A message from Nathan O. Hatch, President
The wave of tragic and troubling events of recent days in our country has brought me back to another tumultuous time: the spring and summer of 1968.
I remember it well because I was a college senior about to graduate. I remember the night of April 5 when Julie and I had planned to go into Chicago for an event. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated the day before in Memphis, and that night, Chicago seethed and exploded: a 28-block stretch of Madison Street was left largely in ruins; 36 major fires were reported; 11 people were killed; 48 were wounded by police gunfire and 90 policemen were injured. In two days 2,150 people were arrested. Thousands of Army troops were sent in to restore order.
The summer before I had worked with teenagers in the Cabrini-Green Homes on Chicago’s Near North Side. I lived in a largely African-American church community. I felt comfortable joining pick-up games on the asphalt basketball courts and visiting families in these high-rise apartments. After the spring of 1968, gunfire became commonplace from the upper floors of Cabrini-Green, and deep racial tensions made my normal kind of coming and going impossible.
On the Wednesday before graduation, June 5, 1968, I awoke to learn that Bobby Kennedy had just been shot in Los Angeles after winning the California Democratic Primary. I can remember a deep sense that our nation seemed to be splitting apart – a fear that seemed to be coming true when the Democratic National Convention met later that summer in Chicago and spiraled into chaos. Ten thousand demonstrators gathered outside and were met by 23,000 police and National Guard members. These violent clashes were broadcast live to the nation.
The current moment in America reminds me of 1968: the heightened racial tension, repeated incidents of violence, denunciations and defense of police – all against the backdrop of an overheated political season. Then, many young people felt alienated from the system and found little hope in either candidate of the major parties.
In such troubled times, what are we to think? How are we to act? I have no grand answers to our deep problems as a nation and as a society. The fact is there are no easy answers. But what can we do here, as a Wake Forest community? What can I do? Here is what I am committing myself to, as best I can:
In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. implored those who would listen. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that,” he said. “Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” As we walk through what feels like another dark hour, let us be people who carry the light and let us be people who choose to love.
Editor’s note: The email sent to the campus community indicated the incorrect day of the week when Bobby Kennedy was shot. He was shot on Wednesday, June 5, 1968 and died Thursday, June 6, 1968.
Categories: University Announcement