UCSB’s “Eternal” Flame Unlit & Unremembered: The Irony of it’s Insignificance Today

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eternal flame

photo credit: Sonia Fernandez

The UCSB graduating class of 1968 had big aspirations and high hopes for the Gauchos that would precede them. Their contribution to the school in response to the black student takeover on campus and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. that year would leave a lasting effect on the campus for years to come – for what the contributors hoped would be eternity. Unfortunately, the “Eternal” flame that was gifted to the university 48 years ago by a class that endured a hard struggle for peace in times of civil unrest held more value to past generations than it does to the students who walk by and barely notice it and recognize it’s significance on campus today.

In the defense of the current UCSB students, the flame is no longer lit and so the meaning behind the eternal flame is harder to grasp by onlooking students who see only a cement trivet in the middle of the grass between the library and lecture halls. In a March 2016 Daily Nexus Article, UCSB students are urged to put the effort into relighting the flame and putting the money into making it more “eternal” like the alumnae wished.

Historically, the eternal flame has been used as a symbol to commemorate a certain person or set of ideals that promote peace and the need for unity between people in the community. The Erection of UCSB’s Eternal Flame came after a great leader in the fight for equality and peace in the brutal segregated times of the late 1980’s was slain. His – as well as two other influential leaders who were murdered by people who did not agree with their preachings – President John F. Kennedy and his brother and senator at the time, Robert Kennedy. – quotes were engraved on the three sides of the monument that stands on campus.

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“The large house in which we live demands that we transform this worldwide neighborhood into a worldwide brotherhood.” – Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. 

 

In the last half-century, the monument has been used as a symbol of peace and harmony following times of conflict in order to take strides towards the brotherhood MLK Jr. hoped for the world. In 1987, the Daily Nexus newspaper  reported on a relighting ceremony of the eternal flame which featured the mayor of Santa Barbara along with the mayor of our Russian sister-state, Yalta that occurred at the end of World War II. During the ceremony, American Peace Movement organizer David Crockett Williams III emphasized the importance of reviving the flame and the implications it had on the student bodies goals for a more peaceful community and world.

“We are rejuvenating the hopes of the sixties…by relighting this monument for the actual cause of world peace.” – David Crockett Williams III

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Even with his efforts for the permanent relighting of the flame though, the wind blew it out again and again until the gas leading to the area was eventually turned off and the flame was not relit until another event occurred at this site, only for it to blow out again during or after the presentation. Days like MLK’s birthday in January of 2003 brought back observers who had similar ideals to the three men who all fought for world peace and are represented on the plaque.

The monument has endured a life full of history and conflict from it’s original lighting, multiple relightings, and the events and practices that have occurred there since then. These events function to honor the men who died in the fight for world peace and reflect the values of the UCSB students who put it there and helped it to remain lit as a promise of their desire for peace. The eternal flame not being lit reflects our generations mindset that larger conflict is not occurring and resembles a “not seen, not felt” outlook on the world and on our history.

The UCSB community alone has has many tribulations in the past decade including riots, car massacres, shootings, and more civil conflicts – the need for the light of the eternal flame is still heavy in this small 1×1 mile town. Although we have taken other steps towards commemorating those who worked towards peace and have also taken other steps towards unifying the community, the eternal flame is a monument that can link us to our past Gaucho’s and remind us that the effort put towards world peace is a step in the right direction, but this journey has no end.

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“…And seek out the ways of peace. And if that journey is a thousand miles, or even more, let history record that we, in this land, at this time, took the first step.” – President John F. Kennedy