The most common occurrence in our lives continues to fascinate – the passage of time. Each second, each hour, each day, time sprints, then walks, then sits.
This year will mark the 60-year milestone for a slew of iconic moments from 1963. I once had a boss who hated anniversary stories, but I love them. They offer us moments to catch our breath and to reflect on how much has changed, and how much hasn’t.
In April 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in a Birmingham, Alabama, jail cell writing a letter responding to criticism from moderate clergy about his nonviolent direct-action campaign being untimely and his efforts, the work of “outsiders.”
King explained that he was there because injustice was there and that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Continuing, King wrote: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Conversely, later that year, during a speech at the University of California, Berkeley, Malcolm X argued for racial separatism.
“Today, our people can see that integrated housing has not solved our problems,” he said. “At best, it was only a temporary solution, one in which only the wealthy, hand-picked Negroes found temporary benefit. After the 1954 Supreme Court desegregation decision, the same thing happened when our people tried to integrate the schools. All the white students disappeared into the suburbs.”
Only the nation’s political tumult could top its racial conflicts.
The Nov. 22 assassination of President John F. Kennedy shocked the nation, and the country received a second shock when Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin, on live television, closing an important avenue of determining the scope of what had happened.
History.com reports that of the available assassination files – roughly 5 million pages – about 88% have been open to the public since the late 1990s. An additional 11% had been released but in redacted form, with sensitive portions excised.
Sixty years feels like a long time. A lot should have changed. A lot has not.
Today, the children and grandchildren of the “white moderates” King admonished have taken a more confrontational stance, earning them the derisive moniker, “woke.” A new generation of journalists and academics has explored Malcolm X’s observations about desegregation’s failures in efforts such as critical race theory and later, the 1619 Project. Many school districts remain just as segregated today as they were when Malcolm X observed the pattern of white flight.
Today, we aren’t much closer to learning what led up to JFK’s assassination. His election, the first for a Catholic, has led to only one more, Joe Biden.
We’re still entangled with Russians. Political polarization yet abounds. There remain efforts to suppress Black voting rights.
There was more in ’63. The March on Washington and King’s iconic speech. The 16th Street Baptist church bombing that killed four little girls in Birmingham. Fights over voting rights and housing segregation.
Sixty years is a lot of time, in some respects, but in terms of some of our most protracted challenges, it’s sadly not enough.
A version of this article appears in the Spring 2023 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. Order your copy of the magazine at the KLC Store or subscribe to the print edition.