The 1968 Exhibit: Covering 1968

The Gun in America, 1968


Remember, instead, the Gun.



As the "gun argument" rages -- again-- in the United States, it might be useful to remember that we have been here before, particularly in 1968, a year in which gun violence seemed to be hurtling out of control (as if it had ever been "in control" before), with the very public and gruesome assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy just a few weeks later, in June. 

The RFK killing seemed to be-- for many-- the last straw, and suddenly we were ready to talk about guns and gun control.  

So, in the immediate wake of these two killings (only the two most prominent murders in a year when gun violence, especially in inner cities, was spiking), Congress passed "The Gun Control Act of 1968," introduced before both assassinations but passed in both Houses only after RFK's death on June 6, 1968.  It was primarily focused on regulating interstate commerce in firearms, but served a much larger symbolic purpose of showing united purpose on both sides of the aisle.   It was also supported by major gun manufacturers.  It should be remembered, too, that this was some years before the NRA managed to gain a stranglehold on members of Congress.  

The act became law when it was signed by Pres. Johnson on October 22, 1968.

Here are the opening paragraphs of TIME's great cover story from June 22, 1968:  

FORGET the democratic processes, the judicial system and the talent for organization that have long been the distinctive marks of the U.S.

Forget, too, the affluence (vast, if still not general enough) and the fundamental respect for law by most Americans. Remember, instead, the Gun.

That is how much of the world beyond its borders feels about the U.S. today. All too widely, the country is regarded as a blood-drenched, continent-wide shooting range where toddlers blast off with real rifles, housewives pack pearl-handled revolvers, and political assassins stalk their victims at will.

The image, of course, is wildly overblown, but America's own mythmakers are largely to blame. In U.S. folklore, nothing has been more romanticized than guns and the larger-than-life men who wielded them.

George Wallace's "Segregation Speech," 1963


George Wallace-- 1963 and 1968


Fifty years ago today, George Wallace gave a speech at his inauguration as governor of Alabama that would be remembered as the clearest and most divisive statement of Southern white segregationism, a speech that included the notorious promise:  "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."  Listen to a new Radio Diaries documentary on the speech later today on NPR, or afterwards on their website. 

The speech certainly marked a new, triumphant moment for the governor, but Wallace's "high-water mark" did not come until he was out of office and running for president in 1968.  In spite of a campaign marred by missteps (and a disastrous choice for running mate in the person of General Curtis LeMay), Wallace went on to win five Deep South states in the Electoral College vote-- the most of any third-party candidate before or since. 

Richard Nixon at 100

Richard Nixon at 100


Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Richard M. Nixon, arguably the single most important political figure of the year 1968.  "Covering 1968" has covered Nixon before, of course.  One of my favorite posts is this one, inspired by a glossy campaign "yearbook" from 1968, complete with casual photos of "RN" (as he invariably signed his name), including a shirtless one on a beach with his daughters when they were little. 


But I just found this image by the inimitable David Levine, the savagely brilliant editorial cartoonist at the New York Review of Books.  It takes off on the famous moment in 1966 when then-President Lyndon Johnson, talking to reporters about his gall-bladder surgery, lifted his shirt to show his scar.  Levine's first cartoon depicted LBJ showing off a "scar" in the shape of Vietnam.  Then he re-visited the image in 1970, with one of his famously rumpled, glowering images of Nixon, revealing his "secret war" in Vietnam.

Happy birthday, Mr. President.

Check out this YouTube video of Nixon playing "Happy Birthday" on the piano at a White House party for Duke Ellington's 70th.



Otis Redding, "Sitting by the Dock of the Bay," January 8, 1968

On this date in 1968, one of the iconic records of the decade was released:  Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay."  Redding co-wrote the song with guitarist Steve Cropper, and he recorded it in late November 1967, with some more work on it on December 8.  Two days later, Redding died in a plane crash in Lake Monona in Madison WI.   "Dock of the Bay" became the first posthumous single to top the US charts, eventually selling more than 4 million copies worldwide.  It was also one of the most significant crossover records of the 1960s, topping the Rhythm & Blues (read: black music) charts, AND the pop (read: white) charts.   At the March 1969 Grammy Awards ceremony, honoring records released in 1968, "Dock of the Bay" record earned two awards:  Best R&B Song, and Best R&B Male Vocal Performance.  (Best Female R&B Performance?  Aretha Frankln, "Chain of Fools."  And the "Song of the Year" of 1968?  "Little Green Apples."  Yes, you read that correctly.)

Check out this nostalgically innocent music video of "Dock of the Bay."

And a big thanks to my 1968 college classmates Ellen Kirschner, Josh Fogel, Iano Sereno, and Peter Wolff.

George McGovern--the last of the last

George McGovern has died-- the last living "hopeful" for the 1968 nomination for president who is featured in the "1968 Exhibit."


McGovern--who would go on to win the nomination as Democratic candidate for president in 1972-- stepped into the race for the nomination in 1968 after Robert Kennedy was killed in June.  RFK had seized the mantle of  the "anti-war" candidate from Eugene McCarthy, and it's not clear that McGovern thought at that point that he had any place in the contest.   But after the loss of RFK, and the fading of McCarthy, McGovern offered his name.  

It was a short-lived effort.  The Democratic machine united behind Humphrey, maginalizing both McCarthy and McGovern, and HHH emerged the nominee.