1968: A year of significant events

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This month, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many people are asking each other “What do you remember?” about that date and the months afterwards.  King’s assassination shook the United States and the world, striking a devastating blow whose impact is still felt today. The Library has several books in our collection about King’s assassination, including Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination by Clay Risen and The Heavens Might Crack: The Death and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr by Jason Sokol.
King’s assassination was only one of the significant events in 1968. Right after King’s death, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 5 in Los Angeles. For many Americans who had lived through the turbulent 1960s, this event, on the heels of King’s death, was a blow to the optimism for a brighter future that both King and Kennedy had encouraged.  Jack Newfield, a reporter who later wrote a memoir on Kennedy, wrote “We felt, by the time we reached thirty, that we had already glimpsed the most compassionate leaders our nation could produce, and they had all been assassinated. And from this time forward, things would get worse: our best political leaders were part of memory now, not hope. The stone was at the bottom of the hill and we were all alone.”

By October, emotion was showing when the United States participated in the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Two black athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, staged a silent demonstration against racial discrimination in the United States, raising their fists during the National Anthem. Their protest didn’t stop with a raised fist; they also wore black socks and no shoes and wore a patch in support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman also wore this patch in support of Smith and Carlos. While two days after the ceremony, Smith and Carlos were expelled from Team USA, they were hailed as heroes in the African-American community and this photo continues to resonate even now.   

Tommie Smith and John Carlos
Tommie Smith and John Carlos

However, not all events in 1968 were awful; On November 22, Star Trek aired American television’s first interracial kiss between Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). Kirk has this line in the episode: "Where I come from, size, shape or color makes no difference."  And, on December 24, Apollo 8 was the first unmanned spacecraft to orbit the moon, circling 10 times over the course of 20 hours. This successful mission paved the way for Apollo 11 to fulfill President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s.

The music world also had several significant events: Johnny Cash performed his famous concert at Folsom State Prison in January, the Bee Gees made their American television debut, the rock musical Hair opened on Broadway and TCB aired on NBC starring Diana Ross and the Supremes and The Temptations, becoming

Captain Kirk/Lt. Uhura
Captain Kirk/Lt. Uhura

the first variety special in America to feature an exclusively African-American cast.

If you would like to learn more about these events and more from 1968, we welcome you to explore the Library’s collections. We have created this list, which includes books, DVDs and music and are also happy to help you find more resources – just ask any of our friendly staff!  

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