In His Light: Will 50 years in the future resemble 50 years ago?

January 9, 2018

“There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried,” said Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero. What memories will the May 2018 eighth graders possess as graduates in the year 2068? I was an eighth grader in 1968 looking forward with great anticipation to attending high school with all the escapades and challenges that comes when youngsters enter a new era in life.

It is my reflection, and many historians, that the year 1968 was the most devastating and disfiguring year in modern history for our nation. The year was engulfed with some of the darkest, most solemn, and most catastrophic events in the annals of our history. Therefore, the year 2018 will highlight the 50th anniversary of events many of us who experienced that era would rather not remember and undeniably not want to commemorate.

The year of 1968 began with members of our executive branch of government and military leadership continuing to grapple with the growing conflict and our expanding involvement in the war in Southeast Asia. In late January, North Vietnam launched a full-scale military assault against the forces of South Vietnam and the United States.

The campaign success resulted in a large segment of Americans re-positioning their views on the war and the increasing loss of young American lives along with an escalating financial burden. Chants and cries to remove our troops from Southeast Asia and bring them home bellowed across the nation by political, social and religious leaders. One of those passionate voices belonged to a young Negro Baptist pastor from Atlanta, Georgia, named Martin Luther King Jr.

While in Memphis, Tennessee, assisting in a labor dispute between the city sanitation workers and the city of Memphis, that voice of justice and righteousness bestowed to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by his beloved Creator was silenced forever when an assassin’s bullet executed him while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel. The date was April 4, 1968.

The continuing chaos and downward spiral of bewilderment caused by the war in Southeast Asia and the growing political upheaval in and outside his own political party, President Lyndon Johnson stung the nation by announcing he would not seek re-election in November. The date was March 31, 1968.

In 2068, what will historians and journalists record about the events and times of 2018?

President Johnson’s announcement and the subsequent assassination of Reverend King plunged our nation even deeper into a state of uncertainty and vacillation. With a lame duck sitting president and the Democratic Party without a bona fide leader, the Democratic Party presidential nomination turned into a free-for-all. With the nomination tightening in early summer, it appeared it would come down to Vice President Hubert Humphrey or Senators Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy. After celebrating a powerful and pivotal primary win in California, Senator Robert Kennedy was gunned-down while leaving the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He would succumb to his fate the next day. The date was June 6, 1968.

I would be remiss not to refer to another influential presence in the events of 1968. Alabama Governor George Wallace was the presidential nominee for the American Independent Party, a political party he founded and whose banner he campaigned under in 1968. During the presidential campaign of 1964, he ran as a Democrat. However, during the 1968 presidential campaign, Governor Wallace campaigned on a theme of continuous segregation and the immorality of integration. The governor’s message of “Segregation Now, Segregation Forever” resonated with many Americans in 1968.

The headline from news publications on Dec. 23, 1968, would easily fit into our headlines today with our perpetual erratic relations with North Korea, such as “Crew of USS Pueblo Released by North Korea.” Retained for 11 months, the crew of an intelligence gathering ship was released by North Korea after being charged with entering North Korean jurisdiction.

All was not lost in 1968; if that had been so, we would not be here 50 years later to enumerate it. In April, President Johnson signed The Civil Rights Act of 1968, the federal law that prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, color, sex, national origin or religion.

In October at the Summer Olympic in Mexico City, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two Black athletes from the United States, each raised a black-gloved fist in a gesture of Black pride and held it up until the conclusion of the national anthem. The expression ignited a wave of value and worth within Black America.

On Christmas Eve, Apollo 8 orbited the moon and the crew became the first humans to see the far side of the moon and our planet in its entirety. The most memorable moment unfolding on live television that evening was the crew reading from the Book of Genesis.

With only a few days before the dawning of 2018, the question is: In 2068, what will historians and journalists record about the events and times of 2018?

Will it be filled with the same evil, tragedy and madness of 1968? Will it be engulfed with same unsavory political tactics and the unrelenting divisive and repulsive rhetoric by our national leaders? Will the United States be more unified or polarized? Will the leadership of the United States and North Korea continue to be mimicked like two barking and yapping dogs separated only by a chain link fence? What will be the composition of our Church in 2068? Will the Church of Rome in the United States be a minority-majority assembly, and will her leadership mirror that composition?

We are assured of one certainty for 2068 and that is Jesus Christ will be in our midst, and we pray that we will always remain glowing In His Light. 

Deacon Leonard Paul Lockett is the vicar for Catholics of African Descent.