Walter Borton, an old Ohio University friend jogged my memory today with a comment on Facebook:
“Forty eight years ago today – I was in the front row of a student government meeting upstairs in Baker Center at Ohio University – I think Rita Corriel was presiding and suddenly from the back of the room, if memory serves, Tom Price, holding a small portable radio to his ear, interrupted excitedly to announce that Lyndon Johnson had just withdrawn from the Presidential race. I’m not sure what happened next but I suspect we recessed to the Union bar & grill to drink.”
OU Post reporter Carol Towarnickychimed in: “From a different angle: While you were all at the Student Government meeting — what was the issue that had everyone there? — I was in The Post office with, I think, one other person and we were listening to LBJ’s speech. When he said, “I shall not seek, nor will I accept” I screamed. Then I didn’t know what to do because there was no way to reach people, but it turns out everyone knew anyway. What an exciting time putting out the paper that night.”
Post editor Bill Sievert remembers it this way: “Those of us Posties who were present (and most of the people in the room) cheered Tom Price’s announcement. Then we finished covering the meeting and went back and joined Carol Towarnicky in putting out the paper. It was hard work but somebody had to do it. (We drank much, much later in the night.) Tagging Ken Steinhoff; he’ll remember if he took the picture. He has a photographic memory.”
How I remember it
My perspective: Nobody knew what Johnson was going to speak about on that March 31 evening. The speech started off sounding like he was positioning himself to steal thunder from challengers Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy by announcing measures they had been advocating, demonstrating that his was the power to act, while his critics had only the power to propose, wrote The New York Times.
I’m not sure where this group was watching the speech on a TV. It could have been in the Scott Quadrangle dorm lounge where I lived, or it might have been in the Baker Center Student Union, where The Post had its offices in the basement. I shot a few half-hearted frames early in the speech, even resorting to my fisheye lens, signalling that I wasn’t expecting much to happen. When I blew up one frame, I’m pretty sure I saw my future Athens Messenger colleague Bob Rogers lolling in the doorway, equally as disinterested in what was happening as I was.
When LBJ said, “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your President,” there was an audible gasp in the room. If I captured any emotion, it’s on film that I haven’t found yet. Right after he spoke those words, I looked over at a calendar, thinking, “Surely the President of the United States won’t follow that up by saying ‘April Fool!”
It was March 31, not April First, and, no, he wasn’t kidding.
There’s a big Ohio University Post reunion in Athens, Ohio, this weekend.
I was photo editor of the paper from the fall of 1967 through the summer of 1968, when I went to work for The Athens Messenger. I won’t make it back for the reunion, but I put together these layouts of some of the student newspaper staffers from 1968 – 1970 to display at the Athens County Historical Society Museum. For you folks who ARE in Athens, here’s a sample of what you’ll see. Curator Jessica Cyders said the museum, at 65 North Court Street, will be open Saturday morning from 10 a.m. until noon, so you can slip in before the formal reunion activities begin.
The museum will have prints of these for sale. The prints are suitable for framing. I don’t know if that means you can frame the pictures or frame the people IN the pictures. Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the picture to move through the gallery.
President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed Sunday, April 7, 1968, as a national day of mourning for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I wrote back in January about a class project at Ohio University that put me in an ideal position to cover the event in front of the John Calhoun Baker University Center as both a student and photo editor of The Ohio University Post.
Last month, I got an email from Bob Stewart who was looking for photographs of the Day of Mourning for a video to mark the date. He reached out for a mutual friend, Tom Hodson, who worked on the OU Post when I was photo editor in 1967-68. Tom said I had probably the best overall collection of photos of the formal ceremony and the sit-in that followed.
We traded emails for a few day, then I sent him way more pictures than I thought he could ever use. Much to my surprise, in a day or so he produced this video that was better than I could have ever made myself.
Here’s some background on the images Bob used in the video.
Students filled the street
Hundreds, if not thousands, of students filled the street in front of the student union and spilled out onto the Main Green.
OU President Vernon Alden spoke
The Kennedyesque OU President Vernon Alden, center, wearing a black armband, spoke.
Religious leaders were present
All of the local faiths were represented.
Crowd was solemn
I was struck by how seriously everyone took the ceremony.
A salt and pepper group
The front ranks were heavily represented by black students, many wearing signs that said “In Mourning.”
Not your normal gathering
Most of the white students in the back were dressed more casually, but this wasn’t your normal student gathering.
The mood was solemn and there was no laughing or calling across the group.
I had been to many protests, concerts and gatherings on the Main Green, but this one had a feeling of dignity about it.
Instead of being your normal batch of campus radicals, you had a mixture of jocks, sorority girls, frat boys, professors and townspeople all coming together to try to make sense of what had happened.
The racial mix on this day was probably proportional to the school’s makeup.
The ceremony ended
After the formal ceremony ended, the crowd started to disperse. Many of them walked a block north to Court and Union, the main intersection in town.
A small group of students sit down
A small group of students sat down in the middle of the intersection.
The crowd grows
More and more students joined the sit-in. Again, uncharacteristically, this wasn’t your normal group of rowdy drunk students who block this intersection on the first warm spring night after a cold winter. You can tell from the expressions that this is a serious occasion.
All of downtown is blocked
Finally, the whole intersection for at least a half-block in all directions was full of students.
James Steele addresses crowd
James Steele, who was one of the speakers at the formal ceremony, addresses the crowd.
I should explain something before we get to the part where things turn ugly. Ohio University was founded in 1804, so the local police have a lot of experience in dealing with unruly students.
The usual procedure was to see if they’d break up on their own. If not, a half-dozen cops would show up in “bats and hats,” somebody would read the riot act over a bullhorn, then there would be some pushing and shoving, followed by everybody heading back on campus.
Rarely were any arrests made. Some bricks and bottles might get thrown and a few windows could get broken, but I never heard of any looting of the downtown stores. The police didn’t even use teargas at any event I covered until the spring of 1970.
Captain Charlie Cochran didn’t follow script
Athens Police Captain Charlie Cochran, always a hothead, didn’t follow the script. Instead of giving the normal order to disperse and having enough officers present to enforce it, he waded into the demonstrators and literally threw them off “my street.”
Seriously misread crowd
Charlie didn’t realize this wasn’t your normal unfocused mob of kids out for a good time. These folks had seen their national leader gunned down. They were hurting and looking for a place to direct their anger. They didn’t take kindly to being manhandled on a day of mourning.
Cooler head prevails
A friend grabbed the fellow who had been thrown to the ground just before he could retaliate. If the two had tangled, I’m convinced the whole crowd would have joined in and someone would have been seriously hurt.
Chief, James Whalen works out compromise
Before things could get out of hand, Police Chief Fred James, left, and James Whalen, university vice president for administrative affairs, right, worked out a compromise.
The chief agreed to allow the students to continue the demonstration for a “reasonable amount of time” and the students agreed to leave peacefully after that.
Charlie didn’t look happy to have me part of this confab, but this isn’t the first nor the last time that we’d have an awkward moment together. I’m not sure who the concerned citizen in the middle was.
Before long, intersection open
The bulk of the crowd retreated to the corners, then, after a “reasonable time,” everyone else moved on.
“Where do we go from here?”
A writer in The Athena, the university yearbook, penned, “The King is Dead! It echoed in microphones; and hearts were horrified throughout the campus, country, and world. Martin Luther King Jr. started a dream, but a bullet couldn’t shatter it. Now, where will his dream go?
“We talk about the coup d’etats of South America and the street riots in Europe, but when will we stop destroying our Kennedys and Luthers? Let us not scatter after the black arm bands have been put away.”
I’ve included a wide variety of photos. If you were there that day, you might want to share them with your grandkids. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.
Post and Athena folks, I’m pretty sure I’ve spotted Clarence Page, Joyce Halasa, Ed Pieratt, Todd Schofer and Tom Price. (Now that I think of it, I think this is a class I flunked because I didn’t turn in an assignment. Wonder if I could submit this for extra credit 43 years late.)
2013 Exhibit Catalog
In 2013, I was invited to put together an exhibit of the Day of Mourning photos for Sigma Gamma Rho, Inc., in conjunction with the College of Arts and Sciences, the Athens Historical Society and Museum, the Foster and Helen Cornwell Lecture Series, University College, the Campus Involvement Center, The Athens Messenger and The Post.
Here is a catalog of selected photos in the exhibit.
Well, it’s 2012, today’s my birthday and my official Medicare card arrived in the mail. You might remember me telling you this was going to be a Big Year. This was the year that they said I could retire when I went through orientation at The Palm Beach Post in 1973.
I figured that 2012 was a lot like the Second Coming: it might arrive, but I never thought I’d be around to see it. See, Dad and his brothers checked out by age 60, so I had established that as my official Sell-By Date. Here was my post from last year.
I discovered cycling
Some funny things happened along the way. I discovered cycling, which taught me that there was a life outside the office. I still worked long and hard hours, but I also looked forward hopping on the bike and feeling the stress drain away. I told folks that I could get hit by an 18-wheeler tomorrow and cycling would have added more years to my life than it could ever subtract.
The death spiral of newspapers also worked in my favor. It gave me an opportunity to take a buyout in September 2008 and early retirement. I was going to have a chance to enjoy what tomorrows I had left without the fear of being carried out of the office on a stretcher or in handcuffs.
Herding cats and blogging
My boys thought I might like to lead bike tours in retirement, so they set me up with a bike blog. I soon found out that I wasn’t made to herd cats, so leading tours morphed into writing about cycling. The next step was to start digitizing my old photos. That resulted in this blog.
Just jingle the keys
After spending the last 15 years of my newspaper career shoving electrons down phone wires (something that I actually enjoyed), I discovered the magic of journalism again. Telling stories and dredging up old memories is a blast. It’s also given me a chance to have a lot of fun with Mother, who is ready to hop in the car at the jingle of keys. She’s good company and has her own stock of stories (many of which, I’m afraid she’s going to take with her.)
I’ve been blessed with Wife Lila who has put up with my quirks and foibles for way too many years. I warn people that I’m much more personable in print than in person. Unfortunately, that’s often too true at home, too. I don’t tell her enough that I love her. More important, I like her.
Our two boys have turned out better than anybody could ever hope for. They met and married two of the best daughter-in-laws in the universe. Their marriages have produced two extraordinary grandsons for us.
It’s been a good run
So, it’s been a good run. I’ve had five years more than I ever expected. I’m beginning to get optimistic.
I had a chunk of cheek carved off, so I got the Big C ticket punched. I survived a car vs. bike crash last month with only road rash and a cracked rib, so I got that checked off the list. The exams after the crash said I was “normal,” which I thought was a let-down from Mother saying I was “above average” all these years, but still a pretty good grade.
I’ve reconnected with some old friends and made some new ones. Riding Partner Anne stood beside me, literally, as I was bleeding on the ground after the crash. She didn’t get a picture of it, but she’s a writer, not a photographer, so you have to make allowances.
Not gonna tempt fate
I don’t believe in tempting fate, so I’m not going to suggest you run out and buy me a birthday card for next year if you see one one sale, but I’m more optimistic now than I was when I turned 59.
There’s a new Tip Jar
By the way, (how’s that for a segue?) there’s a new little button at the top left of the page that says “Donate.” I have a new advertiser coming on board who wanted to be able to pay by credit card, so Kid Matt set up this link to make it possible. I’m not going to make a big deal out of it, but it can also serve as a “tip jar” for anybody who wants to help the boat stay afloat. (That’s not me above. It’s Tom Price, editor of The Ohio University Post, begging for money.)
(We used to have a coffee can labeled “TIPS” back in the telephone switchroom where we invited folks back for espresso a couple of times a week. This was a newspaper, remember, so we didn’t get much money, but we got lots of scraps of paper with stuff like, “Look both ways before crossing the street.” scrawled on them.)
This guy is still there
I wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and wonder who that old geezer is who stares back at me. It’s strange, because this is the guy who is still hiding behind that reflection.