The Racial Divide

Published April 4, 2018

As a Baby Boomer who came of age in the 1960s, I can’t help but think of 1968 as one of the most tumultuous years in my lifetime. It was an election year. The Vietnam War was tearing the country apart. More than half a million U.S. troops were in Vietnam. Many were there against their will, having been drafted to fight in a war they didn’t believe in. The average age of American soldiers being sent to war was 19. It had been 26 during World War II.

In March 1968, while announcing the deployment of 13,500 more troops to Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson also announced that he “would not seek, nor will I accept” the Democratic nomination for a second term as president, setting off turmoil in the presidential race. Four days later on April 4, civil rights leader Martin Luther King was shot and killed as he stood on a motel balcony in Memphis. Blacks across the country rioted. Now, in addition to antiwar protests, there were race riots in our cities.

Today, exactly 50 years later, racism and violence in our society has not abated.  The United States is the most violent country there is. We also are more divided than at any time since the Civil War. This is a deadly combination. The propensity to blame the other side divides us more each day. It causes us to turn on each other. It foments hate. Our politics encourage this.

“What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer in our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

Those words were spoken by U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy the night Martin Luther King was assassinated. Two months later, RFK would be assassinated.

The world was nuts, the world is nuts. Some things just don’t change.