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HISTORY FACTS * 7 Ways the Year 1968 Changed America *

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HISTORY FACTS * 7 Ways the Year 1968 Changed America * Empty HISTORY FACTS * 7 Ways the Year 1968 Changed America *

Post by Paul Thu 18 Apr 2024, 3:38 pm



It’s been referred to as the year that changed America: In 1968, the United States experienced an unprecedented upheaval of long-held values and practices that left an indelible — and still reverberating — mark on the country. Facing the assassinations of beloved leaders, protests against the Vietnam War and racial inequality, and a major shift in media and pop culture, the nation was forced to confront some of its most deeply rooted issues, and evolve in the process. While the year was marked by tragedy and division, it also led to significant progress in civil rights and political activism, inspiring a generation of Americans to fight for equality and justice, and in turn, reshape the country's social landscape. Here are seven events from 1968 that changed America.
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HISTORY FACTS * 7 Ways the Year 1968 Changed America * HF_1_1968
Photo credit: [url=https://www.gettyimages.com/search/photographer?photographer=Washington Bureau]Washington Bureau[/url] / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Richard Nixon Became President After a Divisive Election

The 1968 presidential election is still considered one of the most contentious and divisive elections in U.S. history. In March, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he would not be seeking reelection. In the ensuing months, America’s opposition to the Vietnam War escalated, and the stunning assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy sent the country into angry unrest. An already tense political climate was thrown into chaos when anti-war protesters clashed with police outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In the end, a fraught and uninspiring race between Republican candidate Richard Nixon, Democrat Hubert Humphrey, and segregationist George Wallace ended in a victory for Nixon. The contentious nature of the election contributed to a deepening sense of political polarization in the United States.

HISTORY FACTS * 7 Ways the Year 1968 Changed America * HF_2_1968
Photo credit: Bettmann / Bettmann via Getty Images

Two Major Leaders Were Assassinated Within Two Months


The assassinations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4 and presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy on June 6 were two of the most tragic events in American history. The violence shocked not only the U.S. but the world, particularly as it came on the heels of the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Malcolm X in 1963 and 1965, respectively. Despite the devastation that followed — and the fear that their progressive voices and visions for the country would be forgotten — the legacies of King and Kennedy continued to inspire and motivate people for decades to come. 
King, who led the civil rights movement and helped bring about the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, is honored every year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and continues to inspire the fight for racial equality and civil rights. Kennedy, in his final years, worked to bridge racial divides, address overlooked class issues, and end the Vietnam War. The senator galvanized a new generation of voters and activists, and his influence is still felt in American politics and social justice causes today.

Related:6 Facts About the Mount Rushmore Presidents
HISTORY FACTS * 7 Ways the Year 1968 Changed America * HF_3_1968
Photo credit: [url=https://www.gettyimages.com/search/photographer?photographer=Pictures from History]Pictures from History[/url] / Universal Images Group Editorial via Getty Images

The Tet Offensive Turned More of the Country Against the Vietnam War


The year 1968 began with the U.S. still embroiled in the long-running war in Vietnam, and the American public’s growing fatigue came to a head following North Vietnam’s deadly January 30-31 Tet Offensive attack on South Vietnamese and American forces. The widespread attack during the Lunar New Year holiday Tet made it clear to the American public that victory in Vietnam was not near, and confidence in the United States’ progress overseas began to falter. It faded faster still when respected broadcaster Walter Cronkite vocally opposed the war in a national television broadcast on February 27. Mass protests against the continued involvement unfurled across the country in the ensuing months. The occasionally violent unrest influenced the country’s eventual withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973, and the youth-led anti-war protests changed the face of civic engagement, fueling other historical grassroots activism such as the growing feminist movement and the rise of environmentalism

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HISTORY FACTS * 7 Ways the Year 1968 Changed America * HF_4_1968
Photo credit: Bettmann / Bettmann via Getty Images

Two American Athletes Protested Racial Inequality at the Olympics


Despite the tragedy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s untimely death, those influenced by his nonviolent activism continued to fight for racial and class equality. One of the most memorable protests took place at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. As American track and field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos took the podium to receive their respective gold and bronze medals, they each raised a gloved fist during the U.S. anthem in a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Black Power movement. Smith and Carlos faced intense backlash and criticism from the media and the public, but their protest remains an enduring symbol of resistance and solidarity in the struggle for civil rights and social justice.

Related:6 Facts About the Mount Rushmore Presidents
HISTORY FACTS * 7 Ways the Year 1968 Changed America * HF_5_1968
Photo credit: [url=https://www.gettyimages.com/search/photographer?photographer=Bev Grant]Bev Grant[/url] / Archive Photos via Getty Images

A Miss America Protest Birthed the Image of the “Bra-Burning” Feminist


The iconic image of the “bra-burning” feminist was born in this monumental year, irreversibly putting women’s rights in the mainstream conversation. On September 7, 1968, protesters marched against the objectification of women outside a Miss America beauty contest in Atlantic City, New Jersey. They threw oppressive items such as bras, makeup, and high heels into a "freedom trash can," and while the bras were never actually burned, the demonstration ensured that the phrase “women’s liberation” gained national attention for the first time. The seminal moment was also a prescient introduction to intersectional feminism issues: Nearby, a Miss Black America pageant was also held in protest, as the official pageant had, to date, not included an African American contestant (the first Black woman would compete two years later). 

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HISTORY FACTS * 7 Ways the Year 1968 Changed America * HF_6_1968
Photo credit: Bettmann / Bettmann via Getty Images

“Star Trek” Aired an Interracial Kiss on Television


Much like the social and political upheaval that dominated 1968, popular culture had its own memorable and impactful moments that year. Given the racial tensions in the country, it was seen as revolutionary when the popular sci-fi series “Star Trek” aired the first romantic kiss between a white person and a Black person on American television, between Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). (The response was largely positive.) 
The year 1968 also marked the release of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, revolutionizing science fiction and special effects in film. The sci-fi epic inspired influential filmmakers such as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who both went on to define entertainment in the ensuing decades. (Presciently, the film also introduced audiences to friendly AI virtual assistants.) Onstage, The Boys in the Band opened off-Broadway, offering a realistic and humanizing look at the then-underrepresented LGBTQ+ community. The play is often cited as a groundbreaking work that helped pave the way for greater visibility and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in American culture.

Related:6 Facts About the Mount Rushmore Presidents
HISTORY FACTS * 7 Ways the Year 1968 Changed America * HF_7_1968
Photo credit: Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Apollo 8 Became the First Manned Spacecraft to Orbit the Moon


On December 24, 1968, as one of the most tumultuous years in American history drew to a close, NASA's Apollo 8 mission became the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon, marking a major milestone in space exploration and providing an uplifting moment for the country. The three-man crew — Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders — broadcast parts of their six-day lunar voyage on live television. Their lunar orbit, which aired in prime time on Christmas Eve, is said to have been watched by a billion people — one out of every four people on the planet at the time. The orbit also resulted in the enduring “Earthrise” photo, showing a sliver of planet Earth peering out from beyond the moon. The mission was not only a success, but a marvel that united and inspired a weary country. Apollo 8, it was said, had saved 1968
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