In May of 1968, my high school class were lucky enough to travel from our little town in Michigan to Washington D.C. for our class trip. We didn't ride luxury buses with air conditioning or even a greyhound bus. We were loaded unto two school buses for the 12 hour ride. We drove though the night and arrived in time to be hustled off and out to breakfast with a full day of touring to follow.
During that night ride, when we stopped for gas, we would hear whispers that buses of poor people were heading for D.C. as well. Little did I know and less did I understand, that we were in the middle of something historic. In early 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had called for a spring campaign in D.C. to ask President Johnson for jobs, homes and health care. (Sound familiar?) After he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, his organizers decided to go ahead with it and chose Sunday, May 12th.
Our group of about 60 arrived in the beginning of that week. Women (that would be us ) were not allowed to wear slacks touring. We all wore dresses and dress shoes. Guys wore dress pants and dress shirts. We were able to tour in small groups, chaperoned by teachers of course. All the while we were seeing bus after bus parking to let off dozens of people, some carrying homemade signs. I wish I could say I paid attention to all that but I didn't. We were staying in a single story Marriott Hotel. That I remember because it was surrounded by a brick wall with roses growing on them.
It took a hitting a wall for me to see what was happening. Not until we arrived at the Washington Monument and looked down the Reflecting Pool toward the Lincoln Memorial and saw hundreds of makeshift, cardboard housing structures, did I fully understand "this is something big". I climbed every one of those 897 steps of the Washington Monument, up to the tiny windows in the point, to take pictures of "Resurrection City". And..... I don't know where they are. I've seen them through the years, tucked away in a "safe" spot. Of course...But if you saw Forest Gump and his search for Jenny at the Memorial, that's how it looked. Mobs of people and structures. That was out last "tour" day.
Our trip was not affected at all, by the arriving people. We left toward the end of that week. Our small neighboring town arrived on Friday, at the same hotel and were immediately put on lock down and could not go out at all. The "Poor People's March" was in full force and I think the thousands of participants unnerved the school officials in charge. The rumor was that the students tore the Marriott apart. Tore the roses off the walls and destroyed the rooms. I don't know what really took place, but I do know that was the last year of Senior Trips for that school. One of my LARC friends was a Freshman in that H.S. then and confirms it. I hope it wasn't as bad as all that. I hope we heard exaggerated tales of teenagers
I had already experienced the assassination of John F. Kennedy and then the same thing with of Martin Luther King Jr. I witnessed the Poor People's Campaign and Resurrection City. I was 17. Boys I had dated were getting drafted and going to Vietnam. But summer was coming and the Rolling Stones were singing Jumpin Jack Flash and Steppenwolf was telling us we were Born to be Wild. I was going to college in the fall and I had a boyfriend and a summer job. Priorities.