Shifting ethics, social upheavals and escalations in political and civil rights protests all contributed to the chaotic, landmark year that was 1968. The raging Vietnam War generated polarizing emotions and widespread demonstrations across the U.S. and throughout the world. On April 4 civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on the balcony of Memphis hotel where he was supporting that city’s striking African American sanitation workers. King’s murder prompted days of rioting in over 100 US cities with 40 reported deaths and more than 2,000 injuries. Robert F. Kennedy, a 1968 presidential candidate, broke the news of King’s demise to Indianapolis while on a campaign stop there; two months later Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles.
The United States wasn’t the only country with seismic swings taking place. In 1968, Jamaica (then an independent nation for just six years) experienced widespread public-sector workers’ strikes for better wages. In October 1968 Walter Rodney, the popular Guyana born professor of African History at the University of the West Indies, Kingston, and an outspoken advocate for Black Power, was barred from returning to Jamaica. Prime Minister Hugh Shearer labeled Rodney “a communist threat to the island’s security” and its lucrative tourism sector. As news of Rodney’s banning spread, demonstrations that began at UWI, called the Rodney Riots, proliferated throughout Kingston, which resulted in six deaths, nearly 100 arrests and damages to properties etc. exceeding one million Jamaican dollars. Fifty years ago, Dr. Vernon Carrington founded the 12 Tribes of Israel, the most liberal branch within Jamaica’s indigenous Rastafari way of life. The 12 Tribes sect helped spread Rastafari’s Afrocentric tenets into the wider populace (Bob Marley was a 12 Tribe member). But the most impactful musical occurrence in Jamaica in 1968 was the birth of reggae, characterized by faster paced, complex grooves accented on the off beat, with an emphasized drum and bass. Just like its musical predecessors, ska and rocksteady, reggae emerged from the poorest areas of West Kingston. It was a fitting music for the fluctuating times.