The Sixties Are Back! (Or Maybe They Never Left)

60s Style hb-littlemixfiascomagazine1-mdn

After penning this post back in March, there was only an afterthought of the probability of a revisit and update if any other incidents or conditions mirrored the 1960s.

Sadly, that which has occurred went beyond anything that crossed my mind as a probability. It is with heavy heart that pen returns to hand, as an atrocity with a familiar tone brings back not just memories, but the grief and state of mind of more than fifty years years ago.

The 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church was the 21st in Birmingham in eight years, and the first to kill. None of the bombings had been solved by the time the 1963 atrocity took place.


I’ve left my original post unchanged, as follows, but with an addendum noting the update.

***Original Post***

I woke up one morning early in March, unable to shake the nagging feeling that it might be 1963 again, as I listened to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fight song blaring at me over the internet from a bus at Oklahoma University.  So I jotted down a few things to mark the moment, like a temporal bread crumb, just in case I had to find my way back to the future at some point.  Frankly, I haven’t been able to shake that sixties feeling since.

And I’m not alone.

Within a month, TIME Magazine featured a brilliant cover with a flashback image of 1968 civil unrest in pursuit of civil rights…except it wasn’t 1968, but 2015. Time, a magazine I’d read regularly in the 1960s (my father’s subscription), inextricably yanked me back in time. It was downhill along Memory Lane from there, as the media relentlessly covered and analyzed civil rights marches erupting in Ferguson, MO, North Charleston, SC, Los Angeles, CA, Baltimore, MD, New York City, one after another, all bearing striking resemblance to 1960s marches, demonstrations and riots alike, one or two almost indistinguishable but for the fire hoses and police dogs.

The time warp continued.

Political dynasties returned to the news, as the media ratcheted up for the push for a third Bush vs. a second Clinton, reigniting ancient neurons as if they were time capsules holding images of the photogenic and powerful Kennedy Dynasty. And this, even as the news held out the promise of imports of fresh sugar cane, hand-rolled cigars and antique cars as keys to securing a Russian missile-free Cuba — again — with the iconic Fidel Castro still in the mix, even if in name only.

A sitting Black President (genuine African American) in the world’s hottest hot seatfor almost two terms at this point still can’t compete with the best ever African American candidate for President, Dick Gregory (a 1968 regular African American). Gregory’s campaign’s printed leaflet money was as good as gold, and actually did work in vending and change machines all over America. No looting required. Just the loot, straight up. You didn’t even have to apply for it. If you campaigned for Gregory, you got baskets full of it. Those were truly boom times, as Dick Gregory literally did buy the world a Coke before the feds could stop him.

“LAPD” jeans were all the rage in the late 60s, rugged baggy denims, solid blue, with vertical prison blue & white striped pockets, designed for Los Angeles jails. We began buying into prison style clothing, perhaps subconsciously knowing we wouldn’t have to change into them after being arrested, saving time during intake. Today, saggy baggy jeans have likewise escaped their prison bonds, now at large and on the loose in public. Unfortunately, orange jump suits are now preferred attire on the inside, so the changing room is back in business.

Even as the media is being permitted to blast images of domestic police brutality, as it did during the civil unrest of the 60s, it is also showering on the American public eerily familiar news and pictures of America losing ground in land wars in Asia, and flailing in attempts to mediate peace in the Middle East, now reduced to mere hopes for some fragile stability and tenuous nuclear balance, as the world continues to steadily lose ground to it’s exported extremisms. It’s reminiscent of the Nixon-Kissinger duo forays, as they attempted to stave off the encroaching scourge of terrorism.

The 1960s media revelation of it’s own power in the new found television technology took aim at U.S. policy through coverage of the Vietnam conflagration. It altered the course of history then. It may well do it again in matters of domestic race policy and citizen-police relations as it continuously streams HD sound and 4K images of the paroxysms of poverty and hopelessness playing out one anachronistic incident of violence after another, piped into America’s living rooms and psyche in full bloody 1080p living color.

Every other movie score today is an anthology/medley of 1960s music, as the old copyrights have expired, and they’re fair game. The 1960s music of James Brown is ubiquitous from the sampling alone. Chris Brown tried a little tenderness, and it worked every bit as well as it did for Otis Redding, without changing much of anything other than the key and a few updated flourishes. Our grandchildren marveled that their grandparents were able to somehow instantly learn every word and note, despite that we can’t remember what we had for breakfast.

Journalistic voices like that of the late James Baldwin found outlet in the media and books, decrying U.S. policy of the 1960s, just as contemporary voices today like that of a young Ta-Nehasi Coates begin to find their cadence, of late sounding more like Baldwin’s deep concerns over entrenched federal policy that today mirrors or echoes or perpetuates (or all of the above) the ills of the 1960s and earlier.  Incredibly, even school segregation rears its head as an issue for the 21st Centuryto address — again.

Cannibis is all over the news, as pot heads clearly see the light — but this time it’s at the end of the long illegal tunnel dug in the sixties.  As if that wasn’t enough, messy, chaotic open gang warfare is back in the headlines. No, not the Crips and Bloods, but straight out of the 60’s Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (…er, excuse me, “Motorcycle Clubs”), up close and personal, ruling the roads again in the national news in all their former glory.  Seriously?

My head was spinning, the list of similarities seemingly inexhaustible to the extent that I readily admit it wasn’t nostalgia I was feeling.

All the work, all the lives, all the faith, all the time gone by since I left the 60s behind once and for all — so I thought.  Yet, here they are, ‘ like deja vu all over again.’

An ancient proverb I made up a few years ago, “No matter how long you’ve been driving, if you can still see where you left in the rear view mirror, you haven’t gone very far at all.”  In choosing keywords for this article, I tried entering “hope.”

LinkedIn returned the message, “No matches found.”

As I’m holding the steering wheel, petal to the metal speeding through this chaotic Groundhog Decade, it makes me wonder, “Does anybody really know what time it is?”  Some days, it feels like it’s only the beginning.


Tonight, as I prepare for bed, the 1963 memory of a terroristic bombing of a southern black church is revived, replaying each day as if I was still sitting right back in front of my grandparents’ black&white television, family members and neighbors surrounding us in her living room, all aghast at the news.

The differences between then and now pale in significance, though worth noting. A half century later, there is no mystery about this perpetrator, the motive is explicit, in writing, and the apprehension by police comfortingly quick.  A common handgun took a higher toll in human lives than all 16 of the bombings did all those years ago.  Today’s news is delivered in HD surround sound and 24/7 coverage. No National Anthem or America The Beautiful as the television stations shut down for the night. And this time, the race of the national news commentators is frequently African American.

Not a madman, as he’s being called. Not a parentally trained racist. Not a poor, misguided youth with a history of disturbed behavior that made everyone around him wonder if one day he’d do something like this.  No.

Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged with mercilessly killing nine people, the media reports are portray him as a self-radicalized extremist Confederate terrorist. He has dragged America back to 1963 to relive what blacks alive then hoped would be a South that could never rise again. After all is said and done, that has proven too much to hope for.

Heartfelt condolences are extended to today’s families and friends of those killed, outpourings of love and forgiveness ensue and the melodies of “We Shall Overcome, Someday” resound over the airways — again. Whites and Blacks mourn  and protest together — again. Even as that happens, the Confederate Flag still flies in Charleston as high as it did in 1963, and the controversy that goes back to the 1940s ensues in the media today with renewed vigor. As it roils, seven Confederate States still annually, lawfully commemorate, celebrate and honor the Confederacy, as did the young shooter. Is it nothing more than a striking paradox as a natural consequence of the first amendment? Or is it a dire warning of things to come?

It’s The Sixties 2.0.  Hate has remained a constant, despite its predominantly underground nature. The most troubling question isn’t whether the sixties are back. The parallels are undeniable.  A more sobering question is whether the fifties are warming up for an encore.


Copyright © 2015 – Robert D. Jones – All Rights Reserved

This Story was borrowed from the InclusiveWorks® Blog 


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