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1968: The Year That Rocked Our World

1968: Voice of the Reader

Remembering an unforgettable year.

Rosemary Mattson, 66, Eveleth, Minnesota
First Martin Luther King was assassinated, then a friend of mine died of a drug overdose. I was getting enthused over Bobby Kennedy and then he was shot. The father of my child came home from Vietnam and died in a car accident a month later. Too much death. Reading Rosemary's Baby freaked me out, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test made me want to drop out of society altogether. But I didn’t. I grew up. I became an adult. And somehow I made it through to 1969.

Anita Wolfe, 50, Houston, Texas
I was 11 years old, living in the heart of the rioting that went on immediately at nightfall when Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. My neighborhood was Binghampton, and I lived specifically at the corner of Tillman and Johnson Streets, which became the focus of a Commercial Appeal article, "Corner Refuses to Keep Cool!" I could look out the upstairs bedroom window and see the National Guardsmen with their guns aimed at me for peeking. My siblings and I slept on the floor each night instead of our beds.

One neighbor was outside throwing bricks at some of the cars. But rage wasn’t something that went on in my home. We didn’t talk about hatred. There was just intense sadness—and fear of not knowing what was going to happen to us as a black family.

LuAnn Herbert-Smith, 54, Greentown, Pennsylvania
In 1968 I was graduating from 8th grade. My brother Wayne made a special point of being home for that day. He was so handsome in his dress Marine blues, that all my female classmates were asking who the handsome boy was, was he going with anyone, etc. I never thought of my brother as “hot.”

That year my perspective on life was forced to change. New school, "new brother," the war.

Soon after, Wayne would be in DaNang during Tet. He never would talk about it. My other brother Norman was already over there. My mother's black hair became gray that year. Even though both brothers returned home, a part of all of us was affected by that war.

Norman became an alcoholic. Wayne ended up with fibromyalgia. My mother never really recovered from the whole thing. I remember growing up a lot that year.

Willa Shaffer, 59,
Reston, Virginia
I was 20, an idealist, a single mother. My youthful spirit longed to have its innocence and its natural belief in the good of humanity. When Martin Luther King was shot down, then RFK, all hope drained right along with their blood, replaced with a profound sense of despair laced with cynicism. That despair and cynicism would characterize my outlook for decades to come. That Nixon was elected was evidence, in my broken state of mind, that we were beaten, that good could no longer be expected to prevail over evil in these United States; that we could not even hope to "tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world."

Carol Custer, 63, San Clemente, California
1968 was the year I graduated from college. Apart from all the important social and political changes taking place, I was more concerned with how my own life was going to change. I was vaguely aware of the political climate and yet not really a part of it. I was against the war in Vietnam not because I understood anything about it; but because I had close friends who were killed there.

I listened to protest songs along with my beloved Beatles music. I loved hearing about the hippies in Haight-Ashbury, who were a world away from my small-town Kansas college campus. I could never have become a hippie, though. I was much too straitlaced for that. With the drug culture all around me, I didn’t join in. My friends nicknamed me “Super Straight.” I wore miniskirts and ironed my hair. I embraced all the changes of the '60s without realizing the importance of them. I look back on that “1968’s me” and realize I was a rather shallow person. I wasn’t really thinking about the world. I was thinking about me, about getting a job and an apartment, and having fun and falling in love.

Perhaps they weren’t for the right reasons, but 1968 was definitely a year of change for me.

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