June 7 2018 09:21 AM

Historical panel set to discuss a tumultuous year

Sarah Fryer was a 17-year-old freshman at Michigan State University in 1968. The photo on her student ID shows a freshfaced, smiling, eyes wide-open coed, as women were called then, excited to be on campus.

“I was excited about being part of Justin Morrill College where I could meet kindred souls,” she said. “We were bright, engaged and interested in global justice and we tended to be liberal.”

Back home in Long Island, Fryer had already campaigned for Eugene McCarthy for president and Al Lowenstein, who was running for congress after starting the “Dump Johnson” campaign.

With the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the year 1968 was already pivotal in her young life. There was more yet to come. Fryer would go on to receive a Ph.D. at MSU and teach English classes, in addition to working at the counseling center.

Fast forward from 1968 — Fryer is a member of East Lansing Edgewood United Church, known for its dedication to social and racial justice. Its founding pastor, Truman Morrison, was a tireless leader in the open housing movement in East Lansing. When the church decided to create a Lenten Devotional with 40-days of thought-provoking messages, Fryer took on the task of editor.

Fryer had recently listened to a Native American woman lecture on campus about the importance of elders in the indigenous culture. “It was right after Trump was elected and there was a crisis of disillusionment. The election reminded me of the tumultuous times of 1968,” she said.

“I put two and two together. We have elders right here in the church,” Fryer said. As editor of the devotional, she decided to seek out first-person stories from parishioners, which would be interspersed with other inspirational messages in the devotional.

Fryer recruited a couple handfuls of parishioners with personal recollections on the turbulent 1960s. They are heartfelt, well-written descriptions of how the times influenced their lives.

Fryer, in the introduction, wrote briefly about working for McCarthy. But the most compelling account of the influence the 1960s had on her is contained in one sentence: “By 1970, the year I turned 20, I was a sophomore at Michigan State University when a young man I knew was one of the four students killed by the National Guard during anti-war protests at Kent State University.”

The young man she refers to is Jeffrey Miller, who attended MSU before transferring to Kent State. Fryer said she recent- ly attended the annual memorial at Kent State, where the scene of tbe killings was designated a National Historic Landmark.

“I came to pay my respects,” she said. She gave copies of the devotional to members of Miller’s family.

Not only was the devotional “Bending titled Toward Justice,” adapted from Martin Luther King’s statement, it also inspired an upcoming program on the year 1968, sponsored by the East Lansing Educational Foundation.

Three panel members will discuss that pivotal year in their lives. Panelists are Fryer; Nelson Brown, an East Lansing High School and MSU graduate who was actively involved in open housing and anti-war demonstrations on campus; and Clarence Underwood, the first black teacher at East Lansing High School who would go on to become athletic director at MSU.

Lynn Jondahl, longtime activist, minister and 20-year veteran of the Michigan House of Representatives, will serve as moderator.

In Jondahl’s piece, he writes, “The compelling message of the years leading up through 1968 and on into today has made it possible to sustain the commitment to social justice in spite of the major challenges and frequent set-backs.”

Another contributing parishioner, Gary Mescher, who was only a freshman at East Lansing High School in 1968, writes about how the assassination of Kennedy “left him in a haze” and how “the only consoling note in this terrible year was watching my Detroit Tigers win the World Series in October.”

The panel discussion comes on the heels of the four-part two-night CNN series on 1968, which aired over Memorial Day weekend. Even though some of the footage revealed some raw nerves, Fryer said the series allowed us to revisit the past.

“Reflection is good for all of us,” she said. On a more practical level she said, “I’d forgotten how the movies of that year were on the cutting edge of the changing times.” And about Mayor Daley being “anti-war,” as it was pointed out in the documentary, she said, “you could have fooled me.”

Bill Castanier is president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, which is co-sponsoring the event.


“Bending Toward Justice” Wednesday, June 13

7 p.m. East Lansing High School Cafeteria 509 Burcham Drive 517-282-0671 www.lansinghistory. blogspot.com