Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Commentary – The riots of summer . . . . July 23, 1967
Historical memory is short – sometimes painfully so. It would do our culture well to remember our past just a bit better . . . .
The future Mrs. Bill and I had been truly dating for not quite a year. It was our first full summer together. My mind is flooded with memories of the crispness and earnestness and newness of that summer. I was genuinely, stupidly, deeply in love. We both worked, we talked for hours on the phone, held hands continuously, spent as much time together as we could . . . . . .
Other factors were in play as well – society felt frayed and tattered. Kennedy dead only 4 years, Vietnam ramping up, the evening news awash in body counts and images of a jungle warfare. No lottery yet, simply “the draft” with all of us healthy males having little doubt we would see this place soon enough.
The great marches of the South continued – lead by an articulate and spellbinding man by the name of Martin Luther King. In less than a year he would lay dead on the balcony of his motel. When the news wasn’t focused on our new fight against communism in Vietnam, it was filled with white on black, and black on white violence. A race, “kept in its place” in the south was determined to breakout and truly become equal under the law. A fearful south was determined to maintain the status quo. This tension was spreading nation wide. While white/black relations were much less stressed in the north – large cities were anything but quiet in the summer of 67. The frayed and tattered quilt of 67 was about to tear.
Our church had a tradition of going to a Detroit Tigers game each summer. My mom always felt bad I was fatherless. As I’ve said before, she did her best to fill this gap – hunting, some fishing, making sure Uncle Ted took me “north” each summer for real “man” time. The baseball game trip was part of that process – “takin’ in a game” with the church bus. The future Mrs. Bill was on this trip as well. The Tigers were wrapping up a 3-day series with the Yankees, it was a double header. Honestly, I remember little of the game – just the time with Susie. And, during the game, we began to notice smoke rising from different areas around the stadium. Nothing was said, nothing announced, nothing curtailed. The game ended – Tigers split that day – and we headed home – quickly.
There were lots of crowds on the street – they did not appear happy. We saw men on the rooftops of their homes with rifles and shotguns. And as we exited Detroit and the sun went down . . . . Detroit exploded! As did much of America – the “long hot summer” of 67 saw riots in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Tampa, Birmingham, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Britain, Rochester, Plainfield, Newark, and the “Twelfth Street Riot” of Detroit. Large cities were filled with disillusioned blacks that reached a point where the felt that violence was their next best solution.
And I read today’s headlines – once again filled with violence – American on American, race on race, poor on wealthy . . . . I see a much broader frayed patchwork quilt of society. People who have been promised everything quickly realizing the promises were lies. I see a society where half pay no taxes, where 10% pay 70% of the tab, where college students now see it as their right to borrow heavily and have society cover their loans, where unions – strong in the 60s, are withering and fighting to live, sacrificing the very companies that provided for them. I see police forces over taxed, stretched thin and “making do” while those with little respect for the law seemingly are gaining ground. I see folks in my classes flirting with fear – enough so that they have purchased a weapon to defend themselves, their families and their friends. And so I wonder . . . .
Is it once again the summer of ’67?? Only this time it’s not black and white . . . . it is “have” and “have not”. It is the 1% and the 99%. It is the rich and the poor. It is those responsible for their own lives vs. those who demand to be taken care of.
I pray for a peaceful passage of this summer and this election season.
I fear all hell will break loose . . . . .