Fifty Years Ago
This Wednesday, April 4, will make 50 years since the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
While I do remember exactly where I was when I heard the news of JFK’s assassination in 1963 — fifth period geometry class — I do not remember precisely where I was or how I heard of King’s death. But I do remember gathering that dark evening with other students at Willamette University to release our anger, grieve and try to make sense of what was happening.
That spring Eugene McCarthy won the Democratic Primary in Oregon. I worked for him there in Oregon. And I remember McCarthy’s main challenger at that point, Robert F. Kennedy, campaigning old-style, coming though town on a train. From the back of the caboose RFK spoke, mis-pronouncing “Willamette,” the name of both the geographical area (the Willamette Valley) and the University. He lost Oregon. Later that spring, Robert Kennedy would also be assassinated in Los Angeles.
Riots followed King’s assassination in Detroit, L.A. and Washington, D. C. and a score of other U.S. cities. “Burn, baby, burn.” There were more riots later that the summer in Chicago at the Democratic Convention. Abbie Hoffman and the Yippees. Hapless Hubert Humphrey was nominated to face Richard “Law and Order” Nixon in the fall election.
It was a wild and chaotic time. And all of this was happening against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.
Remembering and describing it all, it sounds worse than the present time, 2018 fifty years later. Was it worse then? Or now? I don’t know. I have a sense that then we were all playing from the same basic playbook, democracy contested. Now, I’m not so sure. Democracy in jeopardy.
What I do know is that in the spring of 1968 I was in love. Linda and I would be married the following spring.
With Vietnam looming, I was also vexed and perplexed as to whether I could in good conscience file for CO, “Conscientious Objector” status for the military draft. My religious background, Congregationalist, was not one of the historic “peace churches.” My father had served in WWII, and I was pretty sure that if I had been 19 then, in 1942, I would probably have gone into the army as he did. Could I really be a “CO”?
And I was involved, in the spring of 1968, in starting Willamette’s first soccer team. I wouldn’t have remembered this except that a month or so ago I got a letter indicating that we “founding fathers” of soccer at Willamette had been nominated for the University’s “Athletic Hall of Fame.” (I didn’t know such a thing existed until now.)
At the time of I got this letter of nomination, the 2018 men’s soccer team was in the national finals for their NCAA division. You’ve come a long way, baby! And there’s an outstanding women’s soccer team as well.
So how does all this add up — fifty years later?
Though the times then had, as they do now, an apocalyptic tone, we were still gambling on the future. We were falling in love and getting married. A marriage that has yielded two wonderful sons and one terrific daughter, and — to date — six grandchildren. But more, for our marriage funded my 40 years as a minister and Linda’s career as a teacher and principal.
And the seeds we planted for a new inter-collegiate sport, in that crazy time, have borne fruit in a team and program of national stature.
The take-away? Despite the cataclysms and tragedies of our day, we continued to push, often by fits and starts, toward the future and toward life.
You never know quite how the seeds you plant will do. Will they bear fruit or not? In our own present troubled times, the message would seem to be, “keep planting.” Keep planting the seeds of hope and of life.