The atmosphere and events of 1968 may be the most comparable to today. Vietnam was a catastrophe building in the background. Then came sudden shocks, including the shootings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Cities exploded.
“In terms of my own experience, it feels more like 1968 in the aftermath of the MLK assassination, because of all these uprisings happening simultaneously,” says Eric Foner, professor emeritus of history at Columbia University and author of “The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution.”
As in 1968, black Americans today are more likely to be economically disadvantaged than white people. As in 1968, many today feel the sting of racial prejudice, as evidenced by a spate of police killings of black men.
In some ways, the circumstances of 2020 are not so much a repeat of 1968’s as an extension of them, says Robert Vinson, a professor of history at The College of William & Mary.
“Structurally and systemically, there are very clear connections and similarities and continuities,” he says.