Paul Savage, Lester Scott, Larry Mann, David Byrd, William Wallace, Addie Rutherford, James Roger, Danny Parker, Earl Jarrett and Terry Blakemore.

Specialists: James Arnold, Windle Barnes, Truman Bateman, Edward Crutchfield, William Gallimore, John Gulledge, George Haley, Stanley Morgan, James Newland, James Nutting, Charles Travis, Don Wallace, Bradley Wilson, Philip Winstead, Kenneth Beasley, Billy Barksdale, Hays Brummitt, Jerry Connell, Thomas Harder, Charles Harris, George Nolen, Wendell Prince, Roy Shackelford, Charles Stone, Freddie Taylor, Vernon Trucker, Carleton Wallace, Joe Wilkinson, Barbee Cassidy, William Forbess, Johnny Walker, William Travis, Dennis Taylor, James Harper and Jimmy Reynolds.

Privates: Dwayne Bolton, Jerome Crawford, Robert Bates, Gregory Cruse, Richard Hale, James McAlpin, Thomas Marshall, James Gilliam, Jerry Nolen, James Robinson, William Rumley, Major Walpole, James White, Charles Felts, James Jones, John McCadams, Dennis Sutton and Hansel Wilson.

Georgia Governor Lester Maddox referred to Dr. King as “an enemy of our country” and threatened to “personally raise” the state capitol flag back from half-staff.

Nearly two weeks after the assassination of Dr. King, Mayor Loeb broke the strike agreeing to negotiations that included union recognition and wage increases. Additional strikes were threatened before the City of Memphis honored the agreement.

On June 5/6, 1968, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. Kennedy had just won the Democratic Primary in California. With Johnson not seeking re-election and Bobby Kennedy out of the running, the presidential nomination for the Democrats was wide open.

During the Democratic National Convention in Chicago Sunday, August 25, a couple thousand police officers wearing riot gear, helmets and gas masks lined up at Lincoln Park. Some threw tear gas into the crowd. Over 650 protesters were arrested during the convention. Over 100 protesters were treated at area hospitals. It was reported that 192 police officers were injured and 49 required medical treatment. A group later known as the Chicago Seven, were charged with conspiracy and crossing state lines to incite a riot and brought to trial.

The violence at the convention did nothing to unit an already divided political party. Democrat Humbert Humphrey received the party nomination for president. Earlier in the month, the Republicans nominated Richard Nixon. The 1968 election was narrowly won by Nixon. He was later re-elected in 1972 and the rest as they say is history.

The gist of the 1968 tale is this; we had a rough 2020 let’s not make 2021 any worse than it has to be. It is time we as a nation work for unity. Too often we, flawed in our own humanity, look for division and work towards increasing the separation by doing what we think is right, instead of working to close the divide.

Here are a few words of wisdom to live by; Abraham Lincoln (1858), “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” At the time, Lincoln was referring to those for/and against slavery. Plugin any standing issue and the quote stands true. In 1964, Martin Luther King said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” King’s St. Louis, Missouri speech should provide the forethought of what we have witnessed in the last few weeks and months. The foolish behavior will have a consequence one day, but who or what will perish?

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