With many Americans taking to the streets to protest the president, guns, racial bias and harassment of women, the mid-2010s are looking a lot like the mid-20th century, when the civil rights movement dominated the news.
Younger Americans only have documentaries and books to teach them of those days when “I am a man” signs were held aloft by black people just wanting the same rights and privileges as their white counterparts. Watching early April’s coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination got me wondering what my relatives – including my mother and her brothers and sister – thought of the current wave of protests in light of their firsthand memories of the 1950s and ’60s.
Last week, we heard from my mother, and this week my Uncle John, a retired history teacher; my Aunt Linda, a retired nurse, and my Uncle Phil, a professional woodworker, weigh in.
OK, school is now in session, Uncle John:
“I lost my patience with demonstrations from the Left 50 years ago in Boston when, while home on leave from the Army, I witnessed about 100,000 Boston-area college students descend upon the Boston Common to protest the speech being made by Gov. George Wallace, D-Alabama, who was racking up 25-30 percent of the vote in Democratic primaries around the country.
“These over-privileged sons and daughters of the ‘Greatest Generation’ surged around the Parkman Bandstand trying to drown out the speakers and menacing those who had come to hear the colorful G. Corley Wallace. When they arrived and when they departed they were led by traitors holding aloft on tall staffs the flag of the Viet Cong. Nice, huh?
“At the very moment they were so bravely marching across the Common, truly brave Americans were being killed and wounded by the enemy on the other side of the world. I never forgot that sight, and, sorry to say, have never forgiven those who enthusiastically lent their support to treason.
“It seems ever since that time, whenever the Left takes to the streets there is violence, chaos, and a trashed environment left in their wake. Virtually every time. Contrast that to the standouts and demonstrations of folks from the other side – Tea Party groups, Right-to-Life events, pro-Second Amendment types, etc., and the difference is clear: People on the Right are far more law abiding, civil and well-behaved – plus they clean up after themselves.
“If it’s from the Left expect obscenity, threatening rhetoric, violence and, always, a mess the taxpayers have to clean up once the ‘better’ people have gone home.”
Next up is Aunt Linda:
“So, I’m driving and into my brain pops an old song, the signature song of the Civil Rights movement: ‘Let My People Go.’ Not to draw too much of a spiritual comparison here, but there is no righteous leader or spiritual song to go along with the present-day movement, just Maoist or Marxist symbols and demands for an assortment of ‘rights.’ The real leaders of the present seem to be obscure.
“And like many in the 1950s and ’60s, our family was deeply involved in church life. At that time our church was almost entirely white. There were two very active black churches: Messiah Baptist and Lincoln Congregational. Occasionally the churches came together for special meetings (concerts, speakers, etc.). The churches were healthy because of intact families, yet you might say they were segregated.
“Ever since, we have seen a real integration of nationalities in churches. My own church has a majority from nations around the world. My Sunday School class is made up of first-generation Egyptian, Haitian, Indian, Philippine, two West African countries, Portuguese and Brazil. That point indicates the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s eventually was successful. Nothing happens overnight. Sometimes it takes generations. Now we have great potluck dinners and sometimes we have to ask, ‘what are we eating?’
“And, really, there are no ‘races’ but the human race, making us all brothers and sisters. The sons of Noah and the dispersion at Babel take all the credit.”
And to wrap up my elders’ recollections, let’s hear from Uncle Phil:
“Music such as the psychedelic from the later 1960s sent the country on a downward spiral. Anti-war protest, and ‘free love’ themes allowed the changes to affect our moral standards.
“Drugs became common and acceptable to the teenager and liberal society, as did music such as The Electric Prunes’ ‘I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night,’ Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit,’ and Jimi Hendrix playing ‘Purple Haze.’ Not to mention Woodstock’s Janis Joplin, and the drug-infused Steppenwolf music.
“Radio was huge then. It changed the foundation of society where ‘God’ simply lost to ‘self-desire.’”
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.