Toward the end of 1963, more than 50 years ago, I was a civilian working for the U.S.Army and assigned to perform an audit of the U.S.Army Material Command located at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. I had just returned from a 3 year stint working overseas in Europe, also with the Army, (which I’ve previously written about) so coming to Huntsville, after I had lived in Paris for three years, was quite a shock. But Huntsville was considered quite progressive for the Deep South at the time. Besides the Army having a major presence, NASA’s Marshall Space Center was also located at Redstone Arsenal, which seemed like a small city unto itself. At least a couple of thousand personal worked at the Arsenal, many of whom were engineers or other technicians that were employed by both NASA and the Army. Many of these people had relocated from the North, which supposedly gave Huntsville its more progressive tinge.
Nevertheless, Jim Crow segregation and racist laws were strictly enforced throughout Huntsville, which, after all, was still part of Alabama. I remember having what seemed endless arguments and discussions with local people employed by the Army in the same offices that I performed my work duties. I tried, repeatedly, to point out the sheer folly and stupidity of racism and segregation but it seemed as if I could never make a dent in their way of thinking. Their argument always came down to the same point of view. They didn’t need some Northern Yankee coming into their state and telling them how they should live their lives. It was all a matter of “states rights.” The moral injustice of Jim Crow seemed to never enter their psyches. At the time, Huntsville had one movie theater with an orchestra and balcony sections conveniently segregated. The orchestra was for whites only while blacks were confined to the balcony. I remember going to the movies one night, and to my surprise, two daring young black men came in and sat down in the orchestra, in the row in front of me. Next to them were seated two elderly white women who became shocked and chatted endlessly about this effrontery to Southern customs. Finally they quieted down and we all watched the movie in silence. This may have been the first act of willful desegregation throughout Alabama, if not the entire South.
It wasn’t long after that race riots erupted throughout most major U.S. cities, with entire city sections being set on fire and burnt to the ground. The huge turmoil and protest movements of the 1960s did have the effect of causing the Jim Crow walls of segregation to come tumbling to the ground, as well as enfranchising may blacks with the right to vote for the first time. But after all the protests, all the marches, and all the burnings, blacks for the most part, still remained confined to inner-city ghettos, where many still live today. Ghettos that are infested with crime, drugs, prostitution and gangs that are in a perpetual war with rival gangs. Not the most hospitable environment for promoting peace and tranquility. The 1960s were also a time of universal tragedy with the loss to America of three of its most promising leaders. I remember discussing with friends about how the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were a blow that no civilized society could hope to recover from. Given the nature of the leadership the U.S. has endured since then, I believe I was right on the money.
So here we are 50 years later with a large potion of the black population, along with the growing Latino populace, still confined to those same inner-city slums. With an almost steady procession of white police shootings of what appears to be unarmed and non-threatening young black men for no good reason. While race is undoubtably a factor in these shootings, I believe poor police training is the primary cause. Too many cops are too trigger happy, with an attitude of shoot first and ask questions later. This comes from a lack of decent training from when these shooters were learning to become cops in their police academies. It certainly seems to be at play in the deaths of two non-threatening black men these past weeks. Which was culminated by an attack by a black assassin that gunned down 11 Dallas policemen, 5 of whom died, that were protecting peaceful protests of the previous shootings of black men. Followed by more protests by the Black Lives Matter group, of white police gunning down black men. But if black lives matter, as they do, how about addressing black on black crime in the inner cities that takes many more black lives than cops do. Does it appear that life in the U.S. at this juncture, seems to be coming apart at the seams, at least regarding race relations.
But perhaps I’ve been looking at this all wrong. Perhaps it’s a universal imperative that civilizations are meant to rise and then fall, in order to keep the universe in a certain balance. Scientists postulate that there was an abundance of water on Mars some 3.6 billion years ago. They further postulate that where there was water, there also had to be life. So perhaps Mars, at some point, some hundreds of millions or billions of years ago, had a thriving civilization, and eventually did themselves in through their own folly. Now, all that is left is dust. Perhaps the killings of the Kennedy brothers and MLK in the 1960’s was the universe’s way of telling us that civilization on Planet Earth is also on the way out.
As I’ve repeated many times before, Pogo may have been the greatest philosopher of all time when he said-“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
great blog, very well written. it’s hard to believe you witnessed actual segregation by law. it seems so much longer ago then it really was. i do think there was life on mars by humans that died of the same folly.