In 1967 I had just graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and, that summer, began work as a reporter for the now-defunct Rochester (N.Y.) Times-Union, a Gannett flagship paper, along with the morning Democrat & Chronicle.
It was a tumultuous, sometimes scary, always exciting time. The Vietnam War was raging and opposition to that war was building in many places around the nation. The Civil Rights Movement was entering a period in which, against the will of many of its leaders, violence would explode in city after city, including Kansas City in 1968.
Part of my job in Rochester (I didn't come to Kansas City until the summer of 1970) was to cover urban dynamics, which meant I wrote about issues of poverty, subsidized housing, race relations and similar matters. Rochester itself did not degenerate into widespread violence at the time, but in August 1967, parts of nearby Syracuse went up in flames and violence.
I wasn't assigned to cover that Syracuse story directly, but another reporter who was covering the story asked me to accompany him to Syracuse to spend a night riding in police cars to monitor the damage. We saw some fires and evidence of looting that night but most of the fury had been spent by the time my colleague and I got there.
Another city that experienced terrible violence that year was Detroit. The Detroit Free Press has just published this interesting story about how all of that affected religious communities there at the time and how things have changed now.
The violence there and elsewhere forced people of faith to examine their own practices and experiences to see whether they lined up with the messages of peace and equality they often heard from their pulpits.
In many cases, the answer was that there was a fairly wide gap between the teachings of the great religions and the ways in which members of minority groups were being treated. It's not shocking to learn that in some places a similar gap continues to exist today.
Religious people often were the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. I worry today that many young people don't know that history and, worse, don't care. I also worry that some faith communities have drifted back to their segregationist ways that ignore foundational inequities in our society.
Much has changed since 1967 in terms of race relations, and much of that change has been for the better. But no one should imagine that we've created what Martin Luther King Jr. used to call the Beloved Community. And in the last year or two, especially, racial, ethnic and religious hostility seems to be spreading in the U.S.
Let's revisit what happened 50 years ago in the U.S. and use that history to prod us to recommit ourselves to the values of equality, love and justice that the great religions teach.
(Notice, by the way, in the image of the cover of Time magazine here today that the law enforcement officer and officials before the microphones are white and the people who appear to be looters are black. That was mostly an accurate depiction of what was happening but it also was a representation of part of the problem of racial and economic division.)
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THE PASSING OF A WITNESS
A 103-year-old Jewish woman who was barred from participating as a high-jumper in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin just died. The long life of Margaret Bergmann Lambert was an ongoing witness to the antisemitic evil of Nazi Germany. As that generation departs, those left behind must continue the work of witnessing about what happened.