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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Looking to 1968 to understand tragedy in 2016

Robert Kennedy campaigning in Los Angeles, courtesy of the Austin American-Statesman.
Like many people and organizations around the country, we at CHS have been grappling with heartbreak  and complex emotions resulting from last week’s tragic deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana, Philando Castile in Minnesota, and police officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa in Texas. Our headquarters is located in San Francisco, where issues related to race and policing continue to divide our community.

In these challenging times, when current events are so vivid and tense, we seek out historians, writers, and thinkers to help us understand the connection between past and current events. Here are some recent articles and exhibitions that have helped us understand the historic antecedents to last week’s horrific events. See, as we do, some glimpse of how leaders from yesteryear have healed some wounds, made some measures of progress, and lived the change they wished to see in America:
One common thread in recent writing is a reference to 1968, a year—like 2016—marked by political turmoil, civil protest, war, and fatal high-profile shootings. In 1968 we saw the Tet Offensive stoke the Vietnam War, students killed at Civil Rights demonstrations in South Carolina, the rise of Afrocentrism and of Black Power movements in California and across the country, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis and Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles, massive protests at the Democratic Party Convection in Chicago, the passage of sweeping gun control legislation, and the election of Californian Richard Nixon to the presidency.

It is not surprising that California is one of the major sites of these movements and events, and home to many of the people who carry them out. The history of our state is replete with stories of tragedy, harm, but also perseverance, and innovation,

Months ago, when we learned of Larry Tye’s new book “Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon” we invited him out to San Francisco for a talk and Q&A with our members. RFK was killed in Los Angeles, cutting short his life and his promising President campaign. At the time, we had no idea how relevant Tye’s work would be to current events.   The event is planned for August 12. We’ll be there, looking to learn more about 1968, and trying to better understand the events of 2016. We hope you’ll join us.

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