The Past: 1968

Around the country, it’s an explosive year. In Charlotte, tension simmers. But the city never erupts, and years of prosperity follow. Here, we recreate the story of 1968 through the eyes of an average Charlottean


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You can tune it all out at a backyard barbecue, where you talk about business or the Braves or wonder how Lefty Driesell’s upstart Davidson Wildcats will fare against the Tar Heels this winter. You still worry about war and crime, though. Everyone does these days, when you can watch the ghettos of once-great cities and the villages of Vietnam burn each night on your new TV set—now in color. Charlotte is calmer than those places, for sure. But still you see bank robberies and muggings and assaults. You know someone who lost his kid in Vietnam. A local DJ gets robbed in the bathroom of the White House Inn downtown. Someone robs a bank in the popular Park Road Shopping Center. An FBI report in August shows Charlotte has the second-highest murder rate in the nation and the fourth-highest rate of aggravated assaults. It’s national exposure—but not the kind the chamber wants.

It’s an election year. For white people, this is Nixon country. Law and order and low taxes. George Wallace makes a third-party run again, but his anger and overt racism don’t play well in affluent and affable Charlotte. Wallace gets 18 percent of the vote in Mecklenburg, Nixon 52 percent. Nixon’s hard line against school busing draws cheers from crowds when he speaks at Central Piedmont Community College in September. Not far away, Julius Chambers and other lawyers at the city’s first integrated firm build their appeal in the 4-year-old case of Darius Swann, the Johnson C. Smith University professor who challenged his son’s assignment to a mostly black school. The kid passes a mostly white school to get there. It’s been 11 years since Dorothy Counts endured vicious taunts and death threats to integrate Harding High School. Still, most black students remain at all-black schools. Chambers knows this case could change all that. But it won’t be easy getting Charlotte and the rest of the country to accept busing. And a victory in the courts, which will come in the next year, will mark only the first battle.

Around Christmastime, you huddle close to the TV with your family to watch the Apollo 8 launch. For the first time, men leave Earth’s orbit. You see the rockets burn red, then white across a blue Florida sky. You wonder what’s possible and what the future will hold.

Chuck McShane is a freelance writer based in Davidson. Email him at chuckmcshane@gmail.com. 
 

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