Tuesday, December 10, 2013

1963 in Review

Every December you can count on a year-in-review story from every possible news source. The other day I made the mistake of looking at the Yahoo News top 10 searched news stories. Fortunately, I started with #10 and worked up to #1, which was the Jodi Arias trial. Really? A woman kills her boyfriend and that's the top news story of the year?

I would have expected to see the Syrian Civil War, and the Boston Marathon bombing, and they were indeed there. But also on the list was George Zimmermann's trial for killing Trayvon Martin and "Obamacare" (as if it was just a story in 2013). And then later in the week Nelson Mandela's death would have ranked, but the year's news just doesn't impress me.  I've watched and read some coverage of his death and there's one fact that seems buried in all the overblown rhetoric:  Nelson Mandela died from old age!  How many of America's civil rights heroes died in their nineties?


I turned 55 in 2013, which means I turned five in 1963. I barely understood any of the TV news stories, but you really didn't have to understand the words. The pictures told the story of events that changed history and defined the decade. We would not forget any of them no matter how many hours of I Dream of Jeannie we watched.  And to be sure we didn't, the events of 1963 would be replicated in almost every year throughout the decade. We had terrorist attacks, assassinations, riots, natural disasters, and the deaths of both heroes and innocents, one after the other after the other all throughout the decade. The Sixties ended for me with the Kent State deaths in 1970. Four innocent young people were gunned down by our own military right on our own harmless whitebread Midwestern soil.  It did seem to me that things kept getting worse, until they started getting better.

And now, people on both the right and left say the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  Yes, we have problems but are things really getting worse?

Let's see how we can confirm this impression. How about comparing 2013 to 1963? Has the world really gone to hell in a handbasket in fifty years?

So although I didn't personally comprehend these events, they shaped my comprehension of the world around me as chaotic, frightening, all wrong with the good guys getting shit on over and over again.  1963 was just the beginning, at least from my point of view, because that's when the world begins: when you turn five.

February, 1963
Betty Friedan's book, The Feminist Mystique, questions the Beaver Cleaver family values of the 1950s. You mean there's more to life than pleasing your husband and sons? (There were few daughters on 1950s television) This is considered the beginning of the modern women's movement, which was about: economic and intellectual equality.

April, 1963
Birmingham sit-ins and arrests. Martin Luther King, Jr. writes his Letter from Birmingham Jail. Those who didn't go to jail faced fire hoses and police dogs. Little kids in white America saw little kids in black America being treated this way and thought "I'm not sure I like this country as much as I used to."

May 11, 1963
Bombs, probably planted by the Ku Klux Klan, except for the one at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s house, which was set by a police officer, exploded in Birmingham.  They targeted the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.  A riot followed.  Federal troops responded.  Non-violent civil disobedience was the first  casualty.  Trust in American government (especially armed forces) was the next casualty.

June 11, 1963
A South Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, sets fire to himself to protest against the South Vietnamese government.  More self-immolations would follow.  People setting fire to themselves.  Incomprehensible, and it made the mystery of what we were doing in Vietnam all the more mysterious.

June 12, 1963
Civil rights activist Medgar Evers is assassinated and the killer gets away with it.  For decades.  Why should this murder be any different from other murders of black men in the South?

August 28, 1963
250,000 people march on the National Mall and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his "I have a dream" speech. People everywhere are inspired to join the fight, fight their own fight for rights, or fight to suppress people fighting for their rights. He wanted his children go grow up in a different America. Children already growing up in that America realize how lucky they are.

Sept. 15, 1963
Four girls die when their Birmingham church is bombed.  The church was an important gathering place for civil rights protesters but it was also just a church.  Black people everywhere thought "it could be me." Little kids everywhere thought "Wow, even little kids get killed!"

November 22, 1963
President Kennedy is assassinated. People everywhere thought "wow, even the president can be killed!" Middle-class white kids thought "wow, our comfortable lives are just an illusion. What else is wrong about the world?"

November 24, 1963

The new president (Johnson) confirms his support of South Vietnam in its war against North Vietnam. People are still too upset about Kennedy's assassination to comprehend what this means. They'll figure it out soon enough.

December, 1963
The Beatles invade America, over the radio (Their Ed Sullivan appearances were in 1964).  White kids listened to "I wanna hold your hand" while black kids were listening to Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." "I love you, yeah yeah yeah" was the first pop song I ever learned. I didn't hear "A Change is Gonna Come" until just a few years ago.


In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed but it didn't solve everything.  Far from it.  Racial tension continued to plague the country throughout the 1960s, culminating in the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and subsequent riots.

For a little kid, the world seemed chaotic, unfair, and dangerous.  1963 was just the beginning of the bad news that would plague the mid-1960s.  There would be more assassinations (Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy), Vietnam got worse and worse and seemed like a bottomless pit of despair.  Napalm burned the skin off little kids and Americans massacred the My Lai village.  Demonstrations turned violent, there were more race riots, and even a music festival could come to a violent end (Altamont).

Coincidentally, 1963 was also the year that Valium was released.

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More 1963 pix and coverage:

The Atlantic had this idea before I did and they have great photos.

Life Magazine, known for its photos, captured these moments and more.

1 comment:

L.Long said...

I think it is safe to say that every year looks like a total crap out or totally great. It all depends on where you are looking from and comparing it to.
One thing I do know is that generally ---the good old daze---
are really in the daze and do not exist. As an SCA player and a Steampunker I can honestly say I cannot think of any reason I would go back to any age.