Much of what happened in the United States in 1963 tends to be overshadowed by the Nov. 22 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
That's unfortunate says Bay Area News Group columnist Byron Williams because there were many other events during that year that forever changed our nation's history. Williams, an Oakland pastor, explores what he calls "groundbreaking events of 1963 that have been hiding in plain sight" in his forthcoming book "1963: The Year of Hope and Hostility."
Q: What made you decide to write a book about 1963?
A: This whole project really started as an accident. A good friend of mine was on his way to the Democratic National Convention in 2008. He was saying how it wouldbe the 40th anniversary of '68, the King assassination, Robert Kennedy assassination, Vietnam and the riots. I said well you know '63 was really an interesting year. He asked when did (NAACP Field Secretary for Mississippi) Medgar Evers get assassinated? I said tonight would be the anniversary. I said, you know, I'm going to do my Sunday column on 1963. I got an email from a reader who said this ought to be a book and that illuminated it for me.
Q: What were the key historic events of 1963?
A: The year practically runs like a calendar. In January, you have Alabama Gov. George Wallace giving his inaugural address "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." It's also the year that shaped our Cuba as well as our Vietnam policies. It's the year we probably remember most by the Kennedy assassination and the March on Washington, but it culminated with Martin Luther King Jr. being named Time magazine's Man of the Year.
Q: You write that June 11 to June 12 is one of the most transformative 24-hour periods in U.S. history? Why?
A: June 11, President Kennedy is handed the newspaper, and he sees a Buddhist monk setting himself on fire in downtown Saigon. Several hours later, Wallace stood in front of the University of Alabama to block two Negro students -- Vivian Malone and James Hood -- from entering. Later that day, Kennedy addressed the nation on the importance of civil rights, which he called a moral issue. Several hours after Kennedy's speech, Evers was assassinated the morning of June 12.
Q: Why do you use Negro throughout the book?
A: My job is to tell the story of 1963, and that was the language used in '63. So often with history, we want to look at it through our 21st century hindsight. You can't do that. While it's politically incorrect by our times, it was Negro by definition.
Q: What do you mean when you say that many of the groundbreaking events that shaped the nation have been hidden in plain sight?
A: You had many transformative events happen. You have this whole year that I define as one of hope and hostility. We are a different people because of civil rights. We are a different people because of what Kennedy did with the nuclear test ban treaty and going to Berlin, and we are a different people for the bad -- for Vietnam. But we let the year be defined by a single tragic event, that being the Kennedy assassination.
Q: You opted to self-publish, why?
A: The reason I went this route is I had two publishers ... but they wanted to publish the book next year, 2014. There were too many natural marketing opportunities given that everything I'm writing about is commemorating its 50th anniversary. When I started this project four years ago, I wanted the book to come out this year.
Q: What are you trying to achieve with the book?
A: I think it's a fascinating year dominated by the Kennedy assassination and Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. But so much happened that year I hope the reader, with each chapter, even if it's an event they're familiar with will say, "I didn't know that." I didn't know that George Wallace was endorsed by the NAACP when he first ran for governor in 1958. ... That we can see the linkage to who we are now to where we were just 50 years ago.
"1963: The Year of Hope and Hostility" comes out July 16. Williams will hold a reading sponsored by KPFA-FM at 7 p.m. July 25 at the Black Repertory Group Theater, 3201 Adeline St., Berkeley.