By Cindy Allen
On the celebration of Christ’s birth in the year 1968, a lunar orbiter circled the heavens providing the manned crew an awesome sight of the earth.
Apollo 8, the first manned mission to orbit the moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968, with astronauts Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders. Lovell proclaimed “the vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on earth.”
While the astronauts were in awe of the vastness of space, down below on that beautiful blue planet, civilizations were changing. The culture of the United States was undergoing immense evolution from an age of innocence to an age of culture clashes — between men and women, blacks and whites and young and old.
When we think of 1968, we think of civil rights, hippies, the Vietnam War, space exploration and an explosion of new music and new expressions, the likes of which many in the United States had never seen before.
The year started off in a humorous way with the premier of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In on NBC. While Americans struggled with growing involvement in the war in Vietnam and civil rights disturbances, the year turned more violent and deadly beginning in the spring.
As he stood on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.,, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down by an assassin. That act would begin a series of riots and uprisings in American cities for several days and months afterward.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an aspiring presidential candidate and brother of slain President John F. Kennedy, broke the news of King’s death himself to crowds in Detroit.
On April 6, a shoot-out between Black Panthers and Oakland, Calif., police resulted in several deaths.
The spring was also a time of unrest on major U.S. college campuses. On April 26, students seized the administration building at Ohio State. Black students were angered when a white bus driver was not immediately fired for reprimanding a black student on a campus bus.
The nation was again stunned by violence when Kennedy, who had just won the California primary in early June, was gunned down in a pantry at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He would die the next day of his wounds.
The country mourned the loss of another Kennedy, and really the loss of innocence. He was shot by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant. The solemness and sadness of the event penetrated the nation as Kennedy’s body traveled by train from New York City to Washington D.C. Mourners lined the tracks along the way to salute the fallen senator.
Turmoil continued through the spring and summer. Race riots continued in the summer in Gary, Ind., and Miami, Fla.
The U.S. Democratic Convention opened in Chicago Aug. 21. It was a tumultuous occasion following the assassination of candidate Kennedy and the widespread protests against the Vietnam War. Protesters and police clashed on several occasions at the convention, an event widely publicized by the mass media on hand.
The year wasn’t all about life-changing or breaking news events. The Beatles were very much in the news during 1968. Beginning in January, their “Magical Mystery Tour” album stayed at No. 1 for eight weeks. John Lennon and George Harrison and their wives flew to India for transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which inspired many songs for their upcoming White Album.
That same year they won a Grammy, and they formed different music companies, including Python Music Ltd. and later the famous Apple Corp.
John Lennon sold his psychedelic Rolls Royce and Ringo Starr temporarily quit the group over a disagreement. In August the first record under the Apple label, “Hey Jude” became a hit.
In 1968, “Oliver” won the Oscar for Best Picture, Cliff Robertson won Best Actor, Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand tied for Best Across, Hepburn in “The Lion in Winter” and Streisand for “Funny Girl.”
Jack Albertson was Best Supporting Actor and Ruth Gordon was Best Supporting Actress for “Rosemary’s Baby.”
Glen Campell’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” won a Grammy for Album of the Year. Bobby Russell won Song of the Year for “Little Green Apples,” and the Best New Artist of 1968 was José Feliciano.