Reflections on 1968: 50 Years of Progress

The National Urban League's President & CEO, Marc H. Morial, looks back on the landmark events of 1968

Soul on Ice Soul on IceThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

"It is not an overstatement to say that the destiny of the entire human race depends on what is going on in America today. This is a staggering reality to the rest of the world; they must feel like passengers in a supersonic jetliner who are forced to watch helplessly while a passel of drunks, hypes, freaks, and madmen fight for the controls and the pilot's seat."

-- Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice, 1968"

March on WashingtonNational Urban League

As we embarked upon 2018 at the top of the year, we stepped into the 50th anniversary of a year that shook the world, in particular the world of civil rights in the United States. Perhaps the most momentous of these events are the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy.

Both of these tragic deaths hold personal significance for my family. My parents, civil rights activists, were personally acquainted with the Rev. King. My mother, Sybil Morial, and King were students together at Boston University while she pursued her Masters Degree in education and his PhD in theology.

In her memoir, Witness to Change, she writes of the moment on April 4 when she learned of his death: I could hardly grasp the words: Martin Luther King has been shot to death in Memphis. Dutch was in the study. I called to him, and he came and stood by me. "Martin has been killed." I could hardly say the words; I could hardly believe it. Not Martin. Dutch and I watched the gruesome footage in silence.

Fiftieth Anniversary CelebrationNational Urban League

She recalled the words of his final speech, "I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land."

He knew it, but we didn't. And we didn't understand his death. I was inconsolable ... I said to Dutch, "Now that Martin is gone, what will become of the movement?" "It will go on. It must."

By Ralph CraneLIFE Photo Collection

My late father-in-law, Ross Miller, was a trauma surgeon and Kennedy campaigner who was present at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5. When the shots rang out, he bravely stepped forward and tried to save the lives of Kennedy and others who were wounded.

Johnson Signing Tax Bill (1964-02) by Francis MillerLIFE Photo Collection

On April 11, amid continuing unrest triggered by King's murder, President Lyndon Johnson signed one of the most significant laws of the era - the Civil Rights Act Of 1968, more commonly known as the Fair Housing Act. The Act prohibited not only racial and religious discrimination in the sale or rental of a home, but also racially-motivated threats, intimidation or retaliation in relation to housing.

By John DominisLIFE Photo Collection

In a move often cited as inspiration by current-day activists, on October 2 Black Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos African-American athletes raised their arms in a black power salute after winning the gold and bronze medals in the men's 200 meters.

November 22 saw the first interracial kiss ever to air on television in the United States, between the characters Captain James Kirk and Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, on the program Star Trek.

Remembering 1968National Urban League

In the coming year, we will observe many of these anniversaries in-depth. We begin the year reflection on a half-century of civil rights progress, and the progress that lies ahead.

Credits: Story

Curated by Michael Tomlin-Crutchfield

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Black History and Culture
The past, present, and future of the Black experience in the United States
View theme
Google apps