2018 Marks the 50th Anniversary of a Momentous Year in Civil Rights

Marc Morial

By Marc H. Morial

“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”

As we embark upon the new year of 2018, we step 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 Martín 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 he 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.

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.”

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 where wounded.

These deaths are but two of the civil rights milestones of that historic year half a century ago.

On February 8, the Orangeburg Massacre took place in South Carolina. Highway Patrol officers opened fire on a crowd of 200 student gathered on the campus of South Carolina State University to demonstrate against the continued segregation at the bowling alley. Three young men were killed and 27 other protesters were injured.

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.

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.

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


  1. Rosa Bogar on January 19, 2018 at 10:49 pm

    February 8th 2018 will be the 50th anniversary of the “Orangeburg Massacre” yet today many have never heard of this tragedy on the campus of South Carolina State College. on Feb.8th 1968. Three students were killed and 27 wounded. I have been sharing this history for the fifty years. My sons were living in Orangeburg at the time and yet I saw nothing about it on the news. This history is one that needs more recognition. Thanks, share this news of the “Orangeburg Massacre” I am a native of Orangeburg, South Carolina.

  2. Rosa Bogar on February 14, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    “I attended the ceremony of the “Orangeburg Massacre” one of the biggest joy for me was to present the families of Henry Smith, Samuel Hammond and Delano Middleton with personal notebooks which depicted my keeping the legacy of their loved ones alive not only in Minnesota but beyond!

Leave a Comment