A look at the year of change……
1968 was a truly stunning year in world history, aside from the birth of this writer, it saw some of the most important and influential events ever to take place in the twentieth century and particularly post World War Two. To mark the year I shall be looking back at some of the key moments from both a political and cultural perspective.
So what was so special about 1968? To begin we must remember the dividing line which ran across Europe and flew its flag in Asia and Latin America; the Churchill-inspired Iron Curtain separated communism from capitalism and in 1968 those living under both ideals rose up and spoke out in demonstrations which reverberated across the globe. It was a year of stunning protests, many without prior planning or leadership, ignited by a spark from the labour and student movements in France, Italy and the United States.
The Vietnam War was a watershed moment in military history, patriotic loyalties of previous conflicts gave way to protests on home soil and by those traditionally allied to America. As the dissident movements gained momentum so the heavy boot of authority came down upon its own people in bloody and deadly restraint. The anti-Vietnam movement ran alongside the surge in support for civil rights and riots followed the assassination of its champion, Dr Martin Luther King whose coffin was followed by 150,000 to its final resting place in Atlanta.
In Britain, Dr King’s death did little to persuade the MP, Enoch Powell to change his stance on immigration, his infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech still attracts discussion on mainstream media to this day whilst across the Atlantic, black athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on the Olympic podium with their fist in the air in solidarity with the Black Power movement.
It was a presidential year in America, whilst Lyndon Johnson announced a halt in bombing in Vietnam, Richard Nixon, having narrowly lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960 went on to become President in the same year another Kennedy, Bobby, was assassinated whilst on the election trail. Johnson’s attempt at resurrecting a floundering peace initiative in Paris would end like his presidency.
Music was unquestionably shaped by global events, it was a momentous time in the history of popular music for both the brilliance of the new artists and the resistance to the stereotype of the decade past. Whilst The Beatles meditated in India, Britain was woken from its slumber by the formation of The New Yardbirds (Led Zeppelin), Earth (Black Sabbath), Free and Deep Purple. It was the end of Cream but the year of Hendrix and Electric Ladyland, Johnny Cash entertained the inmates at Folsom Prison and Simon & Garfunkel released the soundtrack to The Graduate.
Whatever the political view, cultural preference or social circumstance, 1968 was a year in which a generation truly found its voice. There should be no doubting the bravery of those at the forefront of the push for civil rights, of those crushed by the Soviet tanks in the ‘Prague Spring’ or the innocent victims of the relentless fighting in Vietnam. So many died or were badly injured in the fight for their beliefs, it was a year which showed the power of the people when change must come and in doing so became the landmark year for future generations to remind its leaders of the rights to a fair and democratic system.
I was born in the year of the Apollo 8 crew orbiting around the moon and the first heart transplant, genuine, ground-breaking events in an era when people were truly amazed at scientific progress. My mobile phone can record my heart rate and stress levels, photograph an object and tell me the price of it on Amazon, offer me a vast library of words and music but still I favour the look and feel of a book or vinyl record. I feel immensely lucky to have been quite literally, a tiny part of 1968 and its legacy which I feel duty-bound to remember and carry with me.
Events in 1968: