Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett here. Today is Martin Luther King day. Dr. King (born January 15, 1929) was assassinated on April 4, 1968, almost fifty-five years ago. Thinking about that, I’ve been trying to remember my reaction to his death. Sad to say, I can’t even remember hearing about it at the time.

I suppose it isn’t too surprising that I wasn’t paying much attention to anything outside my own little bubble. I was twenty and a junior at Bates College. As regular readers of this blog already know, I tend to hang onto mementos, so I still have my wall calendar from 1968. In the square for April 4 there are three notations. It was my father’s birthday. He was fifty-eight. There was a band concert at 9 PM. And Rob Players elections were scheduled for 8:15. Robinson Players took up a large portion of my free time. We were in final rehearsals for a reprise at graduation of our March 29 and 30 production of Much Ado About Nothing, for which I was one of three student directors. Finals were about to start because Bates had a two-full-semesters-and-one-short-term year. And in just eighteen days I would be on my way to Germany to meet (and break up with) a boyfriend who was stationed there in the U. S. Army.

gendarmes blocking the road to the Sorbonne

That trip was . . . interesting. In addition to seeing some of the usual tourist sites in Germany, England, Scotland, and France, I ended up as an eyewitness to two sets of student riots. The first was in Leeds, England, where we stopped to visit a college friend who was in the Junior Year Abroad program. The second was in Paris. I wrote “riot following” on my calendar on May 11. Wikipedia’s list of significant events for 1968 lists “Paris student riots” as taking place on May 13, but by then I was back home. I’m not entirely sure what any of those students were protesting, but I know the gendarmes were out in force to stop them. Another JYA friend, this one in Paris, advised us not to speak English in case the riot turned anti-American.

students marching as seen from safe window perch

Sometime in first few weeks after I returned to my parents’ house in Walden, New York and went to work sorting checks at a local bank, Bobby Kennedy came through the area on his campaign for President. I remember going to see him and shaking his hand and being completely turned off by how squishy it felt. On June 5 he was assassinated. That I do remember. I’m not sure he would have made a good president, but given that Richard Nixon was elected that November, he couldn’t have been worse than what we ended up with. Since I turned twenty-one in October, that was the first election I voted in, casting my ballot for Hubert Humphrey and (Bates graduate and Maine Senator) Edmund Muskie.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The calendar for June, July, and August consists mostly of entries that read either “Sandy called” or “called Sandy.” Yup. My future husband was definitely in the picture. He had been waiting in the wings, literally, and on the first of July he asked me to marry him. There were several visits back and forth between New York and Maine until, in September, we started our senior year together. We made our engagement official on the twenty-first of November when he put a ring on my finger during a performance of Barefoot in the Park. He was on stage as the telephone repair man at the time and I was on stage crew, holding onto a door in the set that wouldn’t stay closed on its own. We came face-to-face, out of view of the audience, just long enough to create a truly unforgettable moment.

As you can see from the pages shown here, every day was busy. Catching the news was a low priority. I probably knew about the first Apollo missions, but they didn’t make much of an impression. Ditto on the Olympics—winter games in February in France and summer games in Mexico in October. Reports from Viet Nam and news of anti-war protests during the Democratic National Convention in August struck more of a chord, but that was mostly because my father thought all demonstrators were “communist dupes” and I, although I was not one of them, strongly disagreed. Just a year later, Sandy and I were married and he had joined the U. S. Navy in order to avoid being drafted.

Like any given year, 1968 had both low points and highlights. On a national and international level, things were not great, but I have no complaints about the personal side of my life. Most of those memories are pretty darn good.

Bates “pin” given as place holder for engagement ring


Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com.


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10 Responses to 1968

  1. kaitcarson says:

    Love that you still have the calendar! I kept a similar one in college – lost in the march of time.

  2. I have more memories of 1968 than any year in my life… possibly because I was a 21 year old Marine in Vietnam. I vividly recall the assassination of MLK and the tension that resulted because we were all carrying arms and were unsure how various factions would react. The year started off with the TET offensive which led to the Vietnam Police Action escalating into a war. Then the are the memories of those who did not come back… as well as the way we were greeted (not) when we returned. Many of young of body but mentally old men.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Thank you for your service, Vaughn. No matter what opinion people may have had of the government for sending U.S. soldiers into combat, there was no excuse for the shoddy treatment so many gave those who returned. We were living in Norfolk, VA (Sandy was stationed at Oceana NAS) when the POWs were released. I will never forget a conversation I had with one of them shortly thereafter.

    • Mentioning the election of ’68, you also brought back another memory. I too, was 21 and voting for the first time (ironic, but prior to that I was old enough to be sent to war, but considered too young to vote!). I received my absentee ballot in Danang and saw Nixon, George Wallace, and Hubert Humphrey as the choices. I wrote my name on the write in line and mailed it in. I figured I was able to screw things up as well as them. So, now you can say you know someone who once got a vote for president of the United States.

  3. Julianne Spreng says:

    My future husband enlisted that summer to avoid the draft. He married his first wife before he left for Vietnam. I was only 13 that summer but remember the horror and fury I felt at MLK’s and Bobby K’s deaths and all the war news. I was in constant conflict with the school administration because I insisted on wearing a black arm band during the whole school year. They couldn’t understand why it mattered to me. I still don’t understand the hate and insecurity that motivates such attacks. And it’s gotten so much worse. The relative illusion of calm we enjoyed for a few years has given way to a complete loss of respect for each other. Our mantra back then was do what you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Now it seems that the hurting is the whole point.

    Vaughn, you are spot on about the returning soldiers. Young of body but mentally old and disillusioned. When I married my husband he had been back over nine years. It took me decades to gently wear down the huge boulder he carried on his shoulders. It’s still there but now it’s a tiny chip and manageable. I wish I could give you a hug.

  4. Brenda Buchanan says:

    This is a fascinating post on many levels, Kathy. The Barefoot in the Park engagement story is wonderful!

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