In recognition of the 50 years that have passed since 1968 and driven by their desire to help Parker students establish context and appreciation for this tumultuous time in our country’s history, a team of history teachers recently orchestrated a 1968 Morning Ex to prepare for historian and Parker alum David Farber’s (’74) upcoming visit to the school.
At this gathering, history teachers Andy Bigelow, Keedra Gibba, Stephanie Lorenzo and Anthony Shaker took turns at the podium and guided students in taking a close examination of the era, looking locally first and expanding globally as the presentation progressed.
Shaker shared a photo of Parker’s campus in 1968 and described how our beloved school had only 500 students enrolled at the time. Shaker then led students through a number of photos from the 1968 yearbook, including County Fair, “12 Days” and even the 7th grade class featuring classmates Dan Frank and David Farber!
Gibba talked about what was going on outside of Parker in the Chicago area in 1968. She described how the rampant racial segregation in the city and disproportionate civil expenditures gave rise to social solidarity movements like the Black Panther Party and original Rainbow Coalition, which helped establish community service programs to serve neglected populations. Gibba also spoke to the tragic demise of black activists Fred Hampton and Mark Clark at the hands of the Chicago Police Department and FBI.
Bigelow focused students’ attention elsewhere in the county in 1968: the historic meeting between Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Cesar Chavez, the leader of the United Farm Workers during a hunger strike, and Kennedy’s assassination after winning the Democratic primary for U.S. presidency four months later. During this same timeframe, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Bigelow stressed that, domestically, 1968 was a year of violence, war, anti-war movements, race riots and police brutality, and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was supposed to reunite the party. This reunification sadly did not happen, and Grant Park was the site of clashes between police and protestors. Bigelow then invited music teacher Alec Synakowski to perform Phil Ochs’ “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” protest song to help students get a sense for the mood at the time.
Lorenzo then took to the stage to provide a brief overview of the Vietnam War and its effects on the era. She shared how this long, costly and divisive conflict pitted the Communist government of North Vietnam against South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. In the U.S., this was the first ever conflict broadcast on television. Opposition to the war bitterly divided Americans; by the end of 1968, many Americans did not believe the U.S. could win the war, and President Johnson lost a ton of support.
The teaching team came prepared with more information than a single Morning Ex period could accommodate, so unfortunately teacher Dan Greenstone was unable to share his historical account of the happenings at Mexico City in 1968. Despite this, all in attendance left with a better understanding of their school, city and world 50 years ago and much about the cyclical nature of history as well!