Issue 8

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Was Assassinated

To call the year 1968 tumultuous would be to understate things. It was a year when political and cultural divisions and debates across the country (and indeed, around the world) seemed to crescendo after nearly a decade of epic change. Among the most important figures of this period was the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. His assassination on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee, traumatized the nation and led to a national soul-searching. Time Magazine declared that his death was “both a symbol and a symptom of the nation’s racial malaise,” but it was what he did in life that has secured his legacy.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929, King was from a prominent African-American family. He was an excellent student and gifted orator who went to Morehouse College at age 15 and then went on to seminary and graduate school. Soon after receiving his Ph.D. at Boston University, he became a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama, and almost immediately became involved in the city’s burgeoning civil rights movement. In 1955, a small group of committed activists decided to contest segregation in the city’s public bus system and chose King as their leader and spokesman. The Montgomery Bus Boycott he led went on for over a year until the city’s buses were finally desegregated. This was the first real victory over the Jim Crow laws since Reconstruction; it succeeded in capturing the imagination of reformers in the south and throughout the country.

King decided to build on this success by organizing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and under its auspices, he lectured on and discussed racial issues both here and abroad. He famously advocated for the use of nonviolent tactics to resist oppression and effect positive change. For the next 11 years, as the campaign for civil rights swept the country, King became the most widely recognized face of the struggle and its most eloquent spokesperson.

He supported the lunch counter sit-ins first undertaken in 1960 by black college students; led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama; planned voting registration drives; helped direct the peaceful 1963 March on Washington (during which he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech); and conferred with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to strike down segregation laws, pass the Civil Rights Act, and ensure racial progress. His efforts won him the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. He was the youngest recipient of the award. During the last years of his life, he broadened his concerns to advocate for social and economic justice for all. He is now considered to be one of the most important figures of the second half of the twentieth century with a national holiday established in his honor.

1938

Nestle launched Nescafé, the world’s first soluble coffee, in Europe and shortly after in the U.S. Because of its long shelf life, it became wildly popular and supplied nearly all the coffee for American troops during World War II.

Archive PL/Alamy Stock Photo

Metro-Goldwyn Meyer (MGM) released Merrily We, a successful comedy starring Constance Bennett and Brian Aherne, that garnered five Academy Award nominations.

1948

The ABC radio network extended its operations to television and launched The American Broadcasting television network. It broadcasted on its first primary affiliate, WFIL-TV in Philadelphia, and debuted with the show On the Corner with host Henry Morgan.

Charles Elmer Doolin invented Cheetos, cheese-powdered, puffed cornmeal snacks. The snack’s initial success was made possible by the formation of the Frito-Lay company and remains the top-selling brand of cheese puffs.

1958

AP Photo

Elvis Presley entered the U.S. Army, interrupting a booming career that had earned him the title the “King of Rock and Roll.”

Paramount/Getty Images

The romantic comedy Teacher’s Pet was released, starring Clark Gable as a city editor for a local newspaper who poses as a journalism student so he can flirt with a professor played by Doris Day.

1968

Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, based on the science fiction short story “The Sentinel” written by Arthur C. Clarke, was released in movie theaters.

Douglas R. Gilbert/Redferns

Simon & Garfunkel released the album Bookends, which immediately went to number 1. The record includes the single “Mrs. Robinson” from the film, The Graduate.

1978

CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

CBS debuted the first episode of Dallas,  the prime-time soap opera that revolved around the wealthy Ewing family of Texas.

AP Photo/Ron Frehm

Erma Bombeck’s book If Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits? became another of this American humorist’s wildly popular bestsellers.

1988

Alamy Stock Photo/Moviestore Collection Ltd

Warner Brothers released Tim Burton’s comedy-fantasy film Beetlejuice starring Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, and Alec Baldwin.

Walmart, already the most profitable retailer in the U.S., opened the first supercenter in Washington, MO. The center features everything contained in an average store, in addition to a live oil change shop, optical center, portrait studio, and numerous other alcove shops.

1998

AP Photo

Furby, an electronic robotic toy resembling a hamster or owl-like creature, made its debut and became a must-have toy for the year.

Todd Anderson

Disney’s Animal Kingdom zoological theme park opened at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL. The park is dedicated to the natural environment and animal conservation.

2008

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file

New York-based global investment banking and brokerage firm Bear Stearns collapsed in a prelude to the global financial crisis that is now referred to as The Great Recession.

United States Treasury

The U.S. Treasury released the first colorized $5 bill, featuring subtle background colors of light purple and gray with an embedded security thread that glows blue when illuminated by UV light.