1967 … a year of protests, riots, and hippies. It was also the year I “pledged my troth” to my husband. For me, it was the beginning of my independence and my first steps to believing I was an adult. Of course I wasn’t independent or an adult … I was only taking small steps to be that person.
I have spent the last several days thinking about 1967. It was a time of a “changing of the guard” for our country. We were the new generation … we were determined to change the world! In the summer of 1967, San Francisco set the tone for a nation of young people anxious about civil rights and a growing war. It was the “Summer of Love” mixed with protests, riots, and fear.
1967 was underwritten by the scaling up of the Viet Nam War and the un-kept promises of the Voting Rights Act. Riots popped up throughout our country … starting in New York with a protest turned violent when a black man was arrested for a traffic violation and rumors were immediately spread that the police had murdered him. In July protestors took to the streets in Detroit. Forty-three individuals died, 7200 were arrested and 2000 buildings were destroyed during the Detroit Riot/Rebellion/Revolution. Martin Luther King had begun speaking out against the Viet Nam war. For the first time less than 50% of Americans were in favor of the war effort. More and more of our young men, especially the poor, were on their way to the jungles of Viet Nam. Viet Nam loomed large for my husband and others who would soon lose their student deferments.
Kansas City had its own Summer of Love and war protests and riots. But this was Kansas City. Our Summer of Love consisted of an ongoing ‘Party” at Volker Park. I lived in a small apartment on 48th Street . . . just west of Volker Park. We would go over on Sundays and be a part of the excitement. The music was great … there were all kinds of people. Young parents brought their little ones in strollers. It was our generation’s salute to a growing movement to change the world. “Peace Not War!” “Love Not Hate!” We demonstrated our “cool” by going to the Vanguard Coffee House at 43rd and Main and to “art” movies at the theater on Troost. Kansas City was still a very segregated world. The “great divide” (The Plaza and Brookside neighborhood built by J.C. Nichols) was very successful in maintaining our segregated world.
The week I was married was the week of the Kansas City “riots.” As I thought about 1967 this week, I tried to find stories and pictures of that hot week in August. They aren’t there! It’s like this week of protests and violence never happened here. When I searched for pictures and stores, almost every one was about the Chiefs losing the Super Bowl to the Packers and another crazy trade or stunt that Charlie “O” and the Kansas City Athletic s had made. It feels like Kansas City wanted to quickly erase this small “blip” in our history. It is very true what happened in Kansas City was small compared to what was happening in other large cities. But I remember. I walked downtown to my job the morning of my wedding. The City had closed down all public transportation. The streets of Kansas City were deserted. The night before we had rehearsed for our wedding. Our minister kept telling us to not worry if no one came to the wedding . . . as long as we were there and he was there we would be married. Lots of people came to the wedding … but the streets in Kansas City were dark. On our street there was a little corner grocery store. The day of our wedding the elderly man who owned the store was so afraid when a young black man walked in the store he suffered a heart attack. When we flew over Wichita that night (on our way to Acapulco . . . we were “non-revving” thanks to my job at Braniff Airlines) rather than landing because Wichita had also shut-down. All we could see from the air were police car lights.
So what does this have to do with 2017? I think a lot. First I am disappointed in me and my generation for forgetting our hopes and dreams for a better world. While some very important steps have been made over these last 50 years, it seems these small steps are disappearing in the sand. The threat of nuclear war is once again part of our daily lives. Americans of my generation want to undo voting rights, destroy the programs of the War on Poverty, and continue to engage in conflict through wars rather than resolve our differences through diplomacy. So much is not different from 1967. More and more people of color are being prevented from voting, police are still killing black men and women over traffic infractions. We are STILL arguing about Women’s equality. And stepping back from equal rights for our LGBT friends. Have we forgotten our mission in this world? Have we let greed and hate and apathy fog our vision for the world? And we face a new threat … climate change … global warming … or “extreme weather” as the current climate change deniers now say. What is the “Summer of Love” generation doing about this grave threat to our world’s future?
I am heartened by the marches, protests and leadership of our younger Americans. But we haven’t lived up to our promises to ourselves or our children. It is all too easy to sit back and think we no longer have the responsibility to live up to these promises … after all we are old and younger, smarter folks are taking up the banner. But we must not forget who we were and live our lives as the idealists and impatient generation we were in 1967.