The Sixties

The Beatles made their first appearance in America in 1964 on the "The Ed Sullivan Show."
The Beatles made their first appearance in America in 1964 on the “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

It’s late to mention something that started on May 29, but CNN’s original series “The Sixties” is wonderful television. Whether it’s because I was there and old enough to be in the middle of it all, or because the perspective of fifty years now makes it fascinating, I’ve been enthralled.

I graduated from high school in 1961, so was old enough to be out and about and caught up in it all, but at the same time, it was a little like not being able to see the forest for the trees. The series is chock full of information I’d either forgotten or never knew and relates it with an objectivity I’ve found enlightening.

1968 was a particularly chaotic, unforgettable year with the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, rioting at the Democratic National Convention, and the first Apollo flight around the moon. In the middle of it all, my son was born. He’s never really appreciated why it was such a memorable year.

Anyway, whatever your reason might be for having an interest in the ’60s, I recommend the series. CNN is rerunning the episodes a lot, and I imagine by now it’s also available on On Demand, Netflix, or elsewhere.

There’s a more detailed overview at The episodes are as follows:

Episode 1: Television Comes of Age (May 29)
Episode 2: The World on the Brink (June 5)
Episode 3: The Assassination of Kennedy (June 12)
Episode 4: The War in Vietnam (June 19)
Episode 5: A Long March to Freedom (June 26)
Episode 6: The British Invasion (July 10)
Episode 7: The Space Race (July 24)
Episode 8: 1968 (July 31)
Episode 9: The Times They are A-Changin’ (August 7)
Episode 10: Sex, Drugs, and Rock N’ Roll (August 14)

"Earthrise" -- Photo taken by the Apollo 8 crew in December 1968, showing Earth for the first time as it appears from deep space
“Earthrise” — Photo taken by the Apollo 8 crew in December 1968, showing Earth for the first time as it appears from deep space.

23 thoughts on “The Sixties

  1. 1968 was the year I graduated from the University of Maryland. I know exactly what you mean, “it was a little like not being able to see the forest for the trees.” It seemed to be a natural progression of the preceding five years’ events, while at the same time I wondered if the country could take any more divisiveness without coming apart.

    President Johnson had effectively abdicated the presidency in March; Martin Luther King, assassinated in April. I have always remembered one poignant moment on a sunny June morning as I walked back to my dorm from taking a final exam and encountered a dorm-mate who lived across the hall, on his way to his own exam. I asked “Did you here the news? Kennedy was shot.” He sort of chuckled as he passed, and I said, “Chuck – Robert Kennedy. I’m not joking.” And he burst into tears.

    1. I really wondered if the country was just blowing apart. With the assassinations, the riots, and all, it just seemed like everything was coming unglued, like America was spinning into anarchy. I had to jog my memory about who shot RFK. Was surprised to find Sirhan Sirhan is still alive, doing life in Calif. He was a Palestinian Christian born in Jerusalem and hated RFK for supporting Israel. I didn’t remember that at all.

  2. Always felt like in some manner or fashion I missed a lot of the sixties. I was in the military from mid 1961 to late 1968 so in many respects you find yourself somewhat insulated from the same life you would have lived out as a civilian. On the other hand of course, you can find yourself being more up close and personal with certain events such as documented in your post’s listed Episodes 02, 03 and of course 04.

    It was indeed an amazing decade and I agree, the subject episodes are certainly worth viewing. I’m not sure any decade since has been as chocked full of as many history making events.

    1. I’ve thought the same thing — that no decade in my adult life has been so full of critical, historical issues. All that in addition to the most significant events in my personal life. I’ve never been as excited and proud to be an American as I was during the space race and moon landings. Or as happy as when my son was born. Or as terrified as during the Cuban missile crisis.

    1. I’ve wondered what it must look like to the younger generations who didn’t actually live through it. Are you as awe-struck by the moon landing? Is teetering on the verge of nuclear war just the start of a good sci fi movie? Do the hippies seem quaint? Are the assassinations just more names and dates to memorize for a history exam?

  3. I can fully appreciate how malleable history is and how its perspective changes with time. Like Alan G, I was insulated from much of the sixties by military service. Being in the Navy was like a cultural cocoon. There was little time to read and reflect. Ironic isn’t it? When you’re fighting a war, there’s no time to actually think about it.

    Soon after I retired from my second career in 1999, one of the things I did was take down from my shelf William Manchester’s brilliant two-volume history, The Glory and the Dream. I had bought them at a yard sale some years before. It spans most of the author’s life, from 1932 to the mid 1970’s, and I was surprised at how much I had missed and how so many of my perceptions at the time had been wrong. Manchester was that rare historian whose insight went far deeper than chronology and clarified everything. I miss him.

    It continues. While exercising at the Y a couple of months ago I listened to a pod-cast retrospective about the Kent State massacre in 1970 and it significantly changed my understanding of what had happened and why. Forty years from now I’m confident that the Obama years will also look much different through the lens of history. I really regret that I won’t be reading it.

    1. Offhand my only memory of Kent State is that one iconic photo of the screaming girl kneeling by a fallen student. And vague memories about a student demonstration, the National Guard being called in, and then a confused order or misunderstanding of some kind that caused the troops to start firing. Also maybe some question about whether they should have had or knew they had live ammunition? Now that you’ve raised the issue, I’ll have to go read up on it.

      I imagine 50 years of perspective on any decade we’ve lived through would be interesting. But I tend to doubt any would be as interesting as the ’60s. The ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s all kind of blur together in my mind.

    1. For someone your age, it’s probably just another bunch of history documentaries. Just as the Forties and earlier would be to me. At least CNN seems to be trying hard to be factual. So many TV “documentaries” pretending to be factual are actually one person’s opinion and not a widely held view.

      1. Actually, I don’t see it that way at all my friend. In fact, I’m kind of upset with myself for having been unable to sit through an entire episode. It’s just that my memories of the sixties are so painful that I haven’t been able to see past them to focus on the show…

          1. My memories of the sixties like Izaak Mak’s are not happy ones, many are painful but I can now remember them usually with sadness and not too much pain.

            Strangely my happiest memories are from the 40’s living in London during the war.

          2. Blog? Hell, you should probably be writing a book. As for blogging, there will always be people eager to disagree with you, insult you, call you a looney, etc. Fortunately, they don’t seem to have found me yet, but sooner or later they will. Just remember, with WordPress you can always delete their comments and/or block them completely. So don’t let that keep you from writing.

  4. The 60s are like the an epic blockbuster. Music, clothes, politics, social unrest, social change. There really hasn’t been a decade like it since. So many historic events happened in that 10 year period that I think that’s why we keep coming back to it. In movies, books, fashion, music. In terms of modern American culture, it was the It decade.

  5. For me, the sixties were a personal time of conflict and confusion. I always was interested in politics because my parents were and we kids participated in their discussions. As a young adult in the 60s, I was unsure about staying with my parents’ progressive Republican attitudes, moving further right to positions most of my employers and work associates held, or going completely the other way as a newly minted liberal.

    It took me many years to sort things out. It seemed there was a shock a day throughout much of the decade. Others probably had similar journeys.

    1. The hippies, Vietnam, women’s lib, civil rights, space race, Cold War, British Invasion — just another decade. Not. A crazy, confusing time to be trying to figure out who you were and your place in the adult world. For me it spanned the years from high school graduation through college, marriage and birth of child. Years of change for most young people, but in a world that was also rapidly changing, it was hard to find one’s footing.

... and that's my two cents