1968 was one of the wildest years in our nation’s history. Icons like Martin Luther Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, Tommie Smith protested at the Olympics and man circled the dark side of the moon. While the story of this year has been told many times before, the Smithsonian Channel is shedding light on this story in a brand new way with its new documentary film “Smithsonian Time Capsule: 1968.”
CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith chatted with executive producer Linda Goldman about the year that transformed our country and how the tumultuous times of our current world can be connected back to 1968.
DS: How did the idea come up about to do a deep dive on 1968?
LG: That’s a really interesting story. Of course, a lot of people have talked about 1968. One of the things we try to do is tell stories a little bit differently. We try to approach history with a fresh lens and a fresh perspective. We were really interested in how the Smithsonian captured the story of 1968. We wanted to know what objects were in the Smithsonian collection that were important for that year. We wanted to see what they had in order to shed light on a story that a lot of us think we know, but you always discover something new when you come at it from a different angle.
DS: What was the most intriguing thing you discovered during this project?
LG: There were two things. We have a secret sauce at the Smithsonian Channel. There is the narrative and the ways we add different dimensions to the storytelling. We knew we had amazing objects from the museum to feature, we needed to figure out how to organize the story. That was a tricky thing. Things don’t happen in a vacuum, history is multilayered. In February, Cesar Chavez was having his first hunger fast in California that was inspired by Gandhi. Just a few days before then, two sanitation workers were killed, which led to the Sanitation Workers’ Strike in Memphis where Martin Luther King Jr. gives his famous “I’ve Been To The Mountain Top” speech and was then assassinated the next day. These things weren’t happening in isolation. Then, Bobby Kennedy is assassinated just two months later. It just started to hit us how fast and furious everything was happening that year.
DS: 1968 was a wild year for a number of different reasons. What makes this year unique in the grander scheme of history?
LG: It was a remarkably and massively disruptive year. If you look at an image from 1963 during the March On Washington and then you look at what was happening in 1968, the five year difference was seismic. Also, many of the things we are thinking about today were being worked on back then. Many people don’t remember the Poor People’s Campaign, Martin Luther King’s next big initiative and passion. He wanted people from all backgrounds to come to Washington D.C. to rally for economic justice. That lasted for 47 days. That’s where he was headed. Then there were the Paris Riots and then Bobby Kennedy was killed and then there was the Democratic Convention in 1968. There was a lot of clashing in the streets and early versions of this film were almost all about protests. One of the curators says in the documentary, ‘collectively the country felt like it was having a nervous breakdown, it was unbearable.’
DS: What do you want people to be left thinking after watching this?
LG: An awareness of the roots of the conversations that we are still having today. The Roy Lichtenstein cover for Time Magazine, you’re looking down the barrel of a gun. It was painted in response to the Bobby Kennedy assassination. That cover could be from today. These are tumultuous times we live in now, but we’ve been through this before. We found ways to address the issues, even if some of them aren’t completely solved yet. The conversations aren’t brand new and are ongoing. That year ended on a positive note with the Apollo 8 mission and it was the first time that man had circled the dark side of the moon and returned to Earth. Apollo showed what we could accomplish when we work together. History is fascinating.
Watch “Smithsonian Time Capsule: 1968” Monday May 7 at 8pm EST/PST on the Smithsonian Channel. The Smithsonian Channel is a joint venture between CBS Corporation’s Showtime Network and and the Smithsonian Institution.