The US Constitution provides for the political culture and the American law that together give guidelines on how the governors and the governed should interact with each other. It is the supreme law that establishes rules and powers of the federal governmental branches. The branches are established by the Constitution itself; they include the executive led by the President, the legislature led by the Congress, and the judiciary that is led by the Supreme Court. The political system of the United States (US) follows the principles of the government, which outlines the powers and privileges that are associated with governing different institutions in the country. The Constitution has guided the United States to the present glory and wellbeing, characterized by a formidable democratic system that grants social, economic, and political success. Some of the major ideas that the creators of the Constitution had in mind when drafting the document had dominated political governance for many years already, even though the amendments had been done to shape the contemporary political system in the US.
The 1968 was one of the most eventful years in the history of the United States. Several crucial things happened in the business world, as well as in the economic and political spheres. In this year, the country held its 46th general elections; in addition, it was winding up the Vietnam War. Political and economic realignments were taking place, and the business world experienced tremendous changes. This situation could be attributed to many protests and strikes, which were taking place across several states in the United States. Some of the strikes, like that of the sanitation workers in the Memphis City, resulted in the rendezvous assassination of the civil rights leader; this event led to the signing of a deal between the striking workers and the city authorities. It also urged the legislation of a law to protect the rights of civil workers in the country.
The period between 4 April and 18 April 1968 was an exceptional period in the history of America because of many things that were happening in almost all important sectors of the country. For a start, this period was marked by the assassination of the charismatic and influential civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. The assassination of Dr. King in Memphis had changed the history of the Black sanitation workers striking. After the event, the US government together with the Memphis authorities hastened negotiating a deal with the striking workers. This culminated in signing of the deal on 16 April the same year. Much was happening politically as the US government was in the middle of the Vietnam War; civil unrest at home could have plunged the country in one more bloodbath, in addition to what was happening in Vietnam. This paper is going to discuss two business related events and two economically related events in the United States that happened in the midst of the national acrimony caused by the assassination of the civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
April 1968 in the US Business and Political History
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The period starting on 4 April 1968 witnessed a transformation in business and economic spheres in the United States as the world came to terms with the news of the assassination of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in Tennessee. The striking of the sanitation workers in Memphis attracted attention of the King. Consequently, he decided to visit the city and support those, who protested against the poor working conditions, explicit segregation, and low wages paid to them by the Memphis authorities led by Mayor Henry Loeb. The aftermath of the assassination led to the outburst of public rage among the Black Americans and caused a period of national mourning. This public discontent speeded the process towards signing the Fair Housing Act, the last insignificant legislative achievement of the Civil Rights epoch. The strike in Memphis had begun two months earlier and brought all business activities to a halt, as there were piles of uncollected garbage within the city.
The period in review witnessed an eruption of protests across the United States by workers, leading to an economic standstill in the production sector of the country. This period was particularly restless not just because of the assassination of the civil rights leader but also the subsequent enactment of the Gun Control Act and the Civil Right Act in the same year. The acts sought to control the possession of weapons by the civilians in the country. Because of the striking, the workers and the public unrest, following the enactment of these acts, different businesses, including public and private organizations, were unable to carry out their normal activities. This situation caused a drastic fall in the stock prices of the New York Stock Exchange. In the same period, the Securities Exchange Council announced the new ideas to be adopted in the Investment Company Act, which required investors to get annual approvals for the contract companies and advisors.
The ensuing transformations in the workers’ rights also precipitated fundamental changes in the economic regulations by the government. It was witnessed in the enactment of the Civil Rights Act on 11 April 1968. Nevertheless, this enactment did not terminate or reduce the civil unrest in the country. In addition, more than 178, 000 employees of the US Bell Telephone System went on strike against economic inequality, prevailing in the private and public sectors of different industries in the US. The country was also on the verge of collapse because of the discrimination conflict between the Whites and the Blacks on the racial grounds. This tension was sending shock waves towards the business sector of the country continuously.
Among the outstanding features of this period were several events that were defining the business environment in the country. First was the ongoing Vietnam War, in which the United States had been involved since 1965. Many human rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed the indignation and disapproval of this military campaign. The second catalyst in the business sector during this time was the assassination of King and the ensuing political and social instability, caused by the protests and sit-ins witnessed across the country. Because of the assassination, more workers engaged in the strikes, which were participated in even by school going children. This sudden turnaround of events forced the government and the private employees to go back on the bargaining table and renegotiate the terms of employment with the rioting groups.
The third catalyst was the imminent general elections, which saw activists like Robert Kennedy, campaigning for the emancipation of the oppressed communities in the country. In addition, he expressed his sentiments as a pro-Israel candidate. This fact also led to his assassination, which took place two months after that of Martin Luther King, which Kennedy had condemned in the strongest terms. The bond market in the country continued to be affected negatively by the incoming international news, especially, the reports of bombing Hanoi by the American troops on 5 April 1968. The news caused a mixed reaction in the country’s business environment, and the government responded to mitigate the situation. It was characterized by the reduction in prices, which came immediately after the report that the United Stated had bombed North Vietnam beyond what the United States President had ordered. Obviously, this was a scare to the business community because much of their fate depended on the successful winding up of the Vietnam War. The War had partly contributed to the escalation of poor working conditions and subsequent unrest among workers, who were demanding the improvements.
On 7 April 1968, President Johnson commanded the deployment of more than 5,000 Federal troops to Chicago upon the request of Samuel Shapiro, the Governor, who was citing an insurgence and lawlessness in the state. On the same day, the government also sent more soldiers to Chicago and Washington to control the situation, which was described by the governors as volatile and unfit for normal functioning. In response to the requests, President Johnson sent 5,000 soldiers to Chicago for the Riot Duty. Later on, another 5,000 United States soldiers were sent to Chicago, despite the fact that the riots and civil unrest were spreading across the country. The death toll in the state had reached nine citizens with hundreds of people being left wounded. In the subsequent measures, the government was forced to declare a youth curfew with more than 7500 guard troops deployed to patrol the city. During this time, about 800 people were arrested and arraigned in court for various lawlessness, including rioting and protesting.
With the aggravating tension in the country, the increasing pressure on the US government to end the Vietnam War and the imminent general elections, the political landscape in the United States during this period witnessed revolutionary movements. The Black people caused violence and protests across major cities in the country. The police was also forced to make several arrests in the wake of the shootout between the officers from Oakland and the group named Black Panthers. The last was seeking for entrenching the tenets of civil rights in the management of public and private companies in the country. Several deaths occurred in the shootout causing more unrest and outcry from the African American in the United States. Furthermore, because of the continued public unrest, an explosion occurred in a residential downtown in Richmond, in the state of Indiana. It left more than 41 people dead while hundreds of others were injured and taken to hospitals. These incidents were on a larger scale caused by the occurrences in the political and economic spheres. They were the first escalated by the assassination of the civil rights leader and failure by the government of the United States to address the blatant economic inequality in the country. According to the common views popular among the protesting workers, the government of the United States was much concerned with the war in Vietnam and the preservation of the rights of the White citizens to discriminate the Black economically and oppress the African American community in the country.
Because of the increasing unrest on the political and economic stages in the United States, the general market activities showed a continuous decline towards the end of the period, In addition, heavy trading was reported in major cities across the country. In the Dow-Jones averages, the advanced in declines were recorded as having dropped from 790 on 4 April to 522 on 17 April 1968. Furthermore, millions of trading deals were locked up in the markets, as business people were unable to manage their goods and assets in the prevailing uncertainty. Stock prices continued to record a strong inflation edging up on 16 April 1968 as the market was generally following the countrywide pattern in heavy trading. The situation was worsened by the lack of incentive from the government’s financial regulators to curb the incidences of violence, caused by the protests and riots across the country. This happened after the prices of stock had soared in an earlier explosive opening rally on 11 April 1968 before losing a greater part of their gains in a steady retreat. It was partly because of the signing of the Civil Rights Act and partly because of the dominant business environment in the United States. Ultimately, different business entities were strategizing with measures to secure themselves against the imminent economic crunch as there were no indications of the rioting groups to abate their activities. Then the First Lady of the US also met several business people from Europe to discuss the possible partnership. It became clear that the government was facing numerous challenges at home, not only in its economic sector but also on the political arena; nevertheless, it made its best to create more business opportunities for the American businesses. This intention was envisaged by the meeting of the First Lady of the United States with European business communities.
Around the same time, the federal government suggested a cut in the poverty fund, which had been passed two years earlier. This way, the governors intended to get more funds to finance the military actions in Vietnam. As a result, more protests were witnessed in several cities across the US. They were organized by the people, who were benefiting from the poverty funds. Such people were claiming that the government was giving them with one hand while taking away with the other. This was a reference to the radical changes including the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which President Lyndon had signed in law to provide equal access to housing and remove racial discrimination. The logic behind ensuing protests was that, if the government was actually willing to ensure economic equality in the country, there should not have been a cut in the poverty funds. For the time being, the fund had been not able to cater for the needs of the people in the country. Part of the accusations laid against the government was that the cut was mainly meant to provide finances to the forthcoming general elections in the United States. This had to be done at the expense of the poor people whose situation was a result of continued neglect from the same government and blatant economic and racial discrimination from the Whites.
Despite the negative public attitude that characterized the American life during this period, there were some positive developments that influenced the public image portrayed in the media. During this month, the United States rival, the USSR was celebrating not only its entry in space but also preparation of the moon landing campaign. Space invasion was a part of the competition with the communist countries that had sent their astronaut Yuri Gagarin to the moon 7 years earlier. The US was undergoing tremendous changes; it achieved a breakthrough in science and innovation. This fact provided hope that the country would find a solution to the economic and scientific challenges it had been facing for the last few years. Economically, the critics were arguing that the US government had spent extremely much money on science and innovation and yet nothing was forthcoming from the expensive scientific programs that were supported by the government. They argued that the government should redistribute billions of dollars used in these programs instead of cutting back on the poverty funds, which were set aside to help the poor. A breakthrough in science during this period was an indication that the US government expenditures on those programs would yield fruit finally. These achievements silenced the critics, who were condemning the government for choosing the wrong priorities.
The essence of an effective political system is in its ability to reach the people in the field and address their problems effectively. The US Constitution was instrumental in creating a democratic political environment, which ensured that the power and governance trickled down to the people in regions, in which they were residing. Much of these provisions were invoked by the striking workers in several parts of the country, who were demanding that the government listened to their grievances. As such, it can be argued that the Constitution played an important role in ensuring that good governance reached the people and reciprocated leadership through freedom of speech and expression. The Constitution, thus, established a multilevel form of governance that brought development and human rights issues on the ground. The public became able to interact with political leaders through municipalities and districts, which were then linked to the governors of the State. In such system, the views and concerns of the protesting people followed a definite channel as it went up to the federal government at the national level.
Characteristically, the forefathers of the US Constitution had in mind a situation where the public would wish to interact with top leadership, the legislature, Congress, or the Supreme Court. This vision was put to test during this period of social unrest. It was also actualized through the political system that necessitated and facilitated the interaction of employers, government officials, and striking workers. In terms of interaction, the political environment in the country provided exceptional channels, through which the public could interact with the top country leaders, including the President, and the federal government. Additionally, the principles of the US Constitution necessitated public participation in matters of the governance from the executive to the municipalities. This was mainly meant to give the public an opportunity to institute checks and balances that would help define the political system in the country. Through the Constitution, the Americans, both the Whites and the Blacks could enjoy their constitutional right to determine the kind of leadership that they wanted for their country. This way, they were able to exercise their democratic rights by protesting and initiating sit-ins as civil disobedience to force the government and the employers respond to the demands of the workers and business community. According to the Constitution, the people, who possessed the executive power, felt that they had a stake in governing the country through their representatives at different levels of leadership. Thus, they wanted different authorities to recognize union representatives, who expressed the will and desires of the people. The Constitution, indeed, had provided the nation with the ability to develop a sense of civic responsibility that mandated them to have a duty of supporting the government by exercising their democratic rights during elections and engaging in military service. This priority had been desired by the Americans for many years. Similarly, the Constitution also provided an assurance that citizens had a right to contribute and support governance by paying taxes; in return, they could rely on responsible leadership and enjoy equal economic measures.
Amid the confusion in the political sphere in the country, serious development were taking place in the world of entertainment and sports. For instance, on 11 April 1968 WHED TV was opened to viewers in New Hampshire bringing another milestone in the US national broadcasting. Prior to this opening, WKPI TV Channel 22 had also started broadcasting in Pikeville marking a new beginning in the entertainment industry in that region. The baseball fans had missed their opening day as it was postponed because of the assassination of Dr King. Jim Clark, a two-time Formula One World Champion and the winner of the Indianapolis 500, also died. He died in a racing accident during a Formula Two race in Germany, bringing an end to one of the most admired sports figures in the country. This period also witnessed the opening of the first ABA basketball championship in the country thus beginning another era of entertainment for the enthusiastic fans in the United States.
It is evident that the United States, like any other country in the world, faced numerous political and economic challenges in its socio-economic and political spheres during the period of 4 April to 18 April 1968. These occurrences were caused by the existing conditions both in the country and abroad, and more so because the leader of the Civil Rights movement in the country had just been assassinated while fighting for the rights of the segregated workers. However, some extreme cases such as internationalism and new world order (as the one implemented in the Vietnam War) continued to create pressure on the social and political development in the country. The continuous success of communist countries like the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at the time threatened to succeed the US on the top of the world superpower.Some of the contributing factors were clearly beyond the control of the US political and military leaders. However, trying to prevent unrest by workers and making attempts to stop riots would have been a good starting point for a government that was facing challenges from within and from without. Nevertheless, the political system that was established by the US Constitution proved to be resilient all along, as citizens had continuously evoked the clause on freedom and equality of people in all areas. When other democracies were crumbling under the weight of the civil wars, the US Constitution was able to withstand the test of time. In addition, it delivered on the principles that many people thought were idealistic, ridiculous, but insurmountable. The Constitution acted as the main principle to form guidance on declarations of curfews in several states and deployment of soldiers in different parts to quell violence.
The political landscape in the country was also intense during this period with several people announcing their intention to run for presidency of the country. The political realignment which was taking place throughout the country played a crucial role in the incidences that were taking place in many cities across the country. Evidently, it was a period where political players could easily sell their policies to the people and seek to influence their support to their favorite candidates. The atmosphere in the country was so much like the integration of the economic, political, and social emancipation which had been started by the people who were rioting and protesting from all corners of the country. The issue of racial discrimination by white employers became so much pronounced in the public as women also came to limelight to start demanding for their democratic rights to participate in the elections. It was also during this period that employers sought to harmonize the wages that employees were being paid to commensurate with their counterparts in companies that were dominated by white employees. The university students were also engaged in influencing the direction of education with rampant use of drugs and other violations taking place in the universities across the country. The parents were mainly concerned with the welfare of their students and wanted to engage the educators in discussing the welfare of students especially those in public universities. A number of incidents involving riots, drug abuse, sex scandals, and many other bad incidences had been reported in such public institutions.
Students were playing an influential role in deciding the directions that were going to be undertaken by politicians, human right activists, and business organization, among many others in the country. Practically, every leading economist—along with the business and banking communities and Government fiscal experts believed that a general tax rise was compulsory if the United States was to avoid the imminent business boom which was expected as a result of the ongoing incidences in the political and social life of the Americans at the time. It is noted here that the gross national product had increased at a chaotic $20 billion pace during the first quarter of the years and businesses were expecting a slower economic growth as many of the sectors which were depended upon were experiencing difficult with the workers. The consumer prices had also increased tremendously since the beginning of the year at an estimated rate of 4 percent. This increase in consumer prices was unprecedented since the 1951 Korean War. It is also noted that the changes in business organizations during this period were majorly catapulted by the murder of civil rights activists, an action that shifted the operations of small businesses from the ghettos to the streets of large cities such as New York and Tennessee. Furthermore, the movement of business location was also caused by the looting, vandalizing, burning of established businesses in cities like Washington, Baltimore, Chicago, and Cincinnati. Most of business people argued that they were leaving for good from those cities because the government had failed miserably to contain the prevailing political and social unrest that was being witnessed in the country. It was also noted that the government at the time had not provided business insurances to people with large businesses and the political and social unrest in the country had caused them large losses. The economic situation also became deplorable in a matter of days as people shifted from one region to the other to look for safety.
From the historical analysis presented in this paper, it is evident that 1968 was a special year in the history of the United States as revealed by the intertwinement of occurrences in economic and political sectors. The period under review was particularly eventful because of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and subsequent series of social events, such as widespread riots, demonstrations, and protests across the country. It was equally marked by the signing of the Civil Rights Act by the US President. Nevertheless, this step seemed not to have helped in reducing the protests and unrest across the country as more and more people became influenced by the uncertainty, which had been engulfing the country since the assassination of the Civil Rights leader. The US government was also under continuous pressure to end the Vietnam War, which began in 1965. There was mounting pressure from the human rights groups to end the War, In addition, in this time; it became evident that the US had to withdraw from Vietnam, as news came in that the US military had bombed North Vietnam beyond the suggestion of the President of the United States. The business world had also responded to the news in a negative way as stock prices went tumbling and the bond prices dropped to all time lows in decades. During this time also, major employers in the country continued to count loses as workers downed their tools in sit-ins and protested for improvement in the welfare and working conditions for colored people. The government was also under pressure to implement legislation and ensure that the workers were secured against discrimination and their wages reflected the leaving standard in the country.
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