I love history. So it’s kind of odd that I’ve managed to almost ignore the year most important to me…the year I was born!
When I turned 40 my friend Jack collaborated with my mom to make a video documenting “40 Years of Christina.” (So cool–thanks again Jacko!) He started it by acknowledging some of the major events of the year. These were incidents I was fully aware of, but had never really put it together that they all happened in the same year, let alone my birth year!
1968 was a big deal. Lots of social change: racial equality, women’s rights, political rebellion, Vietnam. This worldwide mix of intensely important issues was a recipe for dissent, particularly from those marginalized groups, resulting in widespread demonstrations in cities and on college campuses.
Here’s some of what was goin’ down in ’68… the heavy and the lighter side too…this is after all, The Fun Side of History!
31st – North Vietnam launches the Tet Offensive, a turning point in the Vietnam War. U.S. media coverage of the fighting further eroded public support for the war.
One of the deadliest months in the Vietnam War sparks a sharp increase in anti-war demonstrations across the United States.
10th – American Peggy Fleming wins the Olympic Gold Medal in Women’s figure skating.
16th – The first “911” emergency system is established in Haleyville, Alabama.
19th – Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood goes national…X the Owl, Henrietta Pussycat and Prince Tuesday are poised to make an impression on my early childhood development.
29th – The Kerner Commission, formed to study the cause of the spate of race riots across the country in 1967, reports: the US is moving toward two societies, black and white, separate and unequal.
4th – The “LeClair Affair” turns national attention to women’s liberation and sexuality when Barnard College disciplines student Linda LeClair for living off-campus with her boyfriend. My how things have changed!
10th – Cesar Chavez ends a 25-day hunger strike protesting violence being perpetrated on striking migrant farm workers. Chavez was a driving force in support of organizing farm workers for fair treatment and supported many other civil rights causes.
4th – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
11th – President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968 into law, banning housing discrimination.
23rd – Columbia University students protest their school’s support of the Institute for Defense Analysis. They occupy the Columbia administration building for seven days before police storm the building and remove them by force.
10th – Talks begin in Paris, France to end the Vietnam war, but are stalled for five months due to the unwillingness of both the North Vietnamese and Americans to make concessions that would allow for talks to even begin.
25th – The St. Louis Gateway Arch is dedicated. Designed in 1947 by Eero Saarinen, the monument did not open to the public until mid-1967, with the official dedication taking place on May 25, 1968. The dedication ceremony typified the setbacks experienced in construction: Mother Nature dumped two inches of rain on the event, allowing only 500 of the 200,000 expected guests to attend!
5th – Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated in Los Angeles, California.
1st – The United States, USSR and several other nations sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at concurrent ceremonies worldwide.
17th – Saddam Hussein assumes power in Iraq.
20th – The first Special Olympics is held in Chicago, Illinois.
20th – Czechoslovakia seeks to release itself from the yoke of Communism. These efforts in political liberalization become known as the Prague Spring. Forces from the Soviet Union and other Eastern-bloc nations invade, approximately 500 Czechs and Slovaks are wounded, and 108 killed.
26th – Vietnam War protesters take to the streets of Chicago where the Democratic National Convention is being held. Police and demonstrators clash violently.
6th – Feminists protest the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. They make a show of disposing of “instruments of female torture” (bras, girdles, eyelash curlers, etc.) into a trash can. It is disputed whether the contents were torched or not, but this event gives rise to the term “bra-burning feminist.”
24th – Long-running news show 60 Minutes airs for the first time.
30th – The first Boeing 747 rolls off the line. It is twice the size of the largest commercial plane in service at the time.
2nd – Summer-long protests against the Mexican government culminate in a student demonstration in Tlateloco Square in Mexico City. Scores of protesters were killed by police, paramilitary and paratroopers.
10th – The Detroit Tigers defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 7 of the World Series. Left-handed pitcher Mickey Lolich notched three complete game victories in the series, including Game 7, earning him the World Series MVP trophy. (An important date for this former member of the Tigers Front Office!)
Another fun factoid for October 10…the movie Barbarella, staring Jane Fonda, premiered. Why do I care? Without this movie the band Duran Duran would have been known by another name, having taken their moniker from this movie’s villain. This group was part of the 1980s soundtrack…an important time for those born in or around 1968!
16th – Controversy at the Olympic medal ceremony for the 200-meter sprint: Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos took the gold and bronze medals, and gave the Black Power salute during the national anthem in protest to racism in the US. Their demonstration cost them their medals. In case you’re wondering: the white Australian silver medalist, Peter Norman, supported them by wearing the same Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on his uniform for the ceremony, ending his career as well.
1st – The Motion Picture Association of America replaced the Hays Code, which censored film content, with the first movie rating system. The ratings system put moral decision-making in the hands of parents: G for general audiences, M for mature audiences, R for restricted and X for those 17 years and older.
5th – Richard Nixon becomes the 37th President of the United States. It’s worth noting that Independent candidate, George Wallace, managed 13.5% of the national vote. Why is it now impossible for an independent to garner widespread support?
History was made elsewhere in the ’68 election: the first African-American woman, Shirley Chisholm, takes the New York 12th district’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ms. Chisholm edged out civil rights leader James Farmer, of Freedom Ride fame, for the victory.
9th – Woot! The first word processor is born! Researchers at Stanford University present their “writing machine” to the world, complete with the first mouse. This gem can cut and paste text, hyperlink, save documents for later use and communicate with other machines on a network. Let us all give thanks!
This video is fantastic! It gives you a sense of how incredible this was. The presentation starts at about 1:40, and at 4:56 you can see the keyboard and mouse.
22nd – After a year of fighting, Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra call an eight-day truce. The level of massacre and starvation brought on by this war shocked the world.
24th – Apollo 8 orbits the moon! The event was broadcast world-wide…we saw our first “Earthrise,” as well as the surface of the moon.
Quite a roller-coaster ride of a year, don’t you think?
And here’s some quick 1968 stats to further show how much things have changed:
- Average Annual Income: $7,850
- Average New Home Cost: $14,950
- Average Rent: $130/month
And you spent $2,822 on your average new car, and pumped gas into it at 34 cents per gallon. It kind of makes you want to cry, but keep the average annual income in mind!
Where were you in 1968? Were you just a baby like me, or do you actually have memories of what CNN calls “the most historic year in modern U.S. history?” Share your thoughts or memories in the comments below!
The 1968 Exhibit, http://www.the1968exhibit.org/1968-timeline, accessed May 11, 2016.
Biography: Cesar Chavez, http://www.biography.com/people/cesar-chavez-9245781, accessed May 11, 2016.
1968 Timeline, http://cds.library.brown.edu/projects/1968/reference/timeline.html, accessed May 11, 2016.
The Conversation: ‘I will stand with you’: Finally an Apology to Peter Norman, http://theconversation.com/i-will-stand-with-you-finally-an-apology-to-peter-norman-10107, accessed May 11, 2016.
Why: History of Ratings, http://filmratings.com/why.html, accessed May 11, 2016.
History of the Gateway Arch, http://www.gatewayarch.com/about/history.aspx, accessed May 11, 2016.
Mickey Lolich, http://m.mlb.com/player/117875/mickey-lolich?year=1979&stats=career-w-pitching-mlb, accessed May 11, 2016.
January 1968, http://www.onthisday.com/events/date/1968/january, accessed May 11, 2016.
The Year 1968, http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1968.html, accessed May 11, 2016.
Kurlansky, Mark. 1991. 1968: The Year That Rocked The World. New York, NY and Toronto, ON, Canada. Random House.