By Steve Flowers
As we say goodbye to the summer of 2019, allow me to reminisce with you and indeed commemorate more than likely a summer exactly 50 years ago that was undoubtedly the most momentous summer in American history – the summer of 1969.
It is amazing what all occurred in America during the last six weeks of the summer of 1969.
Richard Nixon was in his first year as president. He had escalated the never-ending Vietnam War and he had heightened the Tet offensive. The war was finally heading in our direction. A July assault on North Vietnam caused heavy casualties to the Viet Cong. Ho Chi Minh would die in Hanoi on Sept. 2.
The war, which had raged for five to six years, had caused major upheavals and discord and protests at virtually every college campus in the country. It had spearheaded and somewhat created the hippie culture among a vast throng of young people throughout America.
In the summer of 1969, every hippie in America gathered in rural New York at an event called Woodstock. Woodstock was a music festival that attracted more than 500,000 people. Movies and songs have been developed during the last 50 years simply entitled Woodstock. The music festival was held from Aug. 15 to 18. It probably would be accurate to say that a good many hallucinatory drugs were partaken by the patrons during the four-day lovefest.
An unbelievable lineup of musical talent sang and played at Woodstock during the four days of love, drugs and music. Many of them were virtually unknown at that time. The list of musical icons included Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Sha Na Na, Crosby Stills Nash and Young and Blood, Sweat and Tears. If that ain’t a lineup, you don’t know the history of American culture during the last 50 years. Woodstock was an iconic event.
Woodstock was a cultural storm. However, occurring at the same time, was a real storm which hit the gulf coast. Hurricane Camille hit the Mississippi and Louisiana coast as a major Category 5 devastating and deadly hurricane. It was the second most intense tropical storm on record to strike the United States. As it raged toward the coastal borders it intensified to a major category 5. It made landfall in Pass Christian and Waveland, Mississippi early on Aug. 18, 1969. Camille caused tremendous damage. It flattened nearly everything along the coast of Mississippi and Louisiana. Camille killed 259 people and caused $1.44 billion in damages. That would amount to $10 billion in damages in today’s dollars. It happened exactly 50 years ago. Camille is considered one of the most impactful and devastating hurricanes in U.S. history, only surpassed by one known as the Labor Day hurricane of 1935.
The most momentous event of the summer of 1969 was the Apollo landing on the moon by American astronauts on July 20, 1969. This event was quite celebrated by our national media commemorating the 50th Anniversary of this summer.
The lunar landing on the moon was watched live on television by a good many Americans with great pride. Most people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when America put a man on the moon. Most Americans are familiar with the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Those were the words spoken by Astronaut Neal Armstrong when he took man’s first step on the moon in the summer of 1969.
Not to be outdone, the summer of ’69 was the motherlode of some of Hollywood’s greatest movies. Get this folks, being released and shown that summer was “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, “Easy Rider,” with Jack Nicholson, “Midnight Cowboy” and “True Grit,” starring John Wayne. He won the Academy Award as Best Actor of 1969 for his performance. “Hello Dolly,” took Broadway by storm.
On Aug. 9, the sensational murder of actress Sharon Tate at the hands of Charles Manson occurred in Beverly Hills, California.
The summer of 1969 was truly one for the record books. It was 50 years ago, can you believe it?
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.