It feels like we are in a unique moment in history.
When in our nation’s history have we ever had a pandemic, racial protests, a presidential election, plus law and order issues, all wrapped up into one year?
Well, how about 1968?
Perhaps you are old enough to remember the racial protests of 1968. We started building toward the climatic riots of 1968 with earlier riots – the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, the 1967 riots in Detroit.
Then Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated April 4, 1968. Riots broke out in an estimated 110 U.S. cities. Washington, D.C., Chicago, Baltimore, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, to name a few. The riots in 2020 seem quite tame in comparison to 1968.
Looting, fires, property destruction. Hundreds of people arrested in cities. The national Guard and Army called out. Even the 1968 Democratic convention was plagued by riots.
President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “A rioter with a Molotov cocktail in his hands is not fighting for civil rights any more than a Klansman with a sheet on his back and a mask on his face. They are both more or less what the law declares them to be: lawbreakers, destroyers of constitutional rights and liberties and ultimately destroyers of a free America.”
The effects of the violent riots in large cities was devastating as many wealthy people left, leaving hollowed-out big cities in financial peril. Now wealthy people are leaving the city to escape from COVID-19 and maybe not moving back.
A Republican nominee for president responded to the riots of 1968 by becoming the law and order candidate for office. Richard Nixon’s promise to restore peace on the streets resonated with the Americans who lived in the suburbs.
Similar to today, an intense backlash against the 1968 race riots built across much of America. The racist governor of Alabama ran for president, won 46 electoral votes and 13.5% of the popular vote.
In 1968, the President of the United States had a testy relationship with the media. Johnson once said, “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim.’”
If you were a fan of athletes, 1968 was an Olympic year. USA Olympic 200-meter runners John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their gloved fists in a Black Power salute while on the medal podium during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Now, in 2020, a similar protest against racism is occurring with professional athletes kneeling during the national anthem.
Japan, not China, was rising as an economic power. We agonized over what we could do about the Japanese juggernaut, potentially hollowing out our manufacturing base.
A flu, arising out of the east, this time in Hong Kong, ravaged the world. The Hong Kong flu killed an estimated one million to four million people worldwide, compared to COVID-19 virus’ approximately 1.2 million deaths so far. The Hong Kong flu spread even more rapidly than COVID-19.
Like COVID-19, the Hong Kong flu was especially lethal to people aged 65 and older. In the U.S., the Hong Kong flu killed an estimated 100,000 people – about 165,000 if the U.S. had the same population in 1968 as it has today. So far, in 2020, the U.S. has had 235,000 deaths from COVID-19.
In 1968, Florida’s public school teachers were unhappy with the state government – this time over state funding of education. In 1968, they led the first statewide teachers strike in U.S. history. In 2020, teachers are upset about the state forcing them back into the classroom with a pandemic raging and talked about staying home.
And strangely, in 1968, just like today, the stock market was going up and up.
2020 has been a rough year, but it isn’t unique, and it isn’t the end of the story.
America survived 1968 and is a stronger, better nation today, and I’m betting, regardless of who wins the presidential election, it won’t be long before 2020 will be in the rearview mirror, and our strong, resilient country will be on the upswing yet again.
Share your thoughts.