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THE 1960s: For many, decade contains events that changed America forever

Jan. 15, 2009 @ 10:11 AM

 Editor's note: This story was originally published Sept. 13, 1999.

Pearl Booth has a memory about the 1960s that time can't erase.

The retired Wayne County insurance agent isn't alone. The turbulent decade was filled with events that shook the very foundation of this nation. It started with Camelot, John F. Kennedy and Jackie, moving into the White House, and ended with man's first walk on the moon.

In between was social upheaval over racial injustice and an unpopular war in Vietnam. It was punctuated with the assassinations of Kennedy, his brother, Robert, and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Socially, the Beatles brought in long hair and rock music that hit their zenith at Woodstock, N.Y., in 1969.

Some local residents who lived through the rebellious period jokingly say if you can remember the 1960s, you didn't really live through them. But, some events are unforgettable for almost anyone who was old enough to comprehend what was going on.

For Booth, John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign during the 1960 primary election was such an event. Kennedy targeted West Virginia to test his viability to become the first Roman Catholic president of the United States.

Booth first met the Massachusetts senator in Huntington early that spring when the late Joe Jeff Newman introduced them at a Cabell County rally. Two weeks later, Kennedy came up to Booth and his father, Elba, during a rally at the Wayne County Courthouse.

"He shook my hand, and said `Pearl, how are you doing?' I couldn't believe he remembered my name," Booth recalled. "I introduced him to my dad who still had on his overalls from the farm."

Kennedy asked the elder Booth what he did for a living, and the dyed-in-the-wool Democrat replied, "Can't you tell? I'm a hillside Wayne County farmer."

"He (Kennedy) told me that if he was fortunate enough to be elected president he would like for me to bring Dad to the White House for a visit," Booth says. "I was so busy the first two years he was in office that I never did get around to taking Dad to Washington, until it was too late."

Time ran out on Nov. 22, 1963, when Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy in Dallas.

Another part of Kennedy's visit was NBC newsman David Brinkley's mention of the creaky wooden one-lane bridge leading into Wayne. He put a microphone under the bridge to capture the noise of rattling boards as vehicles traveled across the span.

Stung by the national notoriety, state Road Commissioner Pat Graney ordered the bridge closed for repairs. It was reopened with a new deck in June of 1960, and christened the Brinkley Bridge.

"I remember the story about the bridge and that election," said Carol Jarrell, a deputy clerk in the Wayne County Clerk's Office. "It was the first election I could vote in. I was like a lot of West Virginians. I voted for Kennedy."

"I can remember the day Kennedy was killed. I cried for 10 days. The rest of the '60s were full of shocks. Every time something would happen, you just couldn't believe it."

Secretary of State Ken Hechler, a former Marshall political science professor who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1958, has fond memories of the Kennedy years. Hechler arranged for a Kennedy rally in Huntington during the 1960 primary against Hubert H. Humphrey.

"Stewart Smith (Marshall president) wouldn't let us have a political candidate on campus, so we closed off 3rd Avenue in front of H.K. Porter," he says. "Kennedy asked what he should say and I told him to mention Marshall's efforts to become a university.

"He got up and said, `Ken Hechler tells me that Marshall is about to become a university.' The students really let out a roar."

Marshall journalism professor Ralph Turner was a student in the early '60s and remembers that Kennedy's prediction about the school's university status came true a year later.

"We (The Parthenon staff) knew the state Legislature was taking the action, so Professor (Bill) Francois came up with a plan," Turner says. "We called it Project X. We wrote up the story as if the governor had already signed the bill.

"We put the newpapers in the trunks of our cars. When the governor signed it into law, we got the newspapers out and passed them out on campus. We had the story out before anyone. It was quite a deal. The students cheered and did the snake dance on campus."

Turner remembers the '60s as a time when people put their feelings into action.

"They were exciting times," he says. "People were doing things, not sitting on their fannies. Change is often uncomfortable, but a lot of the changes were necessary."

One of the most uncomfortable changes involved civil rights, a movement that came late to West Virginia — especially in Huntington where some people clung to old southern practices. Although the all-black Douglass High School was closed in 1961 and schools were integrated throughout the state, most restaurants in Huntington would not serve blacks and theaters relegated black patrons to the balconies.

Those segregationist practices were challenged by several black Marshall students and white members of the newly formed Civic Interest Progressives. The first protest came from Bruce Moody, a black Marshall basketball player and student from New York who was denied access to the old Palace Theater.

"Bruce was always educating us on our rights," says Phil Carter, an imposing 6-foot-8 Marshall basketball player who became the most recognized protest leader. "We decided to give democracy a test in Huntington."

Attorney Herb Henderson became their spokesman in court. He filed a suit against the Keith-Albee Theatre because it had relegated a black patron to the balcony.

Later, Henderson defended the CIP in court as members began picketing The White Pantry and Bailey's Cafeteria because they would not serve blacks.

"Everybody remembers the White Pantry because (Roba) Quessenberry was such a blatant racist," Carter says. "But, Bailey's was worse because it was a place we wanted to eat. It served decent food at a reasonable price.

"If Bailey's would have opened up to all races, we probably wouldn't have picketed White Pantry because it was a greasy spoon."

Henderson said Quessenberry used insect spray and cattle prods to remove black protesters who had sat at the counter of his restaurant, which was located at 9th Street and 41/2 Alley where the Cabell County Public Library is now located.

"I usually didn't get personally involved in the protests, but one day some of the students said Quessenberry was using a cattle prod on kids," he says. "I went up there and got the kids out. He tried to manhandle me, and I picked him up by the neck and told him, `I'm a lawyer and I don't have to turn the other cheek.'

"He tried to get the police officer to arrest me, but they wouldn't do it. He didn't know what to do."

The local protests continued from about 1962 until late 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act opening public facilities to all races. Cabell County Circuit Court Judge John Hereford had issued a ruling months earlier denying a Bailey's Cafeteria petition to stop picketing at the restaurant.

"What Judge Hereford said was that Bailey's was not a private club," Henderson says. "It was a public place with a state license and was inspected by state inspectors. A lot of civil rights lawyers called me and wanted a copy of that decision."

Cabell County Circuit Court Judge David Pancake says Hereford, a Sunday school teacher at Fifth Avenue Baptist, often spoke of the decision.

"He said there was no way he could have ruled otherwise and faced Woody (church pastor Woodrow Clark) on Sunday," Pancake says.

Clark made his feelings clear to the congregation in April 1968 after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, Pancake says.

"Woody was angry, and he let the congregation know how he felt," he says. "He really had some strong things to say about man's inhumanity to man. I'm sure some people didn't like the things he said, but he didn't care."

Alan Gould, executive director of Marshall's Drinko Academy, served as a Capitol Hill policeman in Washington, D.C., during the early 1960s. He calls those times "wild and crazy, even scary, but very interesting."

"I was there when the Nazis marched," he says. "I was there when Martin Luther King delivered his `I have a dream' speech, and I was there when the blacks rioted after he was assassinated.

"I really never had that much trouble with the marchers. Most of us (the police officers appointed by congressmen) were well educated and really sympathized with the civil rights protests."

While the civil rights movement raged in the South, student activists protested the Vietnam War at Marshall and other campuses.

"Those were challenging times for a police officer," says Ottie Adkins, a lieutenant in the Huntington Police Department's drug unit during the mid- to late-1960s, and now the Cabell County assessor. "There was something happening almost daily-anti-war protests, rock throwing incidents and drug raids. There was a lack of respect for authority.

"I was going to night school during those years and students would confront me all the time, not physically but verbally. They didn't think I had a right to come on campus and arrest them. But, Marshall didn't have campus police officers back then, only guards.

"The attitudes are so much different now, but I understand the protests. The civil rights demonstrations were necessary. We needed to change our attitudes."

Huntington native Scottie King understands the protests, too. A Marine Corps veteran who was wounded in Vietnam, he says he fought for the rights that were being exercised.

King says he never was treated rudely when he returned home in 1969.

"I didn't face any of the spitting or protests," he says. "I wish I had because I was ready to retaliate. I was proud to have been a Vietnam veteran, and my parents were glad I was home. I still think if they had let the warriors fight, we would have won the war."

King is now director of Appalachian Stand Down, an organization helping West Virginia's homeless veterans.

"A lot of veterans are suffering because of what happened in Vietnam," he says. "That war turned our culture upside down. It turned neighbor against neighbor. There were a lot of broken promises to the veterans, too, especially in the area of health care.

"That's why I'm still involved."

Pearl Booth has sad memories of much that happened between Kennedy's visit to Wayne County in 1960 and Neil Armstrong's "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" on July 20, 1969.

"I think we're trying to get over a lot of things that happened in the '60s," he says. "I just wish I could have taken Dad to see Kennedy."

 

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