1968

I just got my varsity basketball jacket. It was cardinal red with gold accents. It had our school name, and my name, and the year I was awarded the jacket embroidered with gold letters. I put it on and determined that I was pretty hot stuff.

There was to be a football game that crisp fall night in 1968. I had asked my dad if I could go to the game and he said,

“No… There’s going to be trouble…”

Now I was no angel but I rarely opposed his authority overtly… I was more likely to play the angles and try and find a way around his instructions. I waited until he fell asleep after supper and snuck out of the house. I walked to the High School and joined my friends and we drove to the stadium for the away game. Our school (predominantly white) was playing a rival school (predominantly black) and it was 1968….

Maybe you remember 1968

On Friday, April 5, the White House dispatched some 13,600 federal troops, including 1,750 federalized D.C. National Guard troops to assist the overwhelmed District police force. Marines mounted machine guns on the steps of the Capitol and Army troops from the 3rd Infantry guarded the White House. At one point, on April 5, rioting reached within two blocks of the White House before rioters retreated. The occupation of Washington was the largest of any American city since the Civil War. Wikipedia

The article goes on

Six days of race riots erupted in Washington, D.C., following the assassination of the Civil Rights Movement-leader Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968. A wave of civil disorder affected at least 110 U.S. cities; Washington, along with Chicago and Baltimore, were among the most affected.

But what did all that matter to me? I was a junior in High School and I just got my basketball jacket…What did my dad know about anything anyway? I must have looked pretty cocky as I got into line to buy my ticket. Looking back I do remember feeling something wasn’t right I could feel it.

As we waited in line I heard a girl scream…I looked up ahead and saw my classmate (and neighbor) surrounded by some black guys who were behaving in a very menacing fashion. It appeared they were groping her. She was terrified. I started to run up where she was (Now don’t get the idea I had any heroics in mind… I was scared to death…) but I had to do something.

The next clear thought I had was back at our High School in the boys’ locker room. I was staring into the mirror and couldn’t focus my eyes… I had blood oozing out of my ear. Oddly enough I didn’t feel any pain. My friends filled in the gaps about what actually happened.

When they caught up to me I was already on the ground. One of them said he saw one of the guys hit me behind my ear with a pipe. I was on the ground and they were kicking me, when some people finally scared them off. My friends took me back to the high school and then agreed they had to take me to the hospital.

Through the fog and confusion one thought was crystal clear. Those guys who attacked me didn’t kill me… but my dad would surely finish the job when he found out what happened.

After a number of x-rays of my skull (they thought I had a skull fracture) it was determined that I had a severe concussion, and they would observe me overnight for more symptoms. As the pain began to manifest in my rib cage and my neck…I turned my head on the pillow and there he was…my dad. He looked down at me and asked…”Are you O.K.?”

That was all he said (at least all I remember about that night…) He never said another word about that night to me. He knew I was ashamed and sorry that I disobeyed him, and he didn’t berate me about it. Now that I am a dad with grown children and two grandbabies I can understand a little bit of what he must have gone through that night.

What I was not prepared for was the response when I returned to school a few days later. Kids I didn’t even know…some who never gave me the time of day were coming up to me and saying

 “Don’t worry… we’ll get those blanketty … blank________s !!!”

A Franciscan Priest named Father George got me aside and said, “You and I should talk.”

 He told me that he was sorry I was injured but that I faced a choice, and that choice was going to have enormous consequence. He said “Now you can go out in that hall and get those guys all revved up and start a riot. No one would blame you. Or you can ask God to give you forgiveness for those young men who attacked you…”

What Father George couldn’t know is that I was already thinking that my response to all this was very going to be very important. After a while some of those same guys came up to me and I said something like

“Listen…Those guys who hit me were idiots. It doesn’t matter that they were black and I was white. I never should have been there in the first place. We all need to calm down.”

Like my dad, Father George also never said another word to me about the incident or my response… He just gave me a knowing look. I like to think it mattered how I responded that day.

So here we are in 2014 in the midst of a contrived assault; designed to pit us one against another, based on the color of our skin. Now, as then, you and I face some hard choices. Will we succumb to the emotions of the moment and behave like animals? Or will we hold those accountable who have stirred up this mess all over again?

We are living in an era of lawlessness. Politicians from the top down have figured out that chaos is good. People identifying themselves as journalists are in fact narrative crafters….activists… who are intentionally trying to foment the unrest and to perpetuate the anger. It is a growth industry for them. The only thing that can stop it is for individuals to weigh their responses and to cry out to God for His help.

All these years later I turn my head on the pillow yet again and this time it is my Heavenly Father looking at me and asking

“Are you O.K.?

How are you going to respond to all of this?”

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3 comments on “1968
  1. Larry says:

    A great article Jim. I know all too well about that time and I know where you were when this went down. Tensions were running high and the national guard was sent in to help keep the peace. No one knew what was going to happen day to day or how this upheaval would end. But it did. The problem today is wanton lawlessness. People are not content and need to erupt. It seems now, with political support, people can erupt without consequence. They are even hailed as heroes for the cause. Many will suffer from such lawlessness and our failure to act responsible to those who cross the line of law and decency. However, this too will pass. It does not change our response to this generation. People need the Lord. That constant still stands. Let’s go forth proclaiming the Gospel and watch as light cuts through and dispels the darkness. Keep teaching.

  2. Crystal says:

    As always, really great stuff, Jim. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

  3. Mary says:

    Thank you for sharing that, Jim. It serves not only as a great lesson but also to jog our own memories to reflect on situations and how we either handled them correctly or … Could have/ should have… Made better choices❤️. It proves that history (whether on the grand scale or our own personal) is incredibly valuable in learning to handle all life’s situations better. Your insight into that situation fits perfectly the scenarios we are dealing with today.

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