The 1960s and 1970s saw their share of events both tragic and triumphant. They were decades of great change in the United States and abroad, and some of the national events that captured Americans' imagination, hearts and attention provided generations of people with plenty of "Where were you when?" moments related to major news stories of the era.
If the 1960s are considered a time of chaotic change and unpredictability, you could easily identify the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy as the symbolic start to the tumultuous decade. Though JFK had served less than one term, his popularity and the emotional response that his untimely death triggered cannot be overstated. When his body was transported through Washington, D.C., a few days after he was shot while traveling in a presidential motorcade in Dallas, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets, and the leaders of 99 nations gathered for his memorial service. May 25 was declared a day of national mourning. Details and possible conspiracies surrounding JFK’s assassination continue to captivate the public.
Billed as “Three Days of Peace and Music,” the Woodstock music festival opened on Aug. 15, 1969, and featured some of the great musical acts of the era, from established performers such as The Who, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix and Creedence Clearwater Revival to up-and-coming acts such as Joe Cocker and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. An estimated 50,000 people were expected to attend, but by the time the festival began, the number had swelled to about 10 times that figure. Woodstock became known as the seminal musical experience of the 1960s and captured the essence of the hippie movement as much as any single event. Occurring a month after Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, Woodstock served as a fitting bookend to the decade.
As 1976 approached, the U.S. began celebrating its bicentennial with everything from special tours and exhibits in places such as Philadelphia and Boston to newspaper features and school and community commemorations of the 200 years since the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Parks hosted Revolutionary War simulations, and the television networks broadcast historical documentaries. And on July 4, 1976, huge celebrations featuring fireworks, parades, concerts and other events took place across the country. Every state had its own Bicentennial Commission to organize and coordinate activities. One of the biggest celebrations was the concert and fireworks show in downtown Washington, D.C.
In the summer of 1977, President Jimmy Carter was struggling with a gas crisis and a recession, and the nation was reeling from Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War. What was needed was some escapism. George Lucas and 20th Century Fox provided it with a science fiction movie that began showing in June 1977. Time magazine featured it on its cover, calling it the “Best Movie of the Year,” and word of mouth quickly turned the film into a phenomenon. Moviegoers lined up hours before a show, and by the end of the summer, the question wasn’t whether you had seen “Star Wars,” but how many times had you seen it. The movie served as a cultural touchstone for a generation and spawned five sequels and countless toys, video games and other pieces of merchandise, as well as establishing the formula for movie blockbusters for decades to come.
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