Riots swept the globe, assassinations rocked America, the Russians
crushed the Prague Spring, the hippy dream turned sour, and women and
black people fought for equal rights. It was a year of unparalleled
ferment, and the remarkable events of 1968 shaped an entire
generation. In a special issue of Review, we look at the political
and cultural revolution that took place, starting here with the
fascinating personal recollections of six key figures caught in the
eye of the storm
Interviews by Tom Templeton and Kate Kellaway
Sunday January 20, 2008
Olympic 200m gold medallist, then aged 24
Black people were, and still are, second-class citizens in America. I
saw my family members treated terribly when we were share-croppers in
Texas. Most of '68 I was training daily in San Jose, in anticipation
of the Olympics. My first son, Kevin, was born in February and his
birth made me feel responsible, both for him and for other young
black men who had children and needed to get bread on the table. En
route to Mexico City, the Black Athletic Committee met to discuss a
proposed boycott. We decided we couldn't afford it, but that each
athlete would represent themselves. I felt it was time for the young
black American male to stand up for his cause. I asked my wife,
Delois, to buy me some gloves. I didn't know what I was going to do
but I knew it was going to be visual.
I won the final in a world record time. As I walked to the podium I
decided I would raise one gloved hand in the air and bow my head in
prayer. It was a silent gesture heard around the world, and each
individual had their own interpretation of what it meant.
When the national anthem ended the boos, hisses and fingers in the
air started. I was kicked out of the Olympic village. When we got
home there was no parade, no handshake, not even a ride home. Friends
were afraid to come around to see me. I couldn't get work. I was
kicked off my military studies programme for Un-American activities.
I got death threats. No black athlete had ever stood up to the system
and said 'explain this'.
So then I had to work extra hard, and I knew I had to get on with my
education. I washed cars in the day, the only job I could get, and I
went to night school. By December I was even more broke and less
popular than I had been in January. I had been famous when I kept my
mouth closed and now I was infamous because I had opened my mouth.
But where I had thought in the past I was free, I was just running in
the direction society wanted me to.
· Dr Tommie Smith became an athletics coach, professor of sociology
and a motivational speaker. His autobiography Silent Gesture is
published by Temple University Press
Then a 24-year-old student
I was a student at Croydon College of Art when a few articulate old
fogeys in Paris - the Situationists - became the arbiters of the
revolutionary game. So we conspired to take over the college in
sympathy with what we had read about from Berlin and Paris. I knew we
were ultimately going to lose, but it didn't matter, it was the
attempt I cared about.
I remember one student meeting. This sculptor stood up and said, 'Why
can't I make my works in gold?' After two hours the professor said,
'OK, I think we've finished for today', we stood up and said: 'The
demonstration will never end.' Then we got orange juice, cupcakes and
roll-up cigarettes brought in to fortify people. The teachers and
caretakers left eventually, and we ended up camping out for days. The
general public drifted in: hardcore Maoists, anarchists and romantic
hobos just looking for places to camp out for a few days. Many people
got pregnant - it was one massive orgy. Everyone was getting stoned
and taking speed. People got scared, saying: 'If you don't sleep for
72 hours, then you die.' It became a scene.
We would take pews out of St Martin-in-the-Fields on Trafalgar Square
and see police running up Whitehall, and by sheer adrenaline we'd
break the back door of the South African embassy open and these very
gallant characters with these elegant black leather gloves flicked
Zippo lighters and threw these beautiful Molotov bottles in, and we
were off to the next site. I remember being at Grosvenor Square with
Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page. We rolled hundreds of marbles along the
floor at the mounted police. Suddenly it looked like these horses
were on an ice skating rink, and then, like Agincourt, we ducked down
and people behind us had catapults and started firing gobstopper
marbles at the windows of the American embassy, and that was how they
At year's end we decided there would be 26 Father Christmases in
Selfridges. So we all changed in the toilets and moved into the toy
department and started to give away all of the toys to these kids.
I'll never forget one little kid had tears flooding down his cheeks
because he couldn't actually hold all of these toys and take them away.
· Malcolm McLaren managed the band that pioneered punk, the Sex
Pistols. He now lives and works as a composer in Paris
Fashion designer, then 33
The King's Road was like a swinging catwalk with American magazines
and film crews shooting the street from both sides, often getting
each other in camera. Our shop, Bazaar, was on the corner of Markham
Square, and we opened another in Knightsbridge. Customers included
John Osborne, Audrey Hepburn, Bridget Bardot, Julie Christie and
Twiggy, all followed by photographers and film crew. The Beatles
often came in, Lennon to buy his cap and Paul McCartney and George
Harrison to buy for their girlfriends. Paul became tired of being
mobbed so he took to going to our studio in Draycott Avenue. The
first time he turned up one of our machinists fainted with shock.
My husband, Alexander, and I lived in our new studio flat in Draycott
Avenue. It had parquet floors and long windows all down one side. At
one end was a raised platform with a decorative stove; at the other a
look-out conservatory decorated in PVC and silver. It was ideal for
working on designs and showing collections.
I designed and developed 18 collections that year, including dresses
and undies, tights, bed linen and make-up. I liked using
black-and-white-stripe men's suitings or outrageous colours like
Colman's mustard yellow, a pruney grape colour jersey and creamy
natural calico with matching embroidery anglaise lace. And I was
working on the idea of hotpants. Fashion for the first time was about
young fashion. Before the Sixties young people dressed as though they
were old. I remember saying, 'Good taste is death - vulgarity is
life.' If you do something new, it's described as vulgar. But I love the new.
So much of the Sixties' revolutionary new ideas and talent came out
that year. The Pill created freedom. Women today can look great while
holding down the toughest careers and bringing up children. Women
have always been good at saying: 'Come on boys, no more wars, lets
get on with living.'
· Mary Quant is one of Britain's most influential designers, credited
with inventing the mini-skirt and hotpants. She has been awarded the
Minerva medal and an OBE
Feminist author, then 33
I spent the year writing Sexual Politics in New York. It was a
wonderful time. Crowds of women - a divine debating society - in
serious study, asking questions. We had meetings every night. It was
very hopeful. We thought we were going to change the world. And we
did change it a bit: an inch or two.
I remember hearing the news about Bobby Kennedy's assassination,
standing at home, ironing a shirt. My husband, the Japanese sculptor
Fumio Yoshimura, was there, the radio was on. We just could not
believe it. When Martin King died, I called all my black friends.
They were so angry. I thought I was upset, but it was hard for them
to talk with me because I was white.
I did an underground sculpture in the basement of my house about
Vietnam and capitalism: little figures who were tied up with money in
front of them; women who had turned into urinals - to represent
symbolically the US government brothels in Vietnam. It was an
invigorating period creatively but it could be frustrating too. We
had to go to hearings at City Hall investigating abortion, where we
found the commission consisted entirely of men and two nuns. Men
wanted to control reproduction: it was about social control, and it
still is. When I wrote about Norman Mailer [she dared to put his work
on the laboratory table in Sexual Politics], he responded with a
whole book against me called The Prisoner of Sex - not one of his best.
At that time we had genuine revolutionary fervour, which was exciting
and wonderful. Now, just when we thought we had tamed and changed
attitudes, women once again have grave enemies in the world.
· Kate Millett's book Sexual Politics (published 1970) was one of the
key texts of the feminist movement. She runs the Women's Arts Colony
Farm in upstate New York
Apollo 8 command module pilot, then 40
We had two years left to make good on President Kennedy's pledge to
get to the moon by the end of the decade, and we were under a lot of pressure.
Apollo 1 had burnt up on the launch pad the year before, killing
three friends, and we had no idea how the rival Russian space
programme was going. I was married with four children, and life was
exceptionally busy, pretty focused and competitive, though I remember
enjoying the song 'Aquarius' [from Hair]. I was largely immune from
the demos and the protests. I read about it in the papers but I was
involved in the space programme and we were pretty insulated.
I was back-up man for a mission to fly the lunar module in Earth
orbit. Then Michael Collins had to drop out because of an old back
injury; we were told the lunar module wasn't ready; and the CIA told
us the Russians were aiming to circumnavigate the moon. So in a bold
move we decided to speed the whole thing up by sending the service
module up to orbit the Moon - and I was on the team. It was a
seven-day mission and it went incredibly smoothly. In a piece of
serendipity we got into lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. We did a TV
broadcast on which we read the first chapters of 'Genesis'. The moon
was grey, devoid of colour, looked like plaster of Paris. I still
felt connected to humanity, although when we passed behind the far
side of the moon we were out of radio contact, and totally cut off.
When I went up to the window and put the Earth behind my thumb, it
completely disappeared and I realised how insignificant we are down
there. The Earth's a regular planet, circling a normal star, tucked
away in the corner of an ordinary galaxy in this universe that we
know of. And it's amazing how lucky we are to live on the green Earth.
We didn't know the impact of the flight on people of the world until
we got back. I remember a very quick but very pertinent telegram we
received on our return. It said: 'Thank you Apollo 8. You saved
1968.' People felt that the space programme put human problems in
perspective and that humanity would change as a result. But the mind
forgets very easily, and not too long after that people got back to
the way they lived before - wars and disruption and human cruelty.
People don't realise what they have here until they leave, and only a
few people have done that.
· Captain Jim Lovell flew four Nasa missions, and commanded the
flight of the ill-fated Apollo 13, during which he uttered the
immortal words: 'Houston, we have a problem.' He now owns a
restaurant in Michigan and lectures at universities
Student, then 20
I was a child at the beginning of the year, and I didn't understand a
lot of it. Early on I visited my elder brother, Thorwald, a student
in West Berlin, and I was shocked: all these people with long hair,
and all these demos. Then, one day, me and my father saw on TV that
Thorwald had been arrested, along with his mates Baader and Ensslin,
for burning some warehouses in Frankfurt. We were dumbfounded. So I
drove over to Frankfurt in my VW Beetle.
Then I started a photography course in West Berlin amid a tidal wave
of change. Students were living together in very big flats for the
first time. Wilhelm Reich, the psychoanalyst who advocated sexual
freedom, was very popular. The communes were havens of sub-culture,
new living practices and drugs. I saw a talk by the anti-Nazi
campaigner Beate Klarsfeld. She had just slapped the Chancellor at a
public meeting for his alleged Nazi crimes, and she was cheered. It
left a big impression, a strong woman doing what she knew was right.
At the heart of it was a radical separation of the first postwar
generation from a society that was very sticky. The establishment
still had Nazis in some top positions, judges and politicians. That
made it easier for us to step over lines, to ask for power and later
to get into violence. The other big issue was Vietnam. When young
Germans travelled abroad we were tarred with the Nazi brush, so any
opportunity to join a worldwide youth movement was welcomed.
There was a big demo on 1 May. Because I had a car they sent me to
East Berlin where communist party officials gave us loads of miner's
helmets to protect us from the police batons. On the demo students
dressed with Mao buttons and the Little Red Book in the style of the
Chinese Cultural Revolution. I remember this huge banner stating:
'The duty of the revolutionary is to do the revolution.' A very
German attitude: every day you had to show how much more radical you
At the end of the year there was a famous demo called the Battle of
Tegeler Weg where people began throwing cobblestones at the police.
At Tegeler Weg we connected with the Rockers, criminals who knew how
to hotwire cars and stuff. It was the first time there was real violence.
· Astrid Proll became a member of the Red Army Faction (Baader
Meinhof) and was jailed for five-and-a-half- years for her role in
bank robberies and fraud. She has since worked as a picture editor