2018-01-10 / Editorial


Michael N. Searles

For many of us 50 years doesn’t seem a long time. Various events captured our attention during the year 1968. The Beatles released their “White Album,” which received mixed reviews but later would be seen by some critics as one of the best albums ever created. NASA launched Surveyor 7 which was successful in determining the feasibility of a manned moon mission. The Winter Olympic Games held in Grenoble, France, were the first Winter Games to be broadcast in color on television. French students who began protesting France's university system and limited job opportunities were able to achieve the passage of a student education reform law that provided better wages and conditions for workers.

While many events caught our attention fifty years ago, nothing shook the nation and the world as the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. These two deaths affirmed for some that America was an extremely violent country where no one was safe. While the assassinations troubled many, the Civil Rights community deeply mourned the death of two Icons. Robert Kennedy, killed a few months after Dr. King, especially was remembered for going into Indianapolis against law enforcement advice and telling an African American audience that Dr. King had been assassinated and later predicting that a black man could be elected President in 40 years. The significance of Dr. King’s death is hard to overestimate. Cities across the nation experienced riots - from Washington, D.C. to Louisville, Kentucky - provoking the greatest amount of social unrest since the Civil War. Violence erupted across America towards white owned businesses in the black community, but public and community buildings basically were spared. Riot-inspired destruction, conservatively estimated at $ 25 million, became known as the Holy Week Uprising. While Dr. King’s nonviolence movement was waning, especially among youth in the black community, his death generated anger and great disillusionment. The assassination and riots generated increased racial segregation and white flight to the suburbs. Politically, Republicans focused on fear of black urban crime to gain support of a law and order agenda that manifested itself in the 1968 presidential election. Black youth felt that since nonviolence had not brought about the promised peace and reconciliation, they moved more aggressively towards the Black Power Movement. Through all of the destruction and despair, a number of lasting legacies emerged from the death of Dr. King. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. Fifty thousand people participated in The Poor Peoples March in Washington, D.C. In 1983, Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 15) became an American federal holiday. Of the ten federal national holidays, only two recognize individuals: Columbus and Dr. King. While Washington’s Birthday officially is still recognized, the date was changed to the third Monday in February and is socially known as Presidents’ Day to honor Washington and Lincoln as well as others who have served in that office. While the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monument in Washington has gained much deserved attention and visitations, there are 25 Martin Luther King, Jr. memorials in the United States and around the world. In Waynesboro, as in almost every city, there is a street named for Dr. King. There continues to be celebrations, parades, prayer services, and community events recognizing the achievements and inspiration of Dr. King. The Sapphirettes, a Burke County women’s social and service organization, was organized and continues to hold a Freedom School celebration annually that shares with youth and community Dr. King’s life and legacy. We all benefit from the life of Dr. King and as a community honor those who venerate his life of dedication and service.

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