The late 60s-70s was a turbulent period of time in our nation's history--actually, in the WORLD, not just the US. During that time we saw protests of all kinds. Women's lib, civil rights, sexual revolution--an entire re-thinking of society came into being. Growing up and living in the UP kept us a bit isolated from the worst of the turbulence--Really, now, were the Finns going to riot against the Italians? Were the people of the UP going to march on the French-Canadians?--but we WERE aware of what was going on. The local universities had a semi-diverse population, so we did see some unrest, but not to the extent that the rest of the US did. And just like everywhere else, we had our locals who described themselves as 'anarchists'--and THEY turned out to describe themselves as that in order to disrupt our classes and waste time, more so than because of any ideological beliefs. Two of these 'different' thinkers were in my high school class. And these two are who this story is about.
I graduated from high school in 1972. The Vietnam War was raging and the country was still reeling from the riots of a couple of years earlier. Anti-war protests were still being held and 'Black Power' was still something that many feared. While things were 'quieting down' to a certain extent, there still was a sense of nervousness because we had no idea what could trigger an explosion again. (As it turned out, we were about to 'get out of Vietnam' and become more united as a nation as we watched the downfall of Richard Nixon.) But this was still in the future.
The school I graduated from is small. The ENTIRE enrollment in grades 7-12 was smaller than The Youngest's graduating class--by quite a lot. Our graduating class had less than 40 kids in it--and some of those were in the 'special education' classes, so we weren't REALLY 'classmates.' (This was many, many years before anyone even CONSIDERED 'mainstreaming.') One of the traditions with graduating classes was the 'class trip.' And with less than 40 kids, the options opened up considerably. Our class went to Chicago for several days--and that is where this story takes place.
To put it mildly, the UP is very much 'backwoods.' TV, the internet, newspapers, magazines, etc, etc, all have helped us move into the 'modern age,' but we pretty much live our lives in an 'outside looking in' sort of fashion. We ARE getting more diverse here, but race and ethnicity still aren't all that much of a factor. We pretty much are 'white-bread, middle-America,' even though we are changing--slowly. So, you can imagine how 'backward' we were in the day. Other than TV--which still was pretty much in its infancy (maybe adolescence)--and some 'underground' publications like 'Rolling Stone' magazine, the only other avenue that there was for ANY news about what was going on in the world were university students--and THEY didn't have all that much use for the 'locals'. But, there was enough interaction and news coming in if someone wanted to know--and our 'anarchists' trolled to find every piece of info they could. And they had some information that they were going to use in Chicago.
For the most part, every minute of our time in Chicago was mapped out for us. However, we were given an afternoon of 'free-time' to do whatever we wanted. Some of us went to a baseball game while others went shopping. And our two anarchists had other plans: They were going to find the Chicago headquarters of the Black Panther organization and go and visit. And that's just what they did. (This story was told to the rest of us at our 25th class reunion--NO ONE knew this had happened until then.)
So, here is the scene: Two 18-year-old kids from the UP of Michigan. They have NO concept of the world. They come from a part of the country--the UP--that has less of a population than a Chicago suburb, decide to present themselves to a BLACK (possibly terrorist) organization. (I'm even wondering if either of them had ever TALKED to anyone who was black, at this point in their lives.) And the only way these two could be WHITER is if they lived in Scandinavia. They make their way to the front door of the Black Panther building, walk up the stairs, ring the bell. When the door opens (by a person with a full-on Afro, wearing a dashiki, and carrying a gun), they introduce themselves and say they would like a tour. AND THEY ARE INVITED IN!!!! They are given a tour--complete with being shown their weaponry, etc. And from what they said at the reunion, they were treated quite nicely. I'm sure it was only because the members couldn't believe anyone could act as stupidly as these two did.
I don't want to label every Black Panther member as 'bad' or a 'terrorist,' but the reputation of the organization was NOT a good one. And from what was reported, they certainly didn't look kindly on 'whitey' at all. And two idiots--who should have known better--presented themselves to this organization on a platter. For all they knew, they could have been murdered and buried along with Jimmy Hoffa--and no one would have known! They went off on their own and never told anyone where they were going. They could have 'disappeared' and the entire thing could have remained a mystery for all time.
Ah, the stupidity of youth...