Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Memories from 1976

By now, those of you who follow my blog know that I love history. It is not just the history of a Kansas homesteader named Isaac Beckley Werner nor the Populist Movement of which he was a part.  It is also the history that I was present to experience. Some of the readers of this blog may not have been born in time to celebrate the Bicentennial of 1976, but many of us were.
If you were a young man in 1976, you may have had the poster of the beautiful Farrah Fawcett on your wall.  When my cousin, who went to school in Corpus Christi, Texas, told me that Farrah had attended her high school, I was very impressed.
If you watched the 1976 Olympics, you were probably among the countless Americans who cheered for Bruce Jenner as he crossed the finish line to win the gold for the USA.
And, although by 1976 Elvis Presley may have had a somewhat older crowd cheering for him, and there may have been a bit more of Elvis to love, he was still filling arenas.  

You may have enjoyed these memories, but you may be wondering why I am sharing these stars from 1976 with you.  To explain, a friend, who knows my interest in history, discovered a Wichita Eagle & Beacon newspaper following his father's death, kept for all these years.  After looking through the old newspaper, he passed it along to my husband and me.  I used the three personalities from the 1976 era to help transport you back in time before quoting a segment from the front page of the newspaper our friend shared. 

The Wichita Eagle and Beacon, Sunday, July 4, 1976, a Commentary by Davis Merritt Jr., Executive Editor:

"We have been working at it for 200 years now, this nation, and after another 200 it still won't be perfect. We've been through war (and victory), depression (and recovery), despair (and vaulting optimism).  We'll do it all over again as many times as it takes.

And it will take forever, if we are successful.  For self-government is not an arriving at a constant.  ...  
For 200 years now, we have managed to keep our national course running between the unchanging and deadly rock cliffs of oppression and the open, uncontrolled sea of anarchy.  We have done it arguing all the while over just where we were in that perilous strait.  Our national mood at this moment of 200th anniversary, for instance, is clearly not one of confidence that we are in command.  ..."

Near the conclusion of his Commentary, Mr. Merritt reminded his readers to consider the achievements of America. "And look where we have come since then, arguing all the while.  ..." 

I began the blog with personalities that may have recalled happy memories, but 1976 was not all pretty pin ups, gold medals, nor love songs.  Editor Merritt pointed out that never in our national history have we managed to reach perfection.  Are you curious about what was happening the year of 1976 when we celebrated our Bicentennial?

There was a gale that caused 82 deaths and cost the U.S. $1.3 billion in damages.  A Swine Flu outbreak began at Fort Dix, New Jersey.  The Teton Dam in Idaho collapsed.  The "Son of Sam" began his murderous rampage.  The yearly inflation rate was 5.75%.  And in Viet Nam, where so many American soldiers had given their lives and bodies, South Vietnam fell and North Vietnam declared their union to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

In contrast, Apple Inc. was formed by Steve Jobs, Concord service began between London and Washington, D.C., and America's 'Viking 2' spacecraft landed on Mars, as America celebrated its 200th Birthday year.

Today, nearly 45 years since David Merritt Jr. wrote his newspaper Commentary, we continue to keep our nation "between the unchanging and deadly rock cliffs of oppression and the open, uncontrolled sea of anarchy" he described, but it isn't always easy.  As he warned, the genius of the American system depends on each of us to "have the patience and courage to steer that difficult course, rather than surrender to the rocks or the open sea."  As Thanksgiving of 2021 passed, perhaps some of us reflected on the troubled times of Covid, school shootings, and political strife and found thankfulness difficult.  Perhaps it will help us keep some perspective to reflect on what America faced in the year of our Bicentennial Yet, as Mr. Meritt reminded us, no one guaranteed that preserving a democracy is easy.  The challenges of freedom may be the very thing for which we should be thankful.   


1 comment:

Dr. Greg Atkins said...

Lyn, Thank you again for coming to talk to my history class here at FHSU about Prairie Bachelor and the populist movement right here in Kansas!

I really enjoyed being transported back to 1976. I was born in 1980, so I can't simply remember, but as a historian, I have some other means to get back there. I covered the 1970s just a couple of weeks ago for the same history class to which you presented. Like your post here suggests, that decade holds so much from which we here in 2021 (almost 2022!) can learn. Of all the decades of the 20th century, perhaps none offers quite the insights into our challenges today.

Thank you again for all that you're doing for Fort Hays State, for the community of Pratt, and for the history profession!