Our cover story about the year 1968, published in the Fall 2018 issue of Arts & Sciences Magazine, prompted many of our alumni to write in with their own memories of that time. Here are excerpts from some of their letters and emails:
I enjoyed reading Michael Hill’s reminiscence of 1968 in Baltimore and the riots that occurred. I have an indelible memory of the worst night of the riot—April 6, 1968. I was a Hopkins senior and had a part-time job as a producer on two call-in shows on WCBM radio. The hosts were John Sterling, later the voice of the New York Yankees, and the late Gene Burns, later the leading talk show host in San Francisco. Riots had broken out in Baltimore, and the station decided to try to get a black celebrity to come on one of the shows to try to calm things down. They got Ray Scott, a star of the NBA Baltimore Bullets. The problem was how to get him to the studio on N. Charles Street, since the shows were broadcast at night and there was a curfew. I was assigned to drive him to the station and was given a letter from the station manager stating that I was permitted to be out during the curfew on business. I picked up Ray Scott at his apartment. His wife answered the door, and I wondered if the 6’9″ basketball player could fit into my Triumph Spitfire, which was a tiny sports car. Ray was indeed able to get into the Spitfire, and we drove though the empty streets without incident to the station. He had a really effective interview. I can’t remember whether it was John Sterling or Gene Burns who interviewed him, but it was certainly a memorable event for me.
—Lloyd Targer, ’68
Excellent story on 1968—and Chester Wickwire. I attended the Baltimore Center of Antioch College from 1972 to 1974 and was a member of the Maryland Inter-University Writing Seminars, which included Johns Hopkins. I worked at the JHU Alumni Magazine (’75-’76) and then went to the Writing Seminars (’77). This story captures many of my memories.
Please thank Michael Hill.
—Ellen Carter Woodbridge ’77
In April 1968, I was a freshman at Homewood. Classes were suspended when the news of Dr. King’s assassination and rioting in Baltimore hit the campus. Smoke was occasionally visible in the distance.
A Civil Defense representative came to the dorms and asked for volunteers to help staff a relief location at Eastern High School. The site was a place for National Guard troops to rest and be fed; and for displaced people to be accommodated. About six dorm residents, including me, volunteered.
After an incident at the high school, we were transferred to the War Memorial Building. While unloading supplies from a large dump truck at night, we could look up to see the flames from buildings burning nearby. Within a couple of days, we were returned to campus.
—Roger D Moose, AS ’71
As a Hopkins freshman in 1968, I read Michael Hill’s piece with considerable interest and found his insights to be candid and clear, even through the lens of 50 years of hindsight. I was a Hopkins undergrad at the same time, and our paths actually overlapped. Although I don’t recall knowing Mike well, I noted that we shared several “intersections”: namely working at the News-Letter, and interacting with Chaplain Chester Wickwire and John Guess. While there are certainly some unalterable, objective facts about that time, my perspective is somewhat different. I was a “minority within a minority,” a native Baltimorean and black…a “native son,” if you will.
At the time of the unrest in 1968, I was finishing my sophomore year…I was a fully engaged member of the Blue Jay community, not only with studies, but also, the News-Letter (which was a job in itself), work at The Eisenhower Library, ROTC, and Pershing Rifles. At the time, black representation in the undergraduate student body was quite low, and my class, the Class of 1970, having more than ever before (about a dozen students, as I recall). The classes to follow would have greater representation. Black presence on campus was on the “upswing” at the time of the King assassination.
When rioting broke out in the wake of the King assassination, there was considerable consternation in Baltimore which, unlike several other cities, had avoided major urban violence. As Michael mentions in his writing, there was even an article in the March 1968 edition of Reader’s Digest, a “puff piece” entitled “How Baltimore Fends off Riots,” citing “community policing” as an effective deterrent. My biggest personal concern was ensuring that I could avoid the areas where most of the unrest was taking place, navigate my way to and from campus safely, and comply with the curfew. Since some troops were bivouacked at Druid Hill Park, west of Hopkins and not too far from one of my routes home, that was a valid concern. During the curfew there was a surreal, “Twilight Zone,” quality…no people on the streets; traffic lights would cycle in the regular rhythm without a vehicle in sight. On some of the main thoroughfares the only vehicles seen would be a jeep followed by a 2 ½ ton truck with troops patrolling once an hour.
In retrospect, while I acknowledge the impact of the events of 1968 on Hopkins, Baltimore, and the country at large, the Baltimore riot period was a “blip on the screen” for me, as I worked hard to move forward. I did not perceive that time as traumatically as some of my contemporaries who were not natives of the city.
My experiences at Hopkins changed my outlook on life and my perspective from metropolitan to cosmopolitan. I grew in ways that I had not imagined and formed friendships with a wide range of people…some of those friendships exist to this day. Many fond memories remain. I am both proud and humbled to have earned my place as a member of the Hopkins family and will be “Forever a Blue Jay”.
—Charles U. Wood, Jr. ’70
Michael Hill’s article in the Fall 2018 Arts & Sciences Magazine is a colorful and enjoyable picture of student activism at Hopkins a half century ago. In discussing Chester Wickwire, he states that a talk at Levering Hall by Bayard Rustin “got a Ku Klux Klan cross burned on campus.” Mr. Hill wasn’t present for Rustin’s talk on March 20, 1966. I was. I think that the cross burning is just a bit too colorful a detail.
The Klan was certainly on hand. Their behavior was abhorrent. They passed out copies of their newspaper The Fiery Cross. Rustin was his usual amazingly decorous self. But I am unaware of any actual cross burning on campus.
If there is independent documentation that a cross was burned, I politely (if not happily) stand corrected. In the meantime, I prefer to remember the solid dignity of Bayard Rustin’s talk that day, which stays with me after the passing of well over fifty years.
—John A. Leppman, MD ’69