Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot     index     <prev     next>


"There is only one thing left to say. It may sound nihilistic to you, since it is the opening shot in a war of liberation. I'll use the words of LeRoi Jones, whom I'm sure you won't like a lot: 'Up against the wall, motherfucker. This is a stick-up.'"

--SDS leader Mark Rudd in a letter to Columbia University president Grayson Kirk on the eve of a student occupation and revolt that eventually closed the school. April, 1968

The Tower shakes. Lightning stabs the air and bodies fall from its windows. The Tarot's Tower card represents those blows that shatter abiding structures and burn the Tower's bridge between its heavenly battlements and earthly origins. The Tower is the sudden shock of the new and if there was any year that singly bore the violent blows of change it was 1968.

All towers have fallen or will fall. In 1968 towers everywhere were targets and to occupy one was assuredly to draw lightning. The student movement on college campuses had reached a critical mass worldwide. The spring of President Johnson's disconsolate defeat became also the high season of campus rebellions as the stirrings first felt at Berkeley in 1964 spread far east, stopping at New York's Columbia University in April before striking quickly and hard at the Ivory Towers of Europe: Nanterre and the Sorbonne in France; Milan, Turin, Rome and dozens of other schools and universities in Italy. In all, tens of thousands of students marched, resisted, and battled police across the Western World in pursuit of changes that ranged from student participation in campus governance to the overthrow of capitalism.

Back in America the most towering implications of 1968 were imbedded in the assassinations of the nation's two strongest progressive leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. Their deaths, at the hands of killers so feckless and prosaic that it seemed impossible either could get close enough to their targets to wave (much less shoot), were at first impossible to comprehend. But as details accumulated (Kennedy's assassin was captured immediately, King's assassin was taken into custody in London on the afternoon of Kennedy's funeral), it was apparent that both leaders were stalked for weeks, perhaps months. King's killer was a prison escapee with unimpressive criminal credentials. He found King while the civil rights leader led a worker's strike in Memphis, shooting King as he stood on the balcony of his motel room. Later investigations by the House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) found evidence that a group of segregationist businessmen in St. Louis might have offered up to $50,000 for King's assassination. But if King's assassin was paid, he wasn't talking. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, went to her grave convinced that her husband was the victim of a conspiracy.

Kennedy's killer was a Los Angeles resident of Palestinian descent who shot the Senator in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel moments after the Senator had acknowledged victory in the California Democratic primary. A diary recovered from the assassin's home was scrawled obsessively with the phrase "Kennedy must die!" Apparently he had taken offense at Kennedy's declared support for Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Here were two towers, Twin Towers of Tragedy. We might hope, even expect, that the Tarot Tower's collapse clears away brittle limitations and springs traps that might release ultimately fulfilling outcomes. But the deaths of King and Kennedy, within two months of each other in the spring of 1968, did nothing but cast long, empty shadows and politically disenfranchise a generation.