1968: The Year That Rocked History—And Perhaps Still Is An Exploration of History Colorado Center’s 1968 Exhibit by Ms. Kayla Gabehart
“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”
Let me paint a picture. The aptly named 1968 Exhibit at the History Colorado Center beautifully presents a year of tumult. Constructed to walk viewers through the events as they unfolded month by month, the exhibit evokes both nostalgia and emotion. I personally had the pleasure of being given an introductory tour of the exhibit by Deborah Radman, the Director of Public Relations of History Colorado. Having lived through 1968, she shared with me her experiences, allowing me to understand just how deeply the events of this single year affected people, and perhaps still do.
January-February: Vietnam - “The Living Room War”
In January of 1968, the Tet Offensive began in Vietnam and in the living room of every American family with a television. For the first time, the general population came face to face with the atrocities of war. Public opinion of the effort in Vietnam plummeted in the ensuing months, while Walter Cronkite, a living room authority, forecasted defeat. The way Americans perceived war permanently changed.
Fast Forward: As America enters another decade in the Middle East a large portion of the population questions our country’s actions and effectiveness there. While the military presence is gradually decreased, the threat of ISIS has emerged. All the while we follow the action from the comfort of our living rooms.
March: “The Generation Gap”
The events of March revealed a stark generation gap in America, as student activism against Vietnam and in favor of the anti-war Democratic presidential candidate, Eugene McCarthy exploded. When a Barnard student, Linda LeClair, is discovered to be living in non-student housing with her boyfriend, changing notions about sex and sexuality are uncomfortably forced upon the American public.
Fast Forward: The Generation Gap in America hasn’t been bridged, but rather millions of millennials face a future in which the aging baby boomer population needs cared for. Many face staggering student debt in an uncertain job market, and as partisanship in American grows, it will be left to this generation to decide how to heal an increasingly divided America. Debates over what women have the right to do with their bodies rages on.
April-June: Assassination and Poverty Provoke Social Unrest
A day after his “Mountaintop Speech,” Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Atlanta, Georgia. Reverend Ralph Abernathy, present at the assassination, took up King’s Poor People’s Campaign in May, in an attempt to continue the fight for racial and economic equality. By June, another assassination rocked America, when Robert F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Los Angeles. An ally of King and a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, Kennedy also sought to mobilize young people and fight for equality.
Fast Forward: In the wake of police brutality and the explosion of tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, some wonder about the racist undercurrents that still penetrate American society. In allusion to King’s activism in Alabama just a few years before his assassination, Oprah Winfrey declares, “Selma is now.”
July-November: Pop Culture, Presidential Election, and the Fight for Social Inclusion
In the lead up to the November presidential election, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was protested heavily, particularly when Hubert Humphrey was selected as the Democratic candidate This signaled a refusal to incorporate an anti-war stance into the party’s platform. Richard Nixon won the election in a landslide. Additionally, women fought for inclusion as they entered the workplace in increasing numbers, and feminists protested the Miss America Pageant in September. In October, the Mexico City Olympics opened with the infamous “Black Power” salute, the Brown Berets promoted Chicano Rights, and Native American movements pushed for inclusion. All the while, rich popular culture and fashion is captivating the population’s attention. Americans follow all the action, violence, and unrest via their television sets.
Fast Forward: As partisanship rules the nation, America prepares itself for a 2016 presidential election that may very well be a turning point in politics. Minority groups protest their continued marginalization, and women still work to close an ever-present income gap and to infiltrate the top tiers of business. Pop culture has only further penetrated American lives with the growing influence of the Internet and social media.
December: Hope and Fragility
1968 ended in a moment of unification, as the Apollo 8 Mission successfully orbited the moon. The first images of Earth from space were broadcast around the world, and the revelation that Earth is a fragile planet in an expansive universe fuels the environmental movement.
Fast Forward: The fight to preserve the Earth and push environmental-friendly behaviors in the United States continues. And in a year of domestic and international conflict, I think America is searching for some unifying moment.
As for the opening quotation, they are the words of Lyndon Johnson. Though they so aptly describe the situations we face today, they are, perhaps, more telling about the implications of history...