As a card-carrying member of the Minnesota Historical Society who was born in 1968, you can imagine my glee when I heard they were designing an entire exhibit dedicated to the year of my birth. I looked forward to it for months. My good-natured family went along with my double-dose of historical geekiness and accompanied me to the exhibit on opening weekend last month. I was not disappointed.
In the early 1970s, I was far too young to understand the shifting political climate, the Vietnam War, equal rights for women, hippies, the cultural wars and everything else that came into this world around the same time I did. It was fascinating – and sobering-to time travel back 43 years and see that world as it was at that time.
Of course, the 1968 exhibit wasn’t all about war and unrest. There were plenty of cultural references that I hadn’t seen since my childhood and brought back warm memories: the Mrs. Beasley doll, TV clips of popular TV shows, the original View Master, plaid and bellbottom pants, aluminum lunch boxes and more. The highlight of the TV area was once again seeing Family Affair and The Monkees, two of my favorite shows as a kid. I seem to distinctly remember having a crush on Peter Tork from The Monkees and Ernie Douglas from My Three Sons. Yep, I was a geek even then.
The Minnesota History Center began planning for this exhibit in the summer of 2009. Two and a half years later, it opened to the public. Judging from the lack of elbow room we had going through it, the 1968 exhibit appeared to be a smashing success. Upon entering the exhibit, we read this description of it, crafted by the Minnesota Historical Society:
“1968 was a turning point for a generation coming of age and a nation at war, and the aftermath can still be felt today. Come explore twelve months of relentless, culture-shifting, life-changing, and memory-stamping events.”
1968 from January to December
The exhibit was divided into 12 sections, one for every month of the year. Here are some memorable highlights:
January –Millions of Americans witnessed the Tet Offensive from the Vietnam War on television in their own living rooms. This war was the first one in history to be widely televised, allowing people to see for themselves the horrors of it.
February – The Vietnam War experienced the largest number of casualties to date as protests against the war grew rapidly.
March – Young people of college age began to protest the war in record numbers. There was also new emphasis on the generation gap, the sexual revolution and hippies.
April – Martin Luther King, Jr., leader of the civil rights movement for African American, is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. It only added fuel to a country already experiencing deep racial tensions. Riots broke out across the country in response to his death.
May – Before he was killed, Dr. King was involved in organizing the Poor People’s Campaign. His supporters, representing all races, took it to the National Mall in Washington, DC.
There was a seven-minute video clip of Dr. King’s last speech in Memphis as well as mourners crowding the street to watch his casket pass by. It played continuously throughout the exhibit.
June – Bobby Kennedy, brother of slain president John Kennedy and hopeful for the Democratic ticket in the 1968 presidential election, is assassinated in Los Angeles. The nation responds to violence with more violence.
July – A new conservative movement is born is response to the cultural wars. The slogan of the movement was, “America, love it or leave it.”
August – Richard Nixon receives the Republican nomination for president, while Hubert Humphrey is the Democrat’s choice. Violence between protestors and police broke out at the Democratic convention in Chicago, Illinois.
September – Feminist leaders protested the Miss American Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Tension among women began to grow, as younger women rejected the role of a traditional housewife being their only choice.
October – Several movements fighting for equal rights and inclusion for all Americans, including the American Indian Movement, Black Panthers and Chicano Brown Berets, gained momentum at this time. At the Olympics held in Mexico that year, some black athletes saluted the flag with a raised first, shocking the country and the world.
November – Richard Nixon wins the presidential election.
December – Astronauts from Apollo 8 orbit around the moon and take some of the first known photos. The following summer, Neil Armstrong would be the first man to land on the moon.
From what I could tell, my 12 and 15-year-old daughters enjoyed the exhibit also. I told them as we left that now they could understand why I am the way I am. They chuckled, but maybe seeing the era I was born in helps them understand what shaped me as a person before I became their mother.