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50 Years Later: Looking Back To 1968 And The Civil Rights Era

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking in Chicago, 1968.

Noon Edition airs Fridays at 12:00 p.m. on WFIU.

1968 was a consequential year that saw the tragic assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

Disagreements over the Vietnam War fractured the Democratic National Convention, while thousands of anti-war protesters battled with Chicago police outside the convention doors.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed, prohibiting the discrimination in housing based on race, religion, national origin or sex.

50 years later, we are taking a look back through history to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

This week on Noon Edition, our panelists reflected on the year 1968 and the Civil Rights Movement.


Jim Sims: Bloomington City Council Member and Monroe County NAACP President

Ray Boomhower: Author and Senior Editor of the Indiana Historical Society Press

John McCluskey: Professor Emeritus of African-American and African Diaspora Studies and Adjunct Professor of English, Indiana University

Conversation – 50 Years Later: Looking Back To 1968 And The Civil Rights Era

In the hour, our panelists discussed the major shifts in culture, politics and civil rights which all came to a head in 1968.

Monroe County NCAAP President Jim Sims says the Civil Rights Movement culminated with issues far beyond segregated public spaces.

“I really want people to understand, especially the young ones, to know that this wasn’t about getting a burger and a large Coke.” Sims says. “This was about black voter suppression, this was about discrimination in employment and housing practices.”

Perhaps the most notable event of the year was the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ray Boomhower is the senior editor of the Indiana Historical Society Press. His book, Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Primary, details Kennedy’s tour through Indiana in early April when the Martin Luther King assassination took place.

Boomhower says Kennedy was en route to Indianapolis for a campaign rally when he received the news of MLK’s death.

“Kennedy gave, I think, one of the best extemporaneous speeches in American political history that evening in Indianapolis.”

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”  —Robert F. Kennedy on April 4, 1968 in Indianapolis

John McCluskey was teaching in Birmingham, Alabama at the time of the assassination and has vivid memories of that week.

He was asked to be part of a planning committee for a memorial march. McCluskey says the streets were lined with armed police and that marchers were told not to sing.

“What I recall very clearly is the sound of feet trudging down the streets of Birmingham,” McCluskey says.

One Bloomington listener, Laurie, shared her experience in 1968 with the Black Panther Party. She spoke about how they helped to feed her children and her friend.

“They were absolutely kind, polite, warm. I loved them very much.” Laurie says. “I think that the goodness… There is good today.”

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