I didn’t think much about anything at 16, except girls. However, I did instinctively know that some important changes was taking place in my life and in a larger context of America as my birthday approached in 1966.
My family had moved from a little small town in Arkansas to Detroit. We were part of the last of the great migration out of the South to the urban areas like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and L.A. that the brilliant journalist Isabel Wilkerson wrote about “In The Warmth of Other Suns.” It seemed as though one instance I was in the middle of small town of Osceola, Arkansas population about 2,000, that was situated on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River close to Memphis and Elvis. However, in the breathe I was in the middle of the busy metropolis of Detroit, population nearly 4 million souls. Motown, home of Barry Gordy, the Supremes, Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder. What a miraculous time it was! I had to get me a 1967 Ford Mustang!!
It was the ‘best of times, it was the worst of times’ as America experience serious ruptures in its social fabric, as blacks protested for civil rights, women protested for equal rights, and young people in general began to questions all the sacred institutions in the country. The Vietnam War was at its apex, and young people took to the streets to protest what they thought was an unjust war. In my home, I began to rebel against my stepfather and his strict rules. He established curfews, and I always broke them. I thought I was a man so I went and joined the Marine Corp, but the recruiter told me that my parents would have to sign for me to join the corp. I knew that I would look good in the dress blues, not thinking it through that I could end up in the middle of the Mekong Delta.
But, my stepfather refused to sign for me so I was off to Wayne State University, and the military lottery was instituted allowing me to remain in college as the war ended. In college, the protest movements were growing, and the university was the center of much radical and revolutionary activity — everyone from the NAACP, National Urban League, S.C.L.C to the Black Panther Party, S.N.C.C., Black Muslims, etc were present trying to get me and other young people to join their respective groups. There was even a White Panther Party established by young white students to assist other radical organization in protesting the war.
To have lived through that decade was exhilarating, exhausting and electric. My generation,I believe, brought great, and beneficial changes to this country that I am proud to have played some small role in. It was great to be there as Muhammed Ali kick some ass, took a few names and some addresses, too. The music was great, the Beatles, the Stones, Animals, and of course, Motown of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder the Temptations ‘My Girl’. If you couldn’t sing ‘My Girl’, none of the young ladies would speak to you in Detroit.
But, also, it was a time of great political violence starting with the death of Medgar Evers, Malcom X. Martin L. King and Bobby Kennedy were murdered within a two month period in 1968. Detroiter Ms. Viola Liuzzo gave her life fighting for voting rights of blacks in Alabama in the same time period.
As I moved beyond my sixteenth birthday, I didn’t feel optimistic about the future of the country, but I felt if America would ever be a great nation, it would be up to the young generation then, and, now to change this country for the better.