The History Channel gives highlights about a past year in review. I haven’t seen one on 1968, but, based on my husband’s life story, it was a significant year in his life and in the history of the nation.
In 1968, my husband turned 16 that year. Like most of us who just couldn’t wait until we were of “driving age”, my husband was quick to get his driving license. Finally, he could drive and be legal instead of driving and hoping to not get caught.
But, he did get caught. He bought a “trike” and kept it at his girlfriend’s house. He would get on the bus at his house and get off at her house. They would ride the trike into school. That worked until he had a wreck with it. He wasn’t hurt, but it let the “cat out of the bag” and his parents became aware of what he bought and what he was doing…. not good. They made him sell the trike.
When he was 15 years old, he bought a 1959 Ford from one of the widow ladies in the church. He was so proud of that car. He washed and waxed it so that it brought the luster back to the paint and it shined like a new penny. He was so proud to be one of the few kids to be heading toward his 16th birthday with a car waiting for him to drive. He couldn’t wait to cruise downtown on the “strip”.
It didn’t happen. It seems that his parents were always in financial trouble. In part, it was because that the church paid so little. It would be hard for any man to raise a family on what little the church paid its preachers. Yet, the church paid for the house and utilities. Where did the money go?
The main reason for his father’s constant need to find work in the public was because of the many illnesses, complaints and material demands of his mother.
She contracted polio when she was pregnant with my husband’s brother. Even now, she seems to always need to go to the doctor for something and the bills to pay for her many visits causes a strain on the family budget.
She also liked “nice” things. Good furniture, nice clothes and she had to “keep up” with all that her sisters had. Because her husband believed that he should provide for her every whim, he worked in the community to earn money. Many times, it just wasn’t enough. Little has changed over the years. In their dementia, their financial fiasco has caused their sons a lot worry and many dollars to keep them from bankruptcy…. but that is another post.
How did this lack of money affect my husband? His father,without his knowledge, sold his car. My husband came home from school to find that the car was gone. So was his money. The money from the sale of the car went to pay for another outstanding bill and it seemed to not matter that my husband had purchased the car or that he had brought the old car back to a “good” condition. By all rights, the money belonged to him. It was the first, but not the last time that my husband would have things taken from him and the money used for his parents benefit or for the benefit of another family member.
My husband tried to not begrudge his parents for their thoughtlesslness and their lack of understanding, but it effected the relationship between father and son. It served to drive a deeper wedge and expand the gulf between them. It was just another brick in the wall that my husband built between himself and the things of God. He lost respect for how “church people” conducted themselves.This was a pattern that only increased over his adult life. Yet, this seems “normal” for the bitter year of 1968. There was so much anger and resentment that reflected in my husband and in the nation.
The other night on HBO, I watched the movie, “Remember the Titans”. It is a movie about a white high school football team and how integration came to this southern small town and how the whites verses blacks dealt with the Federal mandate.
The movie is based on a true story and it reflected many of the attitudes of the day. It showed the struggles of trust and the outside influences of the town’s people coming to terms with the mingling of blacks and whites. In the end, it was a successful year for the Titans and the town rallied around the team. The football team showed the public that living together could work if the prejudices and the hatred that was the result of hundreds of years of rejection and subjection could be understood and reversed.
I thought that it was a moving story and I enjoyed the movie, but I also thought about what happened in my husband’s high school in 1968 when it was integrated. Nothing could be farther from the reality that my husband lived by integration in his high school.
Besides orchestra, the other elective course offered in my husband’s school was ROTC. Reserves Officer Training Corp was mainly on college campuses, but in 1968, high schools offered it as preparation for those young men who would graduate and be eligible for the draft.
In his high school’s basement, a full firing range was offered and these ROTC members would regularly drill and have target practice. My husband seemed to enjoy his participation. He knew that he would most likely be drafted and upon graduation, he would enter the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant.
I am sure that my husband’s parents thought that it would help my husband and his rebelliousness to find discipline through the military. They had no idea how much this program would impact his views and his attitude.
ROTC made sense because, in 1968, the war in Vietnam was at its highest level of combat and losses. I remember watching the evening news with Walter Cronkite. The program showed the war zone. Every night while I ate supper, there were jungle scenes and coverage of the lastest combat objective. I remember listening and thinking that it was a huge price to pay for a people who really didn’t want us there.
I also remember hoping that the war would be over before I finished high school. I had several male cousins that would be eligible for drafting. I was afraid for them to go to Vietnam.
Most 18-year-old males were on pins and needles as they waited to see if their draft number was called up. The only way to be deferred from duty was to be in college or married. If you weren’t college material, (in those days, you had to have decent scores on your SAT/ACT’s or the colleges would reject your application. Colleges also were hard on new freshmen in the beginning semester. It was a common practice to “wash out” as many as possible because they knew that most were there to evade the draft.) your future included Vietnam.
For those who lived through 1968 as a mid to late teenager, the memory of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago is still real. I heard on the news about a group of people that were chanting, “Recreate 1968” as they protested outside of the DNC in Denver this year…. what a bunch of idiots!!!!
It is clear that the memory of 1968 has faded should there be any of my generation in that group. Most likely, those who were so misguided to even think about recreating one of the most blood letting period in our history are too young to remember the burning and killing of that hot and endless summer.
In 1968, the protesters outside of the DNC were calling for an end to the Vietnam War. The tempers and passions were so high that it didn’t take much to set off the violence. If anyone wants to learn more about this period of time, I think that it would be a good research project. Maybe, it needs to be assigned in our schools as a requirement to learn and remember this awful moment in time.
When the violence broke out at the convention, racial violence spread like wildfire. Rioting was not contained to the streets. Fighting broke out in the schools and college campuses. There was black on black, black on white, white on white and white on black violence…. it was chaos.
My husband was a part of the integration and was bussed to a predominately black school. When the rioting in the school broke out, my husband’s ROTC unit was called to active duty. The Army called on the ROTC to patrol the hallways of his high school. They were issued live ammunition. The government meant business and there would be bloodshed….