The year 1968 was one of turbulence, protests, and revolutions.
Fifty years later, Assistant Professor of Political Science Kelly Clancy asked, “how can events of that year help us understand the turbulence experienced today?” The issue became Clancy’s topic for her fall Archway Seminar for first-year students.
Her class, “Revolution 1968,” highlighted the political movements and attitudes in the United States. Together they discussed student protests, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, 2001: A Space Odyssey and tie-dye tshirts. Students researched media representation, music, and how events of today might echo those of 1968.
“This is such a revolutionary moment in history, having them touch base with the past gave them amazing perspective on the present and the future,” said Clancy.
In October, Clancy incorporated firsthand narratives into her class by inviting members of Nebraska Wesleyan’s Class of 1968 who were on campus celebrating their 50threunion.
“It’s a time for Nebraska Wesleyan’s roots to be joined with Nebraska Wesleyan’s future in conversation,” Clancy said of the meeting.
NWU alumni reminisced about organic chemistry and other classes, Greek life, move-in day, and Valentino’s pizza.
“I think that it was amazing to see how much in common the class of 1968 has with my students today,” Clancy said.
One alumna described 1968 as a time of turmoil, recalling her participation in several demonstrations against the war and civil rights movements, remembering Lincoln, Neb., as a very politically-energized place.
Another alumnus recalled interviewing for a teaching and coaching job in Schuyler, Neb., just before graduation. That day, Bobby Kennedy was traveling across the state, whistle-stopping. The alumnus and his now-wife went to hear Kennedy speak, recalling the feeling at the whistle-stopping speeches as, “awesome… it was crowded and well-presented. I didn’t feel or see riots or danger or anything.”
It was the first time since World War II that most Americans felt they could not trust their government, alumni recalled. There was a huge disconnect with the person on the street and what was going on in Washington. They felt refreshed with Bobby Kennedy and some of the up and coming voices in politics.
Less than two months later, Kennedy was shot.
In 1968, Nebraska Wesleyan University participated in the Lane-Exchange Program where NWU students traded places for a semester with students from Lane College, an all-black university in Jackson, Tenn.
Alumni recalled experiencing “white hate” while there. Some were discriminated against for attending the all-black university and were not served on the white side of Jackson. Sheryl (Knight) Shafer, told of a time the University Choir performed at Lane College.
“We were not welcomed,” she said. “That morning at the hotel, we were not served until every other table was filled up by locals,” Shafer remembered. “Before taking the stage to sing, many choir members felt apprehensive; then they began, and it didn’t take long for the love in that room to happen.”
“I will never forget that (white-hate) part of it, but I will remember morethe love that was felt afterwards,” she added.
Clancy’s students recorded the conversations with the Class of 1968 to create an oral history project. Their hope is that students attending NWU in 50 years can connect with history like they did.
“It gave students a sense of perspective — they got to hear firsthand accounts of the draft, of listening to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy speak, of the devastation when both were killed. These brought alive to them the topics they have been studying,” Clancy said.
Want to hear more? Listen to the oral histories, read student reflections and see photos at revolution1968.wordpress.com.
Story by Danielle Anderson, NWU sophomore.