Column – Conflict on every corner

Published 4:28 pm Tuesday, June 13, 2023

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The years of 1967 and 1968 were rife with protests and turmoil around the nation. News from the front lines in Vietnam was grim. Daily, the front page held war reports of bombings and troop action. There were several reports of local men killed in action and missing. Further stories highlight awards received by locals, including the Purple Heart. 

A relic of a war that never came to fruition was headed for a brighter future. In April 1967, a Nike Missile site was acquired by Nansemond County to be made into a park with a possible boat ramp and picnic shelters. It is now Bennett’s Creek Park. 

The conflict of the world wasn’t restricted to the war overseas. 

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Riots for open housing and other civil rights erupted violently around the country. On Aug. 30, open-housing demonstrators in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, returned to their headquarters after a night of protests and watched it ravaged by flames. Fire officials said the fire that destroyed the headquarters of the Milwaukee Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was caused by an arsonist. The blaze erupted less than an hour after Youth Council members, led by their adviser, the Rev. James E. Groppi, a white Roman Catholic priest, escaped from a white throng police estimated at 13,000. The hecklers spilled over sidewalks along the 22-block route that took the marchers deep into the predominantly Polish South Side. The mob, chanting “kill, kill, kill,” hurled insults, bottles and rocks at the 200 marchers. Police said 45 people were arrested. Twenty-two people were injured, 11 of them policemen.

Assassins took several victims within months of each other, prompting legislation to be passed on mail-order guns. 

On April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed. And then on June 5, 1968 Robert Kennedy was shot and killed, shortly after winning the California presidential primary. 

Segregation was still a battle being fought here in Suffolk. 

In October 1967, although schools had been integrated, it came to light that the classes in the schools and the buses were still being segregated. Chapter President E.L. Wilson told the Nansemond School Board of how two Black teachers were teaching all Black classes. Wilson said the board explained “white people had pressed them and they’d fixed it that way so white people would keep their children in school.” Wilson then told of extra school buses being put on so white and Black children would not ride together. He noted one farm on which children of both races live. Separate buses stop at that farm — one for the white children, another for the Black children.

Area parents made a plea for free textbooks in the schools. In the late ’60s, students had to pay for textbooks and other supplies provided from the school. There were several grants to assist students who could not afford the books; however, reports showed less than half the students enrolled had purchased the required textbooks.

In December 1968, the Health, Welfare and Education department threatened to cut off federal funding to Suffolk Public Schools for what they reported was a failure to fully desegregate the public schools. Suffolk responded that planning was hampered because of a court case in which the city proposed to annex part of Nansemond County. The HWE brief reiterated a plan proposed a year earlier that would cause Suffolk High School to be the only high school in the city, with Booker T. Washington High School being made into a junior high.