Remembering April 4, 1968
Wednesday marked the 50-year anniversary of both the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the riots that initiated the start of the nine-month long occupation of Wilmington by the Delaware National Guard. In commemoration, the university held a Day of Remembrance in Pictures and Words in the Trabant University Center Theatre.
Margaret Winslow hosted the event, which included a poetry reading by Albert Mills, one of Delaware’s Poet Laureate, an overview of the events by Simone Austin, a Department of History graduate student, and a performance by singer/songwriter Jea Street Jr. and storyteller TAHIRA.
The event concluded with a panel led by The News Journal Consumer Experience Director Robert Long and included The News Journal photographers Fred Comegys and Chuck McGowen, university professors Norma Gaines-Hanks and Ron Whittington, university alumnus and Delaware Guardsman R.W. Buck Simpers and university alumnus and photographer Leo Tammi.
Each person on the panel provided some sort of first-hand account with the 1968 events.
Gaines-Hanks said that living in Wilmington and trying to carry out normal life was extremely difficult during the occupation.
“One of the things that I remember of April 4th is that I was absolutely heartbroken,” Gaines-Hanks said. “My spirit was sapped away from me on that day; 50 years later on April 4th, my spirit gets sapped away again.”
Whittington was attending the university at the time and his family lived on the outskirts of Wilmington. Whittington said that he was not allowed to come home during the occupation because he would have been arrested.
Comegys, McGowen and Tammi were all photographers at the time of the riots and the National Guard occupation in Wilmington. They all said that they remember going into the area of the riots and taking pictures.
“We took pictures and it only lasted oddly enough about two days; the real bad stuff,” Comegys said. “One of our photographers got hurt pretty badly, [someone] threw a paint can through his windshield; he got stitches.”
Simpers was a student at the university and a member of the Delaware National Guard at the time of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. He described the time preceding the assassination and surrounding it as tumultuous and scary.
Many of the people on the panel worked to document the riots and occupation of Wilmington through journalistic photography that continues to show in museums and depict the events of the time.
“Journalism is the first draft of history,” Long said.