50 Years Ago, Again

What do you remember from April, 1968?

Do your memories revolve around sports? Fashion? Popular culture? The news? Politics?

Who were you dating back then? Where were you in school?

What do you remember from fifty years ago?

Here’s what I recall . . .


What better image to capture the magical part of 1968? Do I need to identify this fabulous foursome?

They were lighthearted, talented, irreverent and oh so very good looking.  Though I never saw them live, never even wanted to, I loved their music.  I still do.

But there is so much more to remember of 1968.

I was finishing my second year at a Bible college in Westchester County, NY, to which I’d applied when I thought I was going to be a missionary nurse. By the time I graduated The King’s College, I knew the missionary part was not for me. I graduated that June with an associates degree in “pre-nursing” and went on to Cornell’s School of Nursing in NYC where I discovered the nurse part was also not for me.  But let’s stay in April, 1968.

I’d recovered from my first broken heart (JonRon was captain of the basketball team during my freshman year and my body did little flutter-like things whenever he walked in the room) and was dating Gordon (no cutesy nickname for him; not so many flutters either). We’d been on and off since 1966 — we met the day of the White House wedding of Lucy Baines Johnson, to be exact (WHY do I remember such things?).

I had a steady babysitting job nearby in Chappaqua, where I had worked the previous summer as a “mother’s helper” for Jeffrey, Jimmy, and “little Janet.”  Yes, I was called “big Janet.”  It was a way to distinguish me from the 2 year-old. Yeah, right. Seems you had to be French back then to be called an au pair. 

So much happened that year. Looking back at April alone, here’s what still stands out for me:

  • I was swinging and swaying to Otis Redding singing Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.  Redding had died the previous December, in a plane crash just three days after recording this hit. He was 26 years old.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey opened in theaters on April 2. I’d never been a fan of sci-fi; real life held enough strangeness for me, and I still have yet to see this film in full. But I certainly heard of it.
  • Eugene McCarthy won the Wisconsin primary also on April 2 with 56% of the vote (to President Johnson’s 35%). I looked those numbers up; I’m not that much of a political wonk.
  • The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on April 4. The resulting riots across the country covered by national TV shook this nation to its core.
  • President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act, also called the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (to distinguish it from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is also called the Voting Rights Act). The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. just the week before helped LBJ garner the needed votes.  Many believe it would not have passed then, had we not had that tragedy. Of all the website summaries of this act, this is the one I recommend, from the History dot com site.
  • In the Heat of the Night won the Oscar on April 10.  I loved Sidney Poitier, though I liked him even more in To Sir With Love the year before.
  • Hair opened on Broadway April 29 and went on to have 1750 performances. I saw one of them — from the last row of the upper balcony (with Gordon, btw; you remember him.).

Politics and popular culture were in my sights even then. The Vietnam War was on the news every night; I was aware of it, but I hadn’t begun to pay close attention and wouldn’t begin to march in opposition for another year and a half. For me, it just was.

I have no recollection of sports that spring, no idea what was fashionable. Politics and pop culture, that was it. I don’t even recall my courseload at college that spring, except that I crammed for a World History final and fell asleep during the exam.

I do remember walking into my dorm room at King’s the evening of April 4 to find my two roommates nonchalantly telling me Martin Luther King had been shot and killed. I also remember thinking they weren’t upset enough.

In preparing for today’s post I listened once again to MLK’s final speech, the one he gave in Memphis, Tennessee the night before he was assassinated. You can listen to it and read the full text with this link to American Rhetoric if you’d like. And, in a nod to my inner grad student, I’ve pulled excerpts of it here, in the pulldown “Learn More” window. These are the paragraphs that jumped out at me.  I’ve tried to keep it short.

[learn_more caption=”I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, excerpts”] I’ve Been to the Mountaintop

Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968, Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters), Memphis, Tennessee

Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” …

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”

Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”

I can remember — I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.

And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying — We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we are God’s children, we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.

Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.

Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.

Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be — and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to the nation: We know how it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.

It’s alright to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people. Individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively — that means all of us together — collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that? After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.

We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say,

“God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!![/learn_more]

It was a prophetic speech.

With all these memories, the one I’d like to end with as I look back is that

fifty years ago, old people were a lot younger than they are today.

Today, we understand the value of exercise and good nutrition. We’re healthier, more active, and chew better than at any time in our history. (Yes, chew; I’ve had fluoride in my drinking water since I was about seven.) That’s what government used to be about — making our lives better by funding the research and distributing the findings. Oops, there I go again. I’ll stop.  

How about you? What do you remember from fifty years ago?  Here to get you in the mood is Otis Redding’s official video of Dock of the Bay.  Enjoy.


32 Responses

  1. Susan scott
    | Reply

    Lovely post Janet thank you. I remember that today is the day of MLK’s assassination. I’ll listen to his speech at some stage. Thank you for providing the link. Your memories are similar to mine even though continents apart –
    Susan scott recently posted…C Catalyst LilithMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I love the idea that, though continents apart, our memories of those years so long ago are similar. So much other music I might have included, huh? We grew up with great music.
      Janet Givens recently posted…50 Years Ago, AgainMy Profile

  2. Ronald Mackay
    | Reply

    I like your clause: fifty years ago, old people were a lot younger than they are today.
    It took me several readings to ‘catch’ it. Usually I’m at my best at 0500 hours but the unwillingness of my brain to function rapidly this morning is beginning to make me wonder…!
    Fifty Years ago today, I was on tenterhooks wondering if Soviet — and perhaps even other Warsaw Pact countries — were going to sweep into Romania where I was working at the time. The Prague Spring was in full bloom and Romania was not supporting the Kremlin’s denunciation of it.
    Our fears of an invasion were unfounded however. Only Czechoslovakia suffered directly. Romania suffered indirectly and I lived through that very repressive period and didn’t leave Romania until a year later.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      How interesting that you were in Romania and have such a direct connection to the power that the Soviet Union could impose. Even during our elementary school “duck and drop” exercises, I always had the idea they were only a precaution, that I was somehow immune to disaster, protected. I was going to talk more about that Prague Spring in May’s 50 year post. I’m so glad you told us of your 1968 memories; they’ve added a texture I could not.
      Janet Givens recently posted…50 Years Ago, AgainMy Profile

  3. Bernadette Laganella
    | Reply

    Fifty years ago I was just about to turn 19. I had my heart broken for the first time and didn’t realize in a few short months I would meet the man I would marry and share the next 50 years with. I remember MLK’s assassination vividly. I was already aware of the craziness of discrimination. Believe it or not, when I attended dances (whose dancing was fueled by Motown) the blacks stayed to one side and the whites to another and God forbid if you danced. together. I had such great hope for the future and I know things have changed but not enough and not fast enough.
    Bernadette Laganella recently posted…FEMINIST FRIDAY 2018My Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Were you still in New Jersey during this time, Bernadette? I was in East Orange, northern New Jersey, and our Friday night YMCA dances were well-integrated. But now, though I try, I can’t recall dancing with any black boys. Oh my. I’m wondering if the discrimination around me was so subtle I never even saw it. Sometimes that can be even more painful to those suffering from it. I’ll have to write a few of my high school friends and find out.
      Janet Givens recently posted…50 Years Ago, AgainMy Profile

  4. Carolyn
    | Reply

    50 years ago I was enjoying life at a lovely campus in a chateau-style university. Wednesdays were the day we went to London to the intercollegiate lectures (many great names spokes, like JRR Tolkien). We had Czech refugees join the courses and listened to their tales. We were certainly shocked by the death of Martin Luther King as it was really soon after the death of JFK and then was followed by the murder of Robert Kennedy. Music was wonderful: Stones, Beatles, The Who plus Jimi Hendricks and so many more – we were on our way to hearing about Woodstock in 1969. Clothes were fantastic too and you could make them or buy them really cheaply on a student grant. It was a lovely time to reminisce about

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks for reminding me of The Who and the Stones. Never got into Jimi Hendricks, I thought his guitar was too metallic. But Tommy … and the music of the Stones — I felt naughty without having to do anything! Thanks for the smile.
      Janet Givens recently posted…50 Years Ago, AgainMy Profile

  5. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I love that Susan has many of the same memories though continents apart!

    Fifty years ago, I think I was more caught up in family stuff and books. I remember political unrest, and my parents supported liberal candidates and were against the war, so I remember hearing this, but I don’t remember MLK’s assassination. I was reading his speeches over the weekend. Today’s Inquirer has a special insert on MLK.

    I remember seeing 2001 in a theater–I think when it first came out and then again later, maybe in college, and since on TV. My family (both parents, even though they were divorced then) –with Doug–saw “Hair” later in Philadelphia when I was in high school, so sometime in the early 1970s. Can you imagine? 🙂

    I love “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.” I think it’s my ultimate summer song. I heard something on the radio about it. It almost didn’t get released.
    Merril Smith recently posted…Faith in Spring: Haibun, NaPoWriMo, Day 3My Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Merril, Yes, Otis Redding had to push everyone connected, even his band, to record Dock of the Bay. No one thought it would take off. Shows how very talented he was. And yes, I hadn’t thought of it before, but it is a summer song. August I think. 🙂 As for Hair, do you know I had no idea what was going to come in that final scene. I really was quite naive. Thank you for reading MLK’s speeches over the weekend. I hope you included Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and his Where Do We Go From Here? My two favorites, even more than his I Have A Dream. I loved how he strategized.
      Janet Givens recently posted…50 Years Ago, AgainMy Profile

  6. Pamela
    | Reply

    You have an incredible memory! Fifty years ago – a lifetime ago. I remember the Beatles – every day the Beatles were in my life, since I listened to their songs on my little record player devotedly. I remember my first love – Paul McCartney. I remember thinking I’d never fall in love/be loved by a ‘BOY.’ (I was in high school.) I remember being chastised for wearing mini-dresses to school, and my English teacher told me I couldn’t be on the National Honor Society if my dresses continued to be so short. I remember sitting in my room with my best friend and hearing the news about MLK’s assassination, and wondering what kind of world I was going to become an adult in. I remember crying, and being very afraid.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes, those were the days when a girl’s membership in the National Honor Society was contingent on her sense of style. Make my blood boil once again. I’m now curious which way you went — longer skirts I’d guess. We were both good girls I think. Back then. 🙂
      Janet Givens recently posted…50 Years Ago, AgainMy Profile

  7. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Janet, Thanks for this trip down memory lane. All those memories from the 60s are so vivid. In 1968, I was in my first job as an RN ( I didn’t know you studied nursing and you are right, it’s not for everyone!) I remember walking down the hall during my shift after hearing of RFK’s death and feeling like the world was coming to an end. Loved the Beatles too, a ray of sunshine from the UK.Hard to believe that was 50 years ago.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes. I’ve been listening to a lot of the Beatles these past few months (got free Sirius in our new car) and realizing just what happy music they sang in those early years. A ray of sunshine indeed. And didn’t we need that. Thanks for stopping.
      Janet Givens recently posted…50 Years Ago, AgainMy Profile

  8. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — In April of 1968 I was 10.5 years old. The three things that I remember VIVIDLY are:

    1. The Beatles
    2. The Vietnam War on the nightly news on our small black & white TV
    3. Martin Luther King being shot and killed and my parents being horrified
    Laurie Buchanan recently posted…Wild and WoollyMy Profile

  9. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply

    Fifty years ago, I was mourning the shooting of MLK. A terrible day. Other than that I had been married for 3 years, and lived in a cute Cape Cod home in St. Johnsbury. I had a son who was 1 year old. I adored the Beatles, cross-country skiing, and sewing. I followed Julia Child on TV, got her books, and cooked through them. I was a happy homemaker at the time. That all changed when a few years later we moved to Danville, was bored with making PBJ sandwiches. I learned to weave, got sheep and learned to spin. Those were my HIPPY days!!
    Joan Z. Rough recently posted…The Terracotta ArmyMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I remember, Joan, this is how we met. You once lived in my town. It is still filled with sheep farmers (or goats) and spinners. We have a Farmer’s Market every Wednesday when the weather warms and they sell their homemade wares, except that mid July the last thing I want to touch is a wool sweater. Do you remember the hardware store on Hill St.? It’s a bakery now, and I had lunch there today with my mom. I hope someday you can come back to visit.
      Janet Givens recently posted…50 Years Ago, AgainMy Profile

  10. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    50 years ago I was making a home for my sweet little boy. Even though I was very young, I promised to give him a good life full of love. When I heard the news of MLK’s death I cried and wondered what kind of world I was bringing my son into.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh yes, Darlene. Many did worry. I recall dating a boy who told me then he planned to never have kids for he didn’t want to bring them into this world. I felt sad for him. It was a difficult time, in so many ways, and we are going through it again. But I think life has always been difficult for some; always. All we can do is continue to move forward, get involved, spread love, and have faith that humankind won’t self-destruct. Thanks for joining us today.
      Janet Givens recently posted…50 Years Ago, AgainMy Profile

  11. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Of course, I appreciated this post, reliving the grief of the Martin Luther King assassination and the news of the day, but the comments are WOW too. That’s the joy of blogging, isn’t it, Janet!

    In 1968 I was married and teaching school, having emerged just a year earlier from Mennonite-land. Hence, I cannot identify with a lot of pop culture. The Beatles were “verboten” along with mini-skirts. I kept up with the news of the Viet Nam War, feeling very distressed as I recall.

    I agree, fifty years ago, old people were a lot younger than they are today. Chuckle!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Marian, yes indeed. The comments are what keep me coming back. I know all the gurus say “don’t focus on the comments; focus on the subscriptions,” but I enjoy the Comments too much not to count them. Can’t say I “enjoy” the subscriptions, though I enjoy seeing new ones come in. HINT, HINT. We were both emerging from a cocoon of sorts during that time, it appears. It was the dawning of the age ….
      Janet Givens recently posted…50 Years Ago, AgainMy Profile

  12. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    I’m too young to remember the ’60’s, but am very much enjoying others’ recollections :). Of course, even as a kid in the ’70’s, I loved the Beatles. In fact, the first albums I ever actually bought were Beatles albums. My brother, Jeff, and I somehow scraped together a few bucks and sprung for a couple of them — on 8-Track, no less. I also enjoyed this: “But I think life has always been difficult for some; always. All we can do is continue to move forward, get involved, spread love, and have faith that humankind won’t self-destruct.”
    Tim Fearnside recently posted…One Big LieMy Profile

  13. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    You know, Tim, as much as I loved the Beatles, I loved them on the radio (and the TV). I never bought an album or a single. Ever. I find that rather weird at the moment. I’ll have to give that some thought as to why. I had money.

    I’m glad you mentioned the comment I’d made. Thanks. As Marian brought to my attention, I learn a lot from my commenters; in this case I learned that I really believe that. I’d never expressed it before; out it came. Writing is powerful.

    Thanks so much for joining us today. I hope your book is still coming along. Mine’s on sabbatical. 🙂
    Janet Givens recently posted…50 Years Ago, AgainMy Profile

  14. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    The Vietnam war is what I remember, last half of 68 I was in 12th grade and knew boys that graduated first half that were there or dead. Loved The Doors, playing tennis and riding my horse. I Couldn’t wait to graduate and leave home. That was finally the year my mom quit beating me.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Such powerful memories Susan. All of them. Wow. I’m curious if your mother changed that year or you did (got bigger)? I too have fond memories of riding a horse, mine included singing Don’t Fence Me In, rather loudly.

  15. Tracy Rittmueller
    | Reply

    That’s a provocative question and I’m glad you asked because it brought back an important, significant memory. I had to think hard about what I remember from 1968, because I quite young. I remember that my parents took a trip to Nashville probably in spring of 1968. There’s a picture of them standing next to Johnny Cash on the tarmac. He had been on their flight. But do I remember that? Not really; it’s their memory, their experience. I remember their brief absence and that my grandmother stayed with us.

    Fifty years ago this April I attended a birthday party, the first party I had ever been invited to because of who I was, having nothing to do with my parents. My Kindergarten classmate had invited the whole class and because I was a kindergartener, I got an invitation.

    Her parents held the party in their basement “recreation room” and we played pin the tail on the donkey, ate cake, watched her open presents–little trinkets, toys, books, candy, generic little girl birthday stuff. In addition to all the kindergarteners, she had invited a family friend who was probably ten or twelve, a sweet young man with cognitive impairment, who presented her with an African Violet. Her expression of wonder and delight as she received his gift, alongside his expression of pure joy at having made her happy, has never left my memory.

    I remember feeling at that moment (I was barely six) that I had witnessed something profoundly important and instructive about what matters in friendship. Friends are not just the people our own age who look like us and go to the same places. Friends are the people of any age, status, ability, or appearance, who love us enough to pay attention to what we like and dislike, who are most happy when they are able to delight us.

    You just planted a little seed for a poem for me to work out. Thank you, Janet!
    Tracy Rittmueller recently posted…12 Places to Put Poetry for National Poetry MonthMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’m so glad you shared your memories here, Tracey. Thank you. What an important lesson to learn at such a young age. I’m struck by the fact that you are the one who attached the meaning, the lesson to be had, in that experience. Brava

  16. Stevie Turner
    | Reply

    Enjoyed this post. I was 11 in 1968 and remember discovering reggae from my best friend Marie who had moved to the UK from St Lucia. I’ve never looked back!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Now that’s a good friend! I was 45 when I “discovered” reggae! My sons moved from my old Credence Clearwater and 3 Dog Night tapes to Bob and Ziggy Marley and I was hooked. Dennis Brown. Oh so many good ones. Thanks for stopping by, Stevie.
      Janet Givens recently posted…50 Years Ago, AgainMy Profile

  17. Michael
    | Reply

    I was in high school in 1968. I remember the death of MLK. I was at school in Australia but we were very aware of world events, the Vietnam War and all the protests that went with it down here.
    It was the year my parents surprised me by allowing me to go on an excursion to Canberra our national capital and it was my first trip on a plane.
    Otis Redding was well known to us, we had not long owned an old record player and Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay was one 45 we had. Was it really 50 years ago?

  18. […] 50 YEARS AGO, AGAIN shared by Janet […]

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