Omega Mu Voice
John L. Collins, 1970
Spring break, sophomore year, I decided to go visit a girl I knew who was at college in Winston Salem, North Carolina. I had my car and wanted to drive down so asked around to see who might want to go with me. Greg Papasodora (’70) was up for it. So, I wrote to the girl, found out where we could stay, arranged for a blind date for Greg, and we made plans to go. That year, Doug Baston (‘69) was in Washington, D.C. as a congressional intern for Senator Edmund Muskie. Doug was my big brother at The Castle and Greg and I decided to stop off in D.C. to stay with Doug during our drive.
Greg Papasodora and Doug Baston
Edmund Muskie speaking at the University of Maine in 1968.
Senator Edmund Muskie
Senator Muskie speaking with President John F. Kennedy
Most of the trip was pretty uneventful. Greg and I had an OK time with the girls, but nothing special. On the night of April 4, 1968, we said goodbye to our girls and started to drive out of town, heading back to D.C. before driving back up to Maine. At 6:01 PM, Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis but we were not aware of that yet.
As we left Winston Salem that evening, we noticed lots of African Americans out and about, and it was clear that there was something going on that we did not know about. We pulled into a gas station to gas up and folks were all over the place. We got pretty nervous sitting in the car while the gas was being pumped, but nothing happened except that a police car pulled up across the street. As soon as we drove out of the gas station, the cops pulled us over and asked what we were doing there and where we were going. We told them we had been visiting friends and were heading back to Maine. They said, “Follow us and we’ll get you to the interstate without any trouble. Don’t stop, don’t come back into town, keep going.” By this time, I suspect we turned on the radio and found out what had happened. That night, we drove all the way to D.C..
On the way, we could see a glow in the sky from the big cities: Durham, Raleigh. The riots had begun and buildings were burning.
Raleigh and Durham Burning
"On the way, we could see a glow in the sky from the big cities: Durham, Raleigh. The riots had begun and
buildings were burning."
We kept driving and pulled into D.C. early in the morning. We woke Doug up and he let us in for a few hours of sleep. When we woke up, Doug told us the city was under curfew and we were to stay indoors.
We looked out the window of his first-floor apartment on Mass. Ave. near DuPont Circle, and there were people everywhere – all of them African American, most running or walking, very few driving. Some were coming from farther down Mass. Ave.. At one point during the day, we were hanging out with some girls in their apartment on the first floor while they handed out donuts and coffee through their window to the National Guardsmen on duty outside.
The day passed with news of riots, looting, burning, all over the country. We were seeing it first hand. By the end of the day, we were going stir crazy from being inside all day and of course had a few beers. By the time darkness fell, we were feeling restless and mischievous. We decided to venture out. We took a Kodak Instamatic camera. A block from Doug’s building, on the corner of a side street was a closed liquor store. We could see the store from the entrance door to Doug’s building. At this point, we could see no one around – not looters, or Guardsmen. We crept through the shrubbery in front of Doug’s building, just seeing how far we wanted to go. Suddenly, a car whipped around a corner, slammed the brakes on in front of the liquor store, and a bunch of African American guys jumped out. One picked up a landscaping rock and smashed the glass display window of the liquor store. All of them began hustling cases of booze out of the broken window and into their car. We crept closer and took some photos of the action. Suddenly, a National Guard truck careened around a different corner and stopped with headlights high beamed on the looters and the liquor store. A bullhorn voice demanded they stop and drop what they were carrying, put their hands behind their heads, and lie down face down. They did, and the Guardsmen cuffed them, tossed them into the truck, and drove away. Witnessing that was sobering, and suddenly we wondered what were we doing?! We hustled back into the building, scrambling through the shrubs again, and sighed with relief. We didn’t go out again during curfew. It was a few days before the city settled down enough for us to leave and head back to Maine.
Yea, John has it right. He remembered some details I didn’t. Some more details: We didn’t venture out again, but we did spend time up on the roof of the building watching Washington burn all around us.
At some point later, and I can’t remember if this was before John left or after the curfew lifted and he got out of town, I was allowed to return to work in the Old Senate Office Building, several blocks away. That meant that I had to stand on the front steps of my apartment building until a military patrol came by. I then showed my Senate ID card and a soldier would be assigned to accompany me to the building. The entrances to office building itself were surrounded by barbed wire and were guarded by a mix of military and capital police. I would show the ID again to get in. When leaving work, the process was reversed.
Old Senate Office Building
Not only was Martin Luther King assassinated that spring, but also Senator Robert Kennedy, on June 5th in Los Angeles on the night he won the California Primary
Senator Robert Kennedy
Kennedy had announced that he would run for president on March 16th in the Caucus Room of the Old Senate Office Building, just down the hall from my office. I went down to listen and stood in the crowd – mostly press and other staffers – in that small room. Earlier this year I was watching the Netflix documentary “Bobby Kennedy for President”. In the episode covering his announcement, the old black-and-white film footage followed his entrance into the Caucus Room. For a few seconds it captured, standing just a few feet away in the background, a fifty- year-younger me, watching as history literally passed me by.
Kennedy Caucus Room
"In the episode covering his announcement, the old black-and-white film footage followed his entrance into the Caucus Room. For a few seconds it captured, standing just a few feet away in the background, a fifty- year-younger me, watching
as history literally passed me by. Perge"
“What if the space be long and wide,
That parts us from our brother’s side
A soul-joined chain unites our band,
And memory links us hand in hand.”
(Phi Gamma Delta fraternity song)
Chip Chapman, ’82