When MLK was assassinated I was a 15-yr-old sophomore at Tulsa Central High School. Central was the only integrated HS in town. This was the result of prevailing “neighborhood school” districts, and the fact that Tulsa was one of the most segregated cities in the country: the blacks lived on the northside, in an enclave I first knew as “nigger town.” Washington HS was the ‘black’ school. The remaining seven were lily white.This was written before we elected Obama.
The Friday following the assassination there was a noticeable iciness between white students & black. The integrated student body was never one big joyful love-fest, but relations were generally at least civil. Not that day. It was pretty clear that the black kids – even those I regarded as friends – saw me as one of King’s assassins.
This was the second event of the year that began to awaken my political consciousness. The first was the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.
A third would follow shortly: the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, Democratic candidate for President, running on an anti-war platform.
A fourth occurred in August, when Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush Dubcek’s “Prague Spring,” followed a week or so later by the anti-war demonstrations at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. [I wrote my first “Letter to the Editor” in response to the Soviet crackdown on Czechoslovakia – and it was published!]
Nixon with his “secret plan” to end the war was elected in November.
1968 was a great year to become aware of politics in all its glory!
In 1970, when I was a high school senior, Central was closed for several days due to race riots. I don’t recall the initiating incident. Somewhat ironically, the school paper staff – of which I was editor – was at a journalism workshop at Oklahoma State University that day, so missed having first-hand knowledge of the events. For the rest of that school year we all wore picture ID student badges, and for several weeks the school grounds were patrolled by police.
One member of the the school newspaper staff – who now happens to be a regular reader of this blog! – undertook a series of articles about the riots and their aftermath – interviewing key participants and student leaders from all factions. The ensuing discussions – among students & faculty – were measured and reasoned. Communication between blacks & whites improved. We spent more time in each others’ neighborhoods and at each others’ homes.
In my youthful optimistic naivete, I believed that my generation would be the last to face racial strife.
... I don't know if Tulsa is still one of the most segregated cities in the country, but if it is I'm betting little white kids aren't growing up calling the black enclave "nigger town".
Despite the apparent popularity of Limbaugh & Fox News, I remain hopeful that we'll someday discover & embrace our better natures.