It was 50 years ago | Moment's Notice

By Maria A. Montalvo | Jun 09, 2018

The joke about 1968 goes … half of us in America were not alive that year, and the other half does not remember it. Looking at 1968 through an American lens, many of the events in those 12 months changed the direction of our country and the world.

It was the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese calendar, years often marked by instability or risk or uncertainty. 1968 was the year North Vietnam launched the Tet Offensive against U.S. and South Vietnamese troops, leading to more anti-war sentiment in the U.S.

It was the year Lyndon Johnson declared he would not run for re-election, and the optimism for Robert F. Kennedy’s candidacy (and his focus on eradicating poverty) ended with gunshots. The inspiration and courage of Martin Luther King Jr. in the struggle for civil rights came to an abrupt and violent end by his assassination.

Elvis also staged his comeback show that year, kick-starting the third phase of his career that still unfortunately did not prevent his death from his opioid addition (painkillers prescribed to prevent Elvis from turning to street drugs, his doctor said at the time).

“The Boys in the Band” debuted off-Broadway that year, a heart-wrenching play about the experience of gay men in America in the 1960s. The second wave of feminism was in what seemed like remarkably early stages with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that year that employment opportunities could not be gender-specific. In other words, a CEO position would likely be listed as a job open only to men.

So what was it about 1968 that was so transformative? In a word, hope. Or more accurately, the trial of it.

When marking the 50th anniversary of those seminal events, we can focus on how far we have come but also how far we have yet to go.

A leader today could utter words that harken back to Robert Kennedy when he said, “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.”

In 1968, Americans were divided, similar to how we are today, and the legacy of that year still echoes in current events. Many who fought in the Vietnam War in 1968 hoped that it would prevent us from entering another war without clear expectations or explainable goals for outcomes, but then we went to war in Iraq.

One of the most famous people in the world shined a light on prescription opioid problems in 1968, but last year, drug overdoses were the number one cause of accidental death, and legal prescription drugs caused far more deaths than all illegal drugs combined.

Martin Luther King said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

There is hope in the incremental gains since that year. A woman (and immigrant to the U.S.), Indra Nooyi, worked her way up the ladder at PepsiCo starting in 1994 to become one of the most successful and well-respected CEOs in the world, and a leading advocate for responsible capitalism.

In 2018, a modern interpretation of “The Boys In the Band” is being produced on Broadway and is highlighting how LGBTQ rights have become more accepted in the 50 years since it was written.

One event from 1968 resonates very closely with the news of today.

Just five months after Dr. King was killed, two American Olympic medalists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, part of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, demonstrated quietly and non-violently through a simple, defiant act of raising their fists during the national anthem.

Then and now, athletes create a national dialogue and shine a light on what can be a chasm between some of us. Then and now, we have the opportunity to bridge the divide.

 

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