Wagon Train ran in turbulent time
By Randell Jones
Special to the Democrat
The Daniel Boone Wagon Train made its annual excursions during a time when Americans were transforming the country, both intentionally and in response to events they did not control.
From 1963 to 1974, America saw the space race, assassinations, civil rights demonstrations, Beatlemania, race riots, the Vietnam War, anti-war demonstrations, the moon landing, the Summer of Love, Woodstock, Apollo 13 and Watergate, among several others.
The annual Daniel Boone Wagon Train was both a respite from and a marker of America's collective journey through those turbulent and memorable times that began 50 years ago.
As the first wagon train got under way in June 1963, North Carolina's General Assembly railroaded through its chambers the UNC speaker ban in an attempt to keep communists and agitators for racial justice off the campuses of the state's public universities.
Two months later, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I have a dream" speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. A month after that event, four little girls were killed in Birmingham with the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.
That November, the country was stunned by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. At year's end, the Beatles invaded American music, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show in early 1964 and garnering record viewership.
The surgeon-general announced that smoking tobacco might cause cancer. Cassius Clay, later to become Muhammad Ali, won the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship. Ford Motor Company introduced the Mustang, and Sidney Poitier, the first African-American to do so, won an Academy Award for Best Actor.
In late June, on the eve of the second Daniel Boone Wagon Train, four civil-rights workers went missing in Mississippi.
Those were among a host of tumultuous events in America. But life went on.
The second Daniel Boone Wagon Train was carried through with enthusiasm and enjoyment.
It was, after all, America's heritage the participants were celebrating in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But new history was being made as well.
During the second wagon train, Congress passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing racial segregation in America. As befit the times and the mood of the electorate, all 11 North Carolina congressmen voted against it.
Johnson sent more advisors to Vietnam, and before the wagon train convened a third time, 42,000 U.S. troops were there.
Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize, but his patience was tested by "Bloody Sunday," a confrontation of peaceful marchers by Alabama troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The Astrodome opened in Houston, and American astronauts completed their first space walk.
There were times of less consequence, too.
"Gilligan's Island" and "The Adventures of Daniel Boone" debuted that television season, and the movie theaters were filled with "My Fair Lady," "Goldfinger" and "The Sound of Music." On the radio, Roger Miller sang "King of the Road" and Roy Orbison sang "Pretty Woman."
In the summer of '65, Johnson signed the law creating Medicare, as he doubled the military draft quota.
Riots broke out in the Watts district of Los Angeles and Hurricane Betsy smashed New Orleans. The northeast lost power for 12 hours in the Great Blackout, and the miniskirt arrived in America. The U.S. began bombing Hanoi, North Vietnam, and anti-war protests spread across the country.
And so it continued year after year, the Daniel Boone Wagon Train dividing up for some the trials, tribulations and joys of life. A look back at the experience of the wagon trainers provides a convenient calendar for reviewing the events of the 1960s and early 1970s, events which transformed America before its bicentennial celebration in 1976. Another revolution was already upon us.
The Vietnam War continued. Civil rights protests continued. Race riots and anti-war demonstrations tested the ability of police and national guardsmen to maintain the civil peace. Assassins found King and Kennedy in the spring of 1968. Man landed on the moon in the summer of 1969. Rock-and-roll became psychedelic, and the Woodstock Music Festival was a high water mark for the counter culture.
What loomed ahead, still to unfold, was unimagined: the "Helter Skelter" murders perpetrated by members of Charles Manson's "family;" the near-catastrophic disaster aboard Apollo 13, Kent State students shot by national guardsmen, the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate break-in and cover-up scandal and the resignation of a president.
But these were the events that transformed the nation. These were the events that unfolded during the times of the Daniel Boone Wagon Train, 1963 to 1973.
Randell Jones is the author of "The Daniel Boone Wagon Train -- a journey through the Sixties," to be released in the spring. To order a copy of the book, visit http://www.danielboonefootsteps.com.