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Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Summer of Hate-1968

While I do plan to write individual posts for the events that occurred between June and August, 1968, I wanted to also do a post explaining the term 'Summer of Hate' and how it came to be. 1968 was a year of tumultuous chaos from start to end. But from April until August there were two very famous assassinations, multiple protests that ended in arrests and violence, and all of it came to a head at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August. In the posts that follow, through the next couple of weeks, you and I, my beloved blogger people, will go through Liz's take on these events. With some things, like Robert Kennedy's assassination, I will be able to give the full excerpt from Castles pertaining to it while in other cases I will only be able to give pieces or I will have to chop it up a bit to give it to you. But in one form or another, you'll see what our favorite crazy hippie had to say about it all. In the meantime....
Here is a first hand account of the real kind taken from

THE 1968 EXHIBIT: The Summer of Hate

            It was mid-June and I had just come back to Cleveland after my first year of teaching in another part of the state when Marty, one of my closest friends, called to tell me he was getting married at the end of the summer, right before Labor Day. All of our high school friends -- who had begun to scatter since graduation five years earlier -- would be there. Marty knew I was considering taking a job with the Cleveland schools and felt that the events of the summer would make us close again, like the old days, and convince me to stay in town. But it was 1968 and absolutely nothing would be going according to plan.

            That was over 40 years ago and, no, it doesn't seem like just yesterday - it feels more like a hundred years and a dozen Martys and several mes and two or three Americas ago. Over the years we have seen numerous film clips of the events that traumatized this country during that sad, surreal year. Overlooked, however, are the millions of tiny, personal insurrections between friends and family members that ultimately left so many of us shell-shocked and adrift as Americaitself appeared to be coming apart at the seams. 

            In January the North Vietnamese launched the TET offensive, a shocking, co-ordinated attack on American troops that stunned the nation, shaking it once and for all out of its complacency as to how smoothly the war was going and planting the first devastating seed of doubt as to our military invincibility. The next month, fueled by the ground swell of concern over TET and running on a peace platform, Eugene McCarthy finished a strong second to incumbent Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire Primary, setting the stage a few weeks later for another, more charismatic anti-war candidate, Bobby Kennedy to challenge LBJ.

            On the last day of March, Johnson - by this time literally a prisoner inside the White House, unable to go anywhere because of the omnipresence of virulent demonstrators - announced to the nation he would not run for president. Five days later Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis and the black sections of many major American cities erupted in flames. At the end of April students at Columbia took over the dean's office and shut down the university as an ever-growing youth culture gathered momentum in its sweet psychedelic challenge to the status quo. And just one week before I came home Bobby Kennedy was assassinated and the nation watched -  frozen - as the train carrying his body slowly traversed America, now a land with dried blood on its tracks

            All of these seismic events had occurred since the last time I had seen Marty at a New Year's Eve party at our favorite hangout, the neighborhood bar/bowling alley.  So we hadn't even talked about any of them. In fact we hadn't really talked about anything political since our hero and fellow Catholic JFK had been assassinated. It was just sports and music and girls.

            But in the summer of '68, there was no getting away from the events of the day, even in the formerly friendly confines of our beloved bowling alley, where the normally cranky but rarely angry group of regulars - mostly middle-aged Irishmen, Italians and Eastern Europeans - were getting mighty restless at what they were seeing on the TV above the bar. Marty and I used to laugh at these older guys or grow uncomfortably quiet when they occasionally got semi-worked up over "the niggers." Now, however, they had another target of scorn - the long-haired Vietnam demonstrators and anyone, even people like Dr. Benjamin Spock and the priests and clergymen arrested that summer - who supported the protesters. And though neither Marty or I had to worry about being drafted (he had bad eyes and I had a teaching deferment) we found ourselves on opposite sides of the issue. In fact I was the only one in the place defending the anti-war element and I was taking a similar beating there to the one I was taking at home while arguing about Vietnam with my parents. The comfortable terrain of my childhood homestead was starting to fill up, almost overnight, with emotional land mines.

            When the ghettos exploded that July it started to get really ugly at the bowling alley. After I saw Marty, who was unaware that I had walked in, leading the regulars in cheers as blacks were being handcuffed on the screen, I began making myself pretty scarce around that now rather hostile establishment, stopping by briefly in early August to inform Marty I had decided to return to my old teaching job near Toledo. He just shrugged and took a swig of his Black Label.

            A few weeks later I got a call from Marty asking me to come up to the bowling alley that night. His wedding party, having finished its rehearsal, would be there along with a bunch of our old friends. It was to be a pre-nuptial celebration. Unfortunately, it was also the night of the Massacre on Michigan Avenue at the Chicago Democratic National Convention, during which the systematic brutalization of about 12,000 mostly youthful, white, middle-class demonstrators was carried out -- live and on prime time television -- by approximately 30,000 Chicago police, army troops, National Guardsmen and federal agents.  Arguably, this was the precise moment when America split in two.

            What was seen on the big black and white over the bar for the next 15 minutes forced every glad, sad, sorry and still somewhat innocent one of us, to choose -- as if an invisible gun were pointed at our heads -- which side we were on. When the smoke cleared on the screen and the shock began to wear off the assembled viewers it was Marty vs. me in a mocking, taunting one-half-inch-from-a fist fight shouting match that ended up with me being asked to leave the bowling alley and stay the hell away from the upcoming wedding.

            I was happy to oblige both requests, thereby becoming one of those millions of friends and family members who had watched the prime-time blood bath together, then woke up the next morning and went their separate ways--some, like me, dreaming of an impossible future; most, like Marty, longing for an irretrievable past.

            But all, having passed through some kind of terrible, magic door that night of electric hate, would look back to the America on the other side of it and see - with either bitter disillusionment or nostalgic yearning - a country that seemed like a fairy tale land.

Reflection by: Larry Durstin
Larry is from Lakewood
And if you would like more information, the above site is actually dedicated to those crazy months. Feel free to go and look around.

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