Yes, I remember where I was – studying at the Williams College library – when a friend from Indianapolis relayed the tragic news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.
I also remember that he was smiling. He hated Kennedy and was glad to see him gone. The things we never know about each other.
Two Saturday ago, another person filled with hatred defaced a dormitory wall at Williams with a demand that all African-Americans “must die.” Suddenly, a college known for its enlightened views and commitment to open dialog, open learning, freedom of expression and spirit, found itself embroiled in the ugliness of hatred.
The Saturday graffiti was in keeping with the toxic spirit of our times, when evangelists for concentrated wealth defame the jobless of shiftless and those protesting income inequality as whiners who ought to “get a job after they take a bath,” when racists close the “golden door” to dark-skinned immigrants.
But Williams, and many places like it, had seemed islands of sanity. Now the darkness had found even them.
In 1963, students gathered around televisions and Walter Cronkite, and watched helplessly as Camelot died. Even though we had grown up surrounded by racial tension, Red Scare nonsense, anti-labor violence, and a world divided by fear, we were unprepared to have hope snuffed out by a rifle.
This time, the light fought back. Students and faculty pressed the college administration to take bold action, and it did. They canceled classes and athletic events (pay attention, Penn State), and called the entire college community together for a day of quiet conversation and reflection, with special concern for those who suddenly felt unsafe at their college home.
Hatred never goes away. Neither do fear, greed, self-loathing, repression, and injustice. We are flawed. But the darkness won’t prevail. The light will stand and declare itself. No amount of pepper spray, scorn or weaponry will stop that bold voice from speaking truth to power, freedom to oppressors, and shame to greed.