Saturday, April 23, 2011

Our World Changed in the Sixties

As the fabulous fifties eased out of our lives and etched themselves into our memories of the past, a much different decade rolled into our existence. It would bring with it music from the Mother country headed straight for fame and fortune. It would become known as Beatle mania. It would change an entire generation of music as we had known it. They were only the beginning salvo fired by the British invasion.
The sixties would bring us Camelot—gold and shiny—and snatch it away early in its infancy. Assassination would take away not only a President and a leader of the Civil Rights movement, but in addition a presidential candidate. Sooner rather than later, we would begin to wonder who would be the next target.
There would be new pioneers exploring a different horizon during the sixties, and before the decade was over, the United States who trailed the Soviet Republic through much of the earlier space exploration would break into the lead in spectacular fashion.

Two Americans, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin would become the first men ever to set foot on the surface of the moon. It would be the last time the U.S. would ever trail the communist nation in space exploration.
In 1960, the election for the nation’s highest office would be a hotly contested race between two men in their forties. Richard Nixon, a veteran of WWII, and the Vice-president to Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower during his eight years as president, was the Republican nominee and another veteran of WWII, Senator John Kennedy would represent the Democratic Party.
The nation would watch debates on live television between the two candidates for the first time in history. When the dust settled, Kennedy won by a narrow margin in the Electoral College and an even smaller margin in the popular vote.
In Hawkinsville and Pulaski County, many people who went to school with this writer during the fifties were completing either a tour in the military or graduating from college. Some returned to their roots in the city by the muddy river while others plowed a path in other cities and other states. Those of us who returned home found that a part of the innocence we left behind had disappeared. Oh, it wasn’t totally sophisticated by any means, but the joyous, carefree days of our youth would never be the same again.

For one thing, many of our friends had “jumped the broom” and begun the life of adulthood. No longer were our “running around” friends available to go with us around and around the Dario-O. It was indeed a group of younger kids doing some of those same things which we had done throughout our youth. Mostly we were shut out through an age difference. No longer were we the boys who wore football jackets that were treasured by girls, rather a group of much younger boys had the desired garment. Little girls when we left home had become big girls and were not interested in old men in their early twenties.
Some of the innocence lingered in small towns versus what went on in bigger cities and university towns. At a time during our youth, we really had very little to tempt us in the ways of vice. The most we could find to do wrong was smoking on the sly or to go with a group of boys to the rear of Horne’s Drive-in to sneak a beer—which really tasted yuk, although we would not admit that it didn’t taste good.
The new youth for whatever the reasons had begun to experiment with a weed called marijuana. It would not be the last thing they would try in seeking new thrills. Their counterparts in colleges around the nation were getting into more and more drugs and though it would take some time before it reached small towns, it would nevertheless eventually come to tempt and ruin many lives in rural communities including our own.
Two of the most defining events during the 1960s that would re-shape the nation would be the Civil Rights movement and America’s full involvement in the Vietnam War. The Civil Rights movement came about as a result of attaining no results from the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in May, 1954. In Brown versus The Board of Education of Topeka, the court ruled that racial segregation in public schools is a violation of the 14th Amendment. It reversed an 1896 ruling that permitted racial segregation if the facilities which were provided each race were of equal quality.
Generally, the birth of the Civil Rights movement is attributed to a diminutive Negro woman named Rosa Parks who refused to move to the rear of a public bus in December, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. She was subsequently arrested and placed in jail for her action. A massive protest and boycott of the Montgomery public transportation was led by a Negro minister named Martin Luther King and eventually, the Blacks won the right to sit anywhere on a public bus. Though this would be the first skirmish of the movement, by no means would it be the last.
The nation would see Freedom buses set ablaze, marchers pummeled, beaten and kicked. Dogs were set upon protestors, churches were blown up with dynamite, one of which killed four innocent children, and a leader of the movement, Medgar Evers was murdered in cold blood — shot in the back while leaving his car—gunned down in his own driveway. They would see the disappearance of three young men during the participation of voter registration. Eventually, they would be found dead, buried in a dam on a farm. White law enforcement officers in the state of Mississippi were eventually found guilty of complicity in their deaths.
After many times of having been jailed, Martin Luther King, the foremost leader of the Civil Rights movement would be shot dead as he stood on the balcony of a motel—the Lorraine where he was staying—while he was leading a protest in Memphis, Tennessee. His legacy lived on and the Blacks of America finally were granted equality.