Remembering Why Black Lives Matter:
Understanding What Has Marked Some
American Rhodes Scholars for the
Last 50 years and more….
American social and political activism is at a particularly important juncture at this point in history. For this reason, the AARS community would do well to recall some of its moments of tragedy and triumph in its past in considering how best to act next in the conflict-ridden world we must now all confront.
The history of activism concerning racial justice and its historical link to the anti-imperialist struggle around the world deserve particular attention in this regard. In addition, there were what might be called particular “punctuation” moments in that history that deserve to be remembered for what they encapsulated in their meaning both for the history of individual Rhodes Scholars themselves and for the history of the larger anti-imperialist and anti-racist narratives in which they played important roles.
In this regard, the members of the Rhodes Class of 1968 experienced a stunning sequence of events in their “Senior Years” – in both “high school” and in “college” prior to coming up to Oxford as Rhodes Scholars. Though they had never met one another in those “prior years” the events they endured as part of their collective experience in America shaped their outlook and trajectory through their Rhodes Scholar years and ever since.
It is worth remembering that during their “Senior Year” in high school – well before they ever dreamt of the Rhodes experience -- members of what was to become the Rhodes ’68 class from America collectively experienced the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November of 1963. Four years later, as they were concluding their “Senior Year” in their respective American colleges, (and they had been selected as Rhodes Scholars), they were all to witness the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
Thus, their entire college experience prior to “coming up” to Oxford as Rhodes Scholars was “book-ended” by the bloody assassination of the most inspiring leaders in American social and political life against the back-drop of a continuing and ultimately futile war that their country was waging as the most powerful military machine on earth against peasant populations thousands of miles from its shores. It is little wonder that many Rhodes Scholars of fifty years ago framed their own personal and career choices in terms of how they might contribute to the “activism” against racial injustice and in support of numerous anti-imperial struggles around the world.
In a moment when the President of the United States has been impeached for a second time and when he and those in his political party have redoubled their support of white racism and foreign resource wars of aggression against the poor and disposed populations around the world, it is now evident that America itself has become the world’s largest problem. As the AARS is meeting to discuss the “Urgency of Now: Activism, Social Justice & the American Rhodes Scholar,” it is worth recalling the specific speech of the leader who called for the “fierce urgency of now” on 4 April 1967 – one year to the day before he was assassinated.