What the hell happened in 1968? (race relations edition)

Funny how forty-seven years can melt away in an instant.

I am going through the last bits of china and art from my mother’s house. I am used to the memories that the old things bring, and the pang of how my mom once loved this vase or my father once showed me that book. But I am not prepared for the newspaper. Still stark in its faded shades of charcoal and cream, it is a relic of communication that I almost never see these days. The Wichita Eagle. It whispers to me from a place I once lived, and from a Friday August 23 of long ago.

“What went on in 1968?” I ask, as I pick up the front page of the newspaper. “Oh dear.”

IMG_1624It looks like the national guard has been called in after days of racial violence in the city, according the large headline on the top of the front page. The governor has put Wichita in a state of emergency, enacted a curfew, closed bars and stopped the sale of gasoline in containers. I scan the front page for information on why.

A story immediately below provides some answers. It gives a laundry list of robberies and crimes committed by “Negroes” over the past few days including the robbery of an IGA grocery store, looting, burning and vandalism to automobiles. A white boy was actually shot in the wrist at the IGA, but it looks like he will be fine. Perpetrators are named and their arrests and their charges are detailed. Looks like Wichita Kansas is a scary place to be white.

editorialWhat is wrong with all these out-of-control black people? The editorial page on 4A asks this question in the form of a guest editorial from the Wall Street Journal called “Statistics Point to Progress by Negroes”. Points made by the article include the alarming fact that in 1968 non-white incomes are rising faster than white incomes, a reminder that Negroes in Northern slums are still far better off than they were on farms in the south, and a note that the existence of Negro mayors in Cleveland, Washington D.C. and Gary Indiana show our nations progress towards racial equality. Unlike the other editorials, there is no rebuttal or editorial presenting any other perspective.

whole storyOne has to go to on page 9A, well past the story about how K-State has the radical idea to use a computer to make its air conditioning system more efficient and past the ads for the latest in transistor radios, to find a story about the “neighborhood” perspective. The vague headline only says “Violence Mostly Brings Fear” but in the body of the text I learn that a 19-year-old black youth was shot while leaving a presentation by a local Black historian. Witnesses saw four white men in a car flee after firing the shot. The article does not even mention whether the young man lived and if so, what his condition is. I am only told that the situation has made “racial tensions flare.” I’ll bet it has.

“We’ve been through all of this before” the former secretary of the Wichita NAACP is quoted as saying near the end of the page 9 article. “I want to know when we are going to stop kidding around and get to the root problem of what is causing this trouble.”

Good question, ma’am. The headlines from around 2015 would probably make you cry. Perhaps they are making you cry if you are still alive to read them. Yes, there has been progress. We do now get a more complete story, so we generally know the fate of the young black man or woman in question. It is generally not good. The editorial page will present opposing opinions these days. Those who still ask “why aren’t you black people satisfied by now” will now point to a black president along with several black mayors. You know. Progress.

lessonslearned1My thirteen year old self never crossed paths with Jo Gardenhire, former Secretary of the Wichita Kansas NAACP. If I had, we probably would have had very little to say to each other. Times change. Today, I’d like to shake her hand, and to echo her question.

When we are going to stop kidding around and get to the root problem of what is causing this trouble?  And isn’t five decades far too long a time to be asking this same question?

[Images and excepts are from the Friday August 23, 1968 Wichita Eagle]

For more notes from the Friday August 23, 1968 Wichita Eagle, see my other blogs about World Peace and Vietnam, What Makes for a Glamorous Week-end for a Woman, Is it a good thing to know the future and the George Wallace Standing Ovation report.