By Gene E. Herrick
A Journalist’s Memory Book
Mankind is a funny creature, one day happy and charging forward in life, and the next day comes trouble and anger.
Today, we find mankind really ticked off in the good ole United States. What with the spread of the deadly coronavirus, major number of deaths, unemployment, poverty lurking, plus the May 25 killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has left this country a rioting battlefield from coast to coast. Since then, all hell has broken out across this nation, with nightly demonstrations some even turning deadly.
There have also been a great many peaceful demonstrations, too. Many have argued for their rights as citizens, for their rights as guaranteed by the Constitution and other laws of the land. Never before in our history have there been such night-after-night demonstrations. Millions have walked and marched through the streets.
Furthermore, the nation seems to be torn by what is called government mismanagement, and “cronyism,” the huge number of government workers fired by the president for various reasons – many of which seem political rather than inadequacy.
It is not new for people of the world to be upset. It all started with Adam and Eve at the beginning of time, we are told. They apparently did something wrong and immediately felt guilt, followed by fear. Those two elements have followed civilizations ever since. Since that time mankind has battled itself over just about any subject. There have been little and big wars between religious groups, government groups, church groups, political groups and wars of all kinds, over various disagreements. It never seems to stop. Mankind strikes out in guilt, or fear, wounding and killing whatever or whomever is in the path.
During my 28 years as an Associated Press photographer and writer, I covered many of mankind’s inflictions upon each other. I covered a labor strike and riot at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan in the late 1940s. In Memphis, Tennessee in the early 1950s, I covered the Univis Lens Co. strike, during, which bricks flew past my head. Later, when the union won, the rioters picked me up and carried me around in the crowd. In August 1950, I went to Korea and covered the war between South and North Korea. That was really hatred and survival over something I don’t even remember. I know the North hated the South and the South hated the North. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Thousands of American and allied military people, plus civilians, died in that war. Now, 70 years later, the standoff continues.
Since then, I have covered the inhumanities of the Emmitt Till trial in Mississippi in 1955. Till’s story was really the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Shortly after, Autherine Lucy, was kicked out of the University of Alabama and that was followed by Rosa Parks, a black woman, who was removed from a bus and jailed in Montgomery, Alabama. A young black preacher named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to the rescue and became a great speaker and preacher for peace. I took a picture of Parks being fingerprinted, as well as a well-circulated picture of King being released from jail and being kissed on the cheek by his wife. That was in 1956.
Mankind’s reluctance to accept black people has been a struggle since the slave ships from Africa arrived in this county, and people were placed into servanthood and slavery. Despite the Civil War, numerous lynchings and riots, as well as well-intended peace marches in Selma, Alabama especially those after King’s slaying, have tarnished our civilization.
Following the Montgomery story, I covered the riots at Clinton, Tennessee, where the town fathers said they didn’t dislike black people, but didn’t want their children to go to school with them. They had been busing their children to nearby Knoxville. However, the federal court said the children must be returned to Clinton for their education. Thus more riots. I remember clinging to a Civil War monument shooting pictures as the white mob stopped cars on a federal highway and pulled innocent, unsuspecting black people out of their cars. I finally went to the leaders and reminded them that some of the cars were from out-of-state and didn’t know what was going on. They changed the rules. Later in the same area, the National Guard had been called out to help stop the nighttime rioting.
I have covered riots at universities in northern areas like Ohio State University, Ohio University, Kent State University and the University of Kentucky, all while students across the nation were gathering and rioting to express their anger over the Vietnam War. This year marks the 50th anniversary of these protests, which erupted over then-president Richard Nixon’s announced expansion of that war. The uprisings resulted in four student deaths at Kent State University.
Thousands and thousands of people in cities across the U.S. have turned out every day and night to peacefully show, and support, their respect for Floyd. They feel they are demonstrating for justice and peace, a founding tradition and goal. Black people want to feel seen and know their black sons are safe.
The problem is most nights outside protesting elements, some described as extreme and rebellious national groups have invaded the peaceful demonstrations, causing bodily injury major property damage and death.
The peaceful groups are disturbed by the president threatening to call out the military to quash the problem. Also, they, and religious leaders across the country, are negatively responding to the president conducting his highly protected trip to a nearby church and posing with a Bible — something many believe was a publicity stunt.
The police officer who pressured his knee into the throat of Floyd until he was dead was finally charged with a crime and a few days later, three other Minneapolis police officers, who stood by and witnessed the killing, were also charged.
The pressure is getting worse. There is added fear. When and how will our problems and the world’s problems culminate? Will it be good and peaceful for awhile or are we destined for continued turmoil?