The revolutionary and tumultuous year of 1968 contributed greatly to what we now know as modern America, where egalitarian values, individual rights and social protests were on display. It was a year when America was politically divided and social groups pushed their agendas.
The racial tensions in the country reached chaotic levels in over 100 cities including Baltimore, D.C., Chicago and Detroit after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Two months later, Robert Kennedy–the brother of John F. Kennedy who was shot four years earlier–was assassinated after a rally in California. He was highly favorited as a Democratic candidate who would end the Vietnam War and resolve the intensifying racial polarization in America.
The Vietnam War was heavily protested as the counterculture movement emerged as the younger generation separated themselves from existing cultural norms and values. At the same time, college campuses were experiencing the effects of these movements as students protested injustices at their schools. Columbia University students protested the school’s support of the government involvement in the Vietnam War and a segregated gymnasium to open nearby. School protests like this proved that schools of higher learning weren’t in a bubble and were affected by the sweeping political, economic and social changes in society.
Hundreds of feminists showed up at the Atlantic City Boardwalk to protest the 1968 Miss America pageant. Their complaints were: the pageant objectified and harmed women, never crowned a black Miss America, supported the Vietnam War (since the winner would go over to Vietnam to entertain the troops) and judged participants on impossible standards of beauty.
On Oct. 16, two black sprinters, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists with black gloves on at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Their objective was to bring awareness to the enduring injustices and discrimination facing black people back in America.
Even on television, new milestones were being accomplished as “Star Trek” showed the first interracial kiss on Nov. 16. Capt. James Kirk, played by white actor William Shatner, kissed Lt. Nyota Uhura, played by black actress Nichelle Nichols.
The election of 1968 pitted Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat Hubert Humphrey against each other. Nixon used the Southern Strategy to appeal to white southerners by using their racial resentment toward blacks.
In 2018, the problems which enraged and ultimately changed American society are still present in the country. Social movements like the Civil Rights movement are now summed up in hashtags from #BlackLivesMatter to #MeToo that are sweeping the nation. The polarization of the country is due to the action and words of President Trump. Black people in film and television, from Ava DuVernay to Donald Glover, are accomplishing new milestones and breaking records. Athletes are protesting by taking a knee for the injustices plaguing America. The parallels between 1968 and 2018 are intriguing and, like many people, I am anxious to see if there will be other huge accomplishments or if are we romanticizing a time in the country that had so much more to learn then what we have now.