April 4, 1968 and Me

On March 5, 1968, my family moved from Centerville, a suburb of Dayton, Ohio (the North), to Raleigh, North Carolina (the South). I was not happy. I felt like I was moving to a foreign country. In 10 days, I’d be 16 and my main concerns were how was I going to get a NC drivers license and what should I wear to my first day of being a sophomore at Broughton High School.

15-year-old girls are ego-centric. It’s normal.

On April 4, 1968, at about 6:00 pm, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. When I talk about that day, I always say Raleigh went up in flames.

Today is the 48th anniversary of that shooting. I decided to do some research about what actually happened in Raleigh then. Using Google, I found a history of the Raleigh Fire Department decade by decade. Here’s some of what I learned:

Martin Luther King was shot about 6:00 pm on a Thursday. That night students from Shaw University, a black college, gathered downtown, joined by many others. They threw Molotov cocktails (the fire department called them fire bombs) and buildings burned. Somebody threw one through a window of the Playboy Club (Raleigh had a Playboy Club??) and someone inside threw it back out.

A curfew was declared for that Friday night from 1:00am-6:00am. That curfew continued for days. 500-700 National Guard troops were called in. By midday Monday, April 8, fire officials reported 40 fires had been set and responded to.

I’m sure I knew about all this turmoil and rage.  I did know it was a big deal that Dr. King had been shot. I was raised by two liberal parents who watched the news every night and encouraged us to join them. We talked about the civil rights movement and I saw the beatings and water hoses on Walter Cronkite’s newscasts. I was appropriately horrified.

Remember I said 15-year-old girls are ego-centric? I was focused on how to fit in in a new high school and a new culture where people thought I talked funny and French was taught with a southern accent that totally confused me. Prejudice and bigotry were miles away from the world I lived in then, literally and figuratively.

I just didn’t feel personally touched by any of it. I was a walking, talking, oblivious example of white privilege (defined and explained in this link). There were only a couple of black kids in my high school when I graduated and I didn’t know them.

I lived in an upper middle class neighborhood in north Raleigh, near North Hills Shopping Center and North Hills Swim and Tennis Club. Most families had at least one parent who had graduated from college. Our dads wore suits and ties to work. Many came to Raleigh to be part of the new Research Triangle Park, still one of the most prominent high-tech research and development centers in the US. My friends and I were white baby boomers benefiting from our parents’ post-war drive and ambition.

I read a book recently, suggested by my pastor, Julie Peeples, who is leading many in our community in an examination of white privilege and race issues. The book is called Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. The author, who is white, describes the book this way:

Waking Up White is the book I wish someone had handed me decades ago. My hope is that by sharing my sometimes cringe-worthy struggle to understand racism and racial tensions, I offer a fresh perspective on bias, stereotypes, manners, and tolerance. As I unpack my own long-held beliefs about colorblindness, being a good person, and wanting to help people of color, I reveal how each of these well-intentioned mindsets actually perpetuated my ill-conceived ideas about race. I also explain why and how I’ve changed the way I talk about racism, work in racially mixed groups, and understand the racial justice movement as a whole.

– See more at: http://debbyirving.com/the-book/#sthash.njgYIyS2.dpuf

Liberal parents or not, Caucasian or not, good intentions or not, I guarantee this book will open your eyes and jolt your thinking. You need to read it.


Published in: on April 4, 2016 at 1:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I was walking up Hillsborough St in Raleigh to St May’s on that night. The streets of Raleigh were quiet and calm as usual, except that I would see the occasional Raleigh PD police cruiser cross down a side street. I was heading to Broughton in my band uniform with my saxophone packed in its case. Fortunately the blacks that were looting the store just south of Broughton mistook my uniform for that of a policeman. One of them said “no man! He’s a cop” and they slammed the trunk and peeled rubber as they fled. i was 18, old enough for the draft and Viet Nam. At 18, I was self centered too, and I thank God every day for it,

  2. A definite eye-opener Robin. Thanks for sharing. I will definitely put the book on my “must read” list. Currently I am reading “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson. It chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.

  3. I grew up in NJ and don’t remember meeting a black person until I was in, perhap, the 4th grade. They came through Dutch Neck Elementary as migrant worker’s kids showing up in class for a couple of short months, then disappearing. It is a sad shared history that prejudice and unequal opportunity have always been with us, and that we sometimes feel comfortable saying, “If only they’d try a little harder.” Equality is so much more elusive than that.

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