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10 People Who Lived Through the Societal Upheaval of the 1960’s Compare It to Today

10 People Who Lived Through the Societal Upheaval of the 1960’s Compare It to Today: Spencer Grant / Getty

Spencer Grant / Getty

With 24 hour “news”, most of which is biased and based on the “if it bleeds (or features Trump) then it leads” mentality, it is easy to think that our nation is in dire straights. With constant media coverage, whether social or news affiliated, of protests, terrorist attacks, police shootings, school shootings, political revolution, and more, it may be hard to see any of the progress made in the last 50 years. That is why one person took to Reddit to ask it’s more senior members how the state of society today compared with that of the 60’s when society first experienced a real upheaval. Some of the best answers are below.


THIS TOO SHALL PASS
The riots were much worse and frankly people were actually much more extreme. Then you had the Vietnam war which divided the country and exacerbated the whole situation. We have had some bad days recently but they will pass. With today’s videos people can really grasp the consequences of negative actions.

TEAR GAS
It was much worse back then. I was 18 in 1969, living in Chicago at the time of the 1969 Democratic Convention. I was tear gassed coming out of the Chicago Public Library simply because I was young (they were tear gassing the convention rioters near the Library). I had a cop follow me to my apartment in Marina Towers. I had to prove to him that I lived there. He was trying to arrest me for rioting when all I had done was go from my apartment to the Public Library to read.

TAKING IT FOR GRAND
I think it’s important people realize how much crazier the 60s were and even the 70s to some extent. We now have cameras everywhere so we see more, but by and large we are in a much more stable position societally. Sure it could burst at any moment (the 50s were stable too), but we have a level of peace and prosperity that we take for granted because we see sensationalism in the news and think the world is coming to an end.

THE GREAT(ER) DIVIDE
I am 57 and grew up in a rural poor white family in Minnesota in the 60’s. The issues today are similar, but from what I remember society was more divided then. The protests were much larger, communication between different cultures was harder, and violence against blacks was accepted as necessary. I clearly remember my parents and their friends sitting around the kitchen table having a lively discussion/debate about the pros and cons of killing all the protesters. Some of the more conservative men kept saying the National Guard should just come in with machine guns and “mow down all the hippies and n-ggers”. The more moderate adults would argue “we probably don’t have to kill all of them, just the agitators”. The word agitators was used commonly because I never heard anyone state that the minorities might have had legitimate concerns. It was assumed that people like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King were just stirring up trouble for no reason. When protesters were killed it was common to hear people say that the violence simply had not gone far enough. I clearly remember people talking about the Kent State shootings and many said “what did they expect the solders to do?” The idea that peaceful protests were OK was unthinkable.

A FAINT ECHO
What the world and the US in particular is experiencing today is just an echo of what the country went through in the 60’s. To start with, there were three high profile assassinations - JFK in ‘63 and then his brother RFK and MLK both in '68. Talk about conspiracy theories! And then there was a real and very active bloc of communist nations working to undermine the US. The cold war lasted from 1945 until the USSR collapsed in 1989. So there was a very real and daily sense of dread that hung over the country that made people see communist agents and agitators under every rock. I was in Newark NJ when the riots broke out in the aftermath of MLK’s assassination. That was some scary sh-t - a big part of the city on fire, snipers popping up here and there - screaming police cars and ambulances for the better part of three days. I saw a parade of National Guard vehicles streaming into the city because the cops were outmatched. People were angry - beyond pissed off - they just wanted to strike out. The civil rights movement had brought the injustice and violence of American racism into the TVs and daily lives of the public at large. Everybody was upset and on edge - whites because “those uppity n-ggers” were upsetting the status quo - and blacks because, well, the obvious. But the real deal on the '60s was the Vietnam horror. Every single day the news was broadcasting footage of good ol’ young white boys being shot, mangled, crippled and sent home in body bags - dozens if not hundreds on a daily basis. THIS was intolerable. Young American boys by the tens of thousands were being drafted - forcibly conscripted - and sent overseas to fight and die in the country that was no threat to us. THIS is what produced mass demonstrations across the country. THIS is what got the great masses of white folks to get off their comfortable behinds and take to the streets. And THIS is what caused the 1968 Democratic Convention to descend into a televised mess as riots broke out just outside. So you should understand that the Civil Rights demonstrations and the violence that accompanied them was going on at the same time as the mass demonstrations against the Vietnam war (America lost over 50,000 men over a span of a decade - and we lost!). We might feel that the country is on edge now, but really it’s just a faint echo of the near chaos that most of my generation lived through.

WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE BETTER
I was 14 in '68, I would say it was semi-rural North Carolina. When MLK was killed I heard lots of comments about how he deserved it. I believe there was a much larger social movement in the '60s. The antiwar movement, civil rights, the counter culture, together moved society. BLM is only a speck in history at this point. We really have a leadership void on the left now, MLK had a host of other people helping organize and lead, and many strong organizations to work with. The fact that the Vietnam war was brought into our living rooms every night, giving us a body count daily, really made people start questioning their governments motives. I remember really questioning why we always had low numbers for Americans but they would report killing hundreds of the “enemy.” I heard the same comments for politicians and citizens alike; that we just needed to throw everything we can into the war and kill all the “commie bastards.” Now it’s Muslims. We didn’t watch the Iraq war nightly with body counts, citizens are not being drafted to fight an unjust war. And it seems like we have accepted losing our privacy to fight terrorism. Terrorism has won, we fear what might happen and have taken away peoples rights just because of their name origin or other unknown reasons. We even have a presidential candidate that wants to torture people to stop terrorism, are we not suppose to be better than that?

MY GENERATION
I think things were worse in the 60’s than they are now. There was no “political correctness” then. As much as I hate those words, I do think that at times being politically correct, which has become so ingrained in us, automatically curbs some of our worst reactions. I remember distinctly going downtown with my parents to see the Pickrick restaurant that Maddox owned. That day, some black men had decided to try to be served at the restaurant and as we got there, Maddox took out his infamous ax handle and began to hit and chase them out of the restaurant brandishing it and hitting whoever he could. The other restaurant white patrons joined him in beating the black men and once outside, the police joined in and continued the beating of blacks. The police had dogs that were ferocious and they were allowed to bite and maul the black men also. The four or five black men were arrested and hauled away with no medical care after several hours (or at least it seemed like several hours to me). I will never forget it. On the ride home, my dad could only talk about how they deserved what they got, they should never have gone into a white restaurant. I can’t imagine something like that happening today. Not just to black people, but to Muslims or gays or anyone. I think as a people we’ve grown up. I especially remember the murders at Kent State. I was a junior in high school and was very anti-Vietnam. My older sister had just graduated and many of her friends (some of them I had dated) were being drafted into the Army. My parents were very pro-government. My dad fought in WWII and thought the Vietnam war was the right thing to do. When I heard about Kent State, he and I had a huge argument. I remember saying to him that I could have been one of those students that had been killed. He told me that if I had been protesting the war, then I deserved to be killed. That is how divided families were back then. It wasn’t just my family; I think most families were just as divided. The “older” generation at that time had fought in WWII and Korea. They didn’t put up with any shit from anybody and they had VERY definite opinions on everything! They were hard as steel and compromise was not a word they ever used. Having grown up with this, I think today’s “older” generation (people 50+) are more willing to look at both sides of an issue and try to settle a question without resorting to violence. Today’s “young” generation (people 20-30) think we’re old fogy’s without a clue what’s going on. You’re wrong. We’ve been there when it was much worse. Ask some questions. Try to learn from our mistakes. We made many.

LOOKS (AND NEWS) CAN BE DECEIVING
Back then, our sources for news and information were limited and more journalistic. Now, you have to work to find unbiased coverage. Everyone separates into their own source for spin and don’t take the time to understand the opposing view. Because the opposing view so often comes from such biased sources, it’s hard to stomach sitting through it, so folks naturally don’t seek it out. The same story depending on how it’s reported can be a source of confirmation bias for either side. This coupled with anonymity on many social media sources leads to harsher language and more polarizing positions. So, even though I think it was worse in the 60’s, it often feels worse now. But, the strides we’ve made as a nation - and as a world have been tremendous. We have less crime, less poverty and less war right now than we had then. We have more integration and I believe less bigotry. 

UNCERTAINTY
We grew up with riots, marches and cultural upheaval. You can’t draw a straight line and say that they are exactly the same, because the times are different, yet the issues are loosely related. Things felt like they were coming apart at the edges before and they do now. America was deeply divided then and it is now. Violence and peace were at war then and they are now. Urban and rural America lived in very different realities then and they do now. America is far more equal than it used to be. When I was little, you still found the old, worn-out “Whites Only” signs and some lunch counters were still segregated. A black President or black CEO of a Fortune 500 company was unimaginable. Interracial dating and marriage was just beginning to happen. But this is all true and acceptable for a certain segment of society. Over the last few years, America’s vile underbelly has resurfaced. It isn’t just cop shootings, it’s barely hidden racism from politicians, trolling comment sections and public acceptance of open racism. The differences are many, but the scary uncertainty about coming out the other side in one piece is the same.

KEEP UP THE GOOD FIGHT
I remember it all very well. I just want to say to my younger fellows here: keep up the good fight. It’s taken half a century to make the progress we’ve made. As many others have enumerated here, we’ve greatly diminished most of the very worst government sanctioned manifestations of racism. It will probably take at least another generation to significantly diminish those remaining more subtle but no less dehumanizing racist aspects of our culture. Keep your eyes on the prize.


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