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‘The way it is’…….50 years later

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, a person of average means could build a new home for about $23,000.

They could stroll into an auto dealership and purchase a brand new car for under 4 grand. They could expect to spend 35 cents per gallon of gas to go in that car, and then ride around while listening to their favorite music on an 8-track tape player.

If they wanted to mail a letter, all that was needed was a nickel and a penny.

If they had a hankering to purchase a magazine, a dime and a nickel would suffice.

A good pair of men’s leather shoes sold for $7; a bottle of name-brand shampoo was 75 cents; and a good wrist watch would set you back about 15 bucks.

Have you guessed yet what year I’m referencing? The 40’s…the 50’s….perhaps the 60’s?

Nope, all of what you just read was in 1970….50 years ago; the start of my senior year in high school.

I’ve been thinking about writing this particular column for the past several months. My sentimental side begged for it, especially after learning that the majority of members of the Class of 2021 in our local area would start off their senior year out of the classroom and far removed from all the great things they’ve looked forward to, starting with kindergarten, through elementary school, and so-forth to get to this point in their life.

My wish is for a quick – and safe – return to some sort of normalcy, at least for the sake of the Class of 2021.

As I look back 50 years ago to the start of my senior year at Northampton County High School, I felt on top of the world. Seniors get to walk down the hall like they own the place….and our underclassmen colleagues treated us that way. We were the kings and queens of that time and place.

From a music standpoint, I was listening to The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin (note: the latter two died that year of drug overdoses), Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Three Dog Night, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Van Morrison, Rare Earth, Blood, Sweat and Tears, and B.J. Thomas.

But 1970 was also a downer in the world of music with the official break-up of The Beatles, the group that took the world by storm in 1963 when I was a mere child of 10 years old.

1970 also saw the celebration of the first-ever Earth Day, and the birth of PBS (Public Broadcasting System) and bar codes. It also gave us Monday Night Football for the first time on ABC with Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford, and Don Meredith in the broadcast booth.

The year was also famous for a successful failure. While we all held our collective breath, the astronauts onboard Apollo 13 managed to limp their heavily damaged spacecraft safely back to Earth.

That year was also eerily similar to what is currently unfolding in our streets. 1970 witnessed the tragic deaths of college students at both Kent State University in Ohio and Jackson State College (now a University) in Mississippi.

At Kent State, students were protesting a growing American military presence in southeast Asia, which broadened the American offensive during the Vietnam War. On May 4, a group of National Guardsmen, called in to support the local police, opened fire at a large crowd of student protesters, killing four.

Just a few days later (May 15), a group of Black students at Jackson State were engaged in a protest over civil rights, which prompted the police to intervene after reports of rocks being thrown at passing motorists and several fires being set. At some point, in front of a women’s dorm on campus, police opened fire, killing two students (one reportedly was in high school).

There were no arrests of law enforcement officers, despite the findings of a Presidential Commission on Campus Unrest that deemed the actions of the officers was, “unreasonable, unjustified overreaction.”

Stealing a line from the late, great Walter Cronkite (who, back in my day, was the well-respected and highly trusted anchorman for the CBS Evening News….at a time where the news was shared without drawing political lines in the sand), “And that’s the way it is.”

From what I see between the “way it is” over the course of 1970-2020, we still have strong passions for which we are willing to protest for or against; our divide today comes through a lack of knowledge (or a refusal to learn) of the opposing side’s belief, which drives the majority of the uninformed to put on blinders and only believe what they are told, often from disreputable sources.

Without the World Wide Web back in 1970, we didn’t have the means to perform research from both sides of an issue. Today, there’s no excuse not to.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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