1968: The year that changed the world?

1968: The year that changed the world?


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The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. being kissed by his wife Coretta

In this four part series, using archive recordings and music from the time, Sir John Tusa examines what made 1968 such a climactic year.

Student protests, Soviet might, assassinations, war and famine - although these dramatic events took place more than a generation ago they seem incredibly immediate and astonishingly relevant today.

Recapturing those events through the voices of those who made them, Sir John investigates if 1968 really did change the world.

Programme Three - Race and Nationalism

In America the civil rights struggle was raging, in Nigeria a brutal civil war resulted in death of almost a million people and in Britain, a Conservative MP Enoch Powell delivered an inflammatory speech that divided a nation.

From political assassination to bitter controversy and a desperate loss of life, the events of 1968 finally put race relations on the world agenda.

Martin Luther King's dream of a promised land for America's black population seemed very remote.

His idealism and non-violent approach were unique, his fight was not just about racial equality but about human dignity.

He was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th 1968.

The pent-up tide of frustration among America's blacks burst and hundreds of cities across the US erupted in riots.

President Johnson called for the violence to stop, but they killed the one man that people would listen to.

In Britain, two decades of immigration from the Black Commonwealth had created a new situation and the government introduced legislation to improve race relations.

However, a Conservative politician Enoch Powell, offered his country a different vision.

His 'rivers of blood speech' subsequently destroyed his political ambition but for the ordinary man, his words were what many were thinking.

Protests took place all around Britain and a thousand dockers in London went on strike in a stance against his political fall.

Meanwhile in Nigeria, the brutal civil war in Biafra had been ignored by the world for almost a year.

The world finally woke up to the civilian atrocities when the images of starving children and helpless refugees made headlines across the world.

More people were killed in Biafra in the first ten months of civil war, than were killed in the three years of Vietnam.

Biafra became a political tug of war and peace talks got nowhere for almost another two years.

One million lives were lost and the world, not for the first time, had failed Africa.

You can share your memories of 1968 with other BBC listeners here.

This series was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Part three was aired on BBC World Service on 15th December 2008.

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