The Big 10: A look back at 1968, a year of tragedy and triumph

The Big 10: A look back at 1968, a year of tragedy and triumph

If you think the times we live in now are tumultuous, you must not be old enough to remember what life was like a half-century ago.

1968 brought a newsy mix of tragedy and triumph, with headlines about iconic leaders we lost too early and groundbreaking debuts that had lasting impacts.

This week, we rounded up 10 notable names to share a memory of a 1968 moment they still remember, 50 years later.

APRIL

Civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis by James Earl Ray, a fugitive who escaped from a Missouri prison a year earlier

HAROLD DAVIS
Pastor, Grace Fellowship Church of Champaign

"I was in elementary school when Dr. King was shot. It confirmed my belief in the unfairness of America and in my heart of hearts as a little boy, I decided and determined that I would not expect fairness.

"Some people that I know dripped with hate. I chose to lose myself in music."

Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi classic, '2001: A Space Odyssey,' debuts, starring HAL 9000, the artificial intelligence computer said to be from Urbana

MARY DORIA RUSSELL
UI grad won Arthur C. Clarke Prize, named after co-writer of the '2001' screenplay, for 1998's best science-fiction novel

"I was an anthro major and liked that opening sequence with the Australopithecines. The moon scenes and spaceship segments were more about hardware than plot or character development, which I found boring.

"And I'm pretty sure you had to be stoned to appreciate the end.

"Decades later, I challenged a bunch of engineers to name one character from all the sci-fi books they'd read. After a long, thoughtful pause, one said brightly, 'HAL.' When I began writing my first sci-fi novel a few weeks later, one of my goals was to create characters as memorable as Scarlett and Rhett. The result was 'The Sparrow,' winner of seven national and international awards.

"Full circle: 'The Sparrow' won the Arthur C. Clarke Prize and I was thrilled to get an email from Sir Arthur not just congratulating me but saying he'd read the book himself and liked it very much.

"I hate ink, but for a moment I considered getting that tattooed on my arm."

JUNE

Five years after his brother is assassinated in Dallas, Sen. Robert Kennedy is shot and killed in Los Angeles

RICH ARCHBOLD
1960 UI grad, executive editor of Long Beach Press-Telegram

"I was working at the Miami Herald at the time. Because of the three-hour time difference, I didn't hear about it until the next morning.

"I was shocked, like everyone else, that this could happen to someone I thought would take his brother's place in running the country. I agreed with much of Bobby's vision for the nation.

"I'm looking at a bust of Robert Kennedy in Long Beach, California, right now. My newspaper won the 1989 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Outstanding Coverage."

JULY

The first international Special Olympics are held at Chicago's Soldier Field, featuring 1,000 athletes competing in track and swimming

ANNE BURKE
Illinois Supreme Court justice, who as a young Chicago PE teacher organized an event that now draws 6,500 athletes from 177 countries

"Before that time, there was no accommodation or inclusion for persons with special needs.

"Although some recreational programs had been introduced for children and young adults with disabilities, the notion that they could compete and demonstrate their achievements to an audience was incomprehensible to most people.

"Having had the privilege to work with many youngsters with special needs through the Chicago Park District, I saw what they could accomplish and the joy they experienced when they were able to show others the skills they had learned. I became committed to giving them the opportunity to be like other children, to enjoy the thrill of competition, and to take pride in themselves and what they were able to accomplish.

"My most vivid memory of that bright, sunny day in July at Soldier Field on Chicago's beautiful waterfront, was seeing 1,000 children from 26 states and Canada having the time of their lives — playing, having fun and feeling good about themselves. Sadly, there were few people in the stands that day, except for parents and teachers.

"Little did we realize — or even imagine — what we were witnessing that day would become."

AUGUST

Vietnam War protesters, police clash on streets of Chicago, outside the Democratic National Convention

DAVID WILHELM
Champaign native ran Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign for president, later served as chair of Democratic National Committee

"I was 11 years old and was glued to our home television, staying up late, watching events unfold.

"It seemed like a slow train wreck. I remember Dan Rather getting sucker punched on a live broadcast. For some reason, I decided not too long after that that politics might be an interesting career path.

"I'm proud to have championed the effort to bring the Democratic convention back to Chicago in 1996 in what was a flawless performance by both party and city."

SUMMER

The Beatles release a catchy, seven-minute hit that tops U.S. charts for nine weeks and still appears high on critics' lists of the greatest songs of all time

IRVING AZOFF
Danville native, former CEO of Ticketmaster and Live Nation, topped Billboard's 2012 list of music industry's most powerful people

"I still remember when 'Hey Jude' was released. I went to buy the album the day it came out at that little record store upstairs on Green Street.

"I had walked over from our little blue-jean bell-bottom retail store next to the Brown Jug called No Hassle. We were grossing more than Redwood & Ross."

OCTOBER