How has the country changed during your lifetime?
by mia hinkle 
Life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes! And boy is it flying by now! I was born in 1954 and it goes without saying there have been many changes to our world since. This year is a big one for me: I was born 68 years ago, I graduated from high school 50 years ago, I celebrated 40 years of wedded bliss on our last anniversary.
“The good old days were not that great, believe me. The good new days are today, and better days are coming tomorrow. Our greatest songs are still unsung.”— Hubert H. Humphrey
There is a lot of truth to that phrase. Hubert Humphrey was a hometown hero when I was a little girl in Minnesota. He served as the 38th vice president of the United States from 1965 to 1969. He was mayor of Minneapolis in the 40s and was an ardent civil rights supporter. He gave a rousing speech at the 1948 Democratic National Convention arguing for the adoption of a pro-Civil Rights plank, exclaiming “The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.” He ran against Richard Nixon in 1968 but on Election Day, Humphrey narrowly fell short of Nixon in the popular vote, and lost, by a large margin, in the Electoral College.
Life was simple when I was little. We lived on a farm near Alexandria until I was 11 years old and then on a sweet suburban street in a three-bedroom ranch home outside Minneapolis until I was 20. On the farm, we played outside from morning until dark, just darting inside to grab a bite to eat. Our mother was always in the kitchen it seemed, perpetually ready with a meal or a snack for her five children. Our favorite snack was homemade white bread with butter and jelly. I’m sure I was a teenager before I tasted store bought Wonder Bread. We had kittens, puppies, horses, cattle, and some pigs on the farm. We caught fireflies at dusk in Mason jars. We swam in murky swimming holes and crystal-clear lakes. We learned to ride bike on gravel roads. Our older brothers taught us how to shoot a rifle and ride horseback. Our dad was a farmer and a crop duster, so he would often fly us to pancake breakfasts in neighboring states in his little Piper Cub. The 1950s were indeed a simpler time and I grew up pretty much oblivious to the great big world out there. But there was a lot going on.
Here is a list of some things I have seen in my lifetime.
- The month before I was born in 1954, Brown v Board of Education was signed into law and the Supreme Court made segregation illegal in public schools, setting the stage for the advent of the civil rights movement. Before that, racial segregation was the law of the land. Little black children were not allowed to go to school with little white children in many states. Since public schools are funded with local real estate taxes, the schools where black kids went were inferior to more affluent and better equipped schools where white kids attended.
- Polio was the pandemic of the day and in 1954 the first mass vaccination of children began in Pittsburgh. Nobody picketed. Nobody protested. Parents around the world were relieved to have a weapon against the awful disease that was crippling and killing their children at astonishing rates. My Grandma Tody had polio as a child and as a result one of her legs was weak and she fell easily, so we knew what a big deal vaccination was. I got my shot in first grade. The Covid 19 Pandemic and its variants have been headline news for going on three years now, but today science is viewed as suspect by many and disinformation spreads like wild fire. There have been over 81 million cases in the US and almost one million US citizens have died from COVID since late 2019.
- In 1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy was censured by the House and Senate, bringing an end to his Communist witch hunt. Before that, the careers, livelihoods, and indeed the very freedom of virtually anyone could be derailed by the mere mention they might be Communists. No proof needed.
- I was just an infant when the words “under God” are added to the United States Pledge of Allegiance which was originally written in 1892 by the socialist minister Francis Bellamy. He had hoped that the pledge could be used by citizens in any country. In its original form it read: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In 1923, the words, “the Flag of the United States of America” were added. In 1954, in response to the Communist threat of the times, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words “under God,” creating the pledge we say today. Today it reads: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In recent years, there has been a lot of right-wing noise about the godly foundation of the United States, insinuating that our founding fathers were all evangelical white Christian men, hell bent on saving the world. In fact, our founding fathers had a “hands-off” view of religion because they had seen first-hand many abuses in Europe stemming from state religions. The right wing narrow view of faith could not be further from the truth, which is exemplified in the history of the Pledge of Allegiance: it was written by a socialist a century after the birth of our nation. It took another 70 years before the term “God” was added as an afterthought and was a kneejerk reaction to the godless Communists who were doing their own global saber-rattling in the 1950s. These noisemakers have not read their history but instead insist on repeating what they hear in their echo-chamber of their news outlets.
- I was a newborn when Sarah Mae Flemming Brown, an African American woman was kicked off a bus in Columbia, South Carolina, seventeen months before Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on an Alabama bus in 1955. Flemming’s lawsuit against the bus company played an important role later in the Parks case. Before the ruling, blacks had to stand or sit at the back of the public transportation. It seems so ridiculous to think of arbitrary rules like that today.
- Just a month old, I was baptized wearing my mother’s baptism gown on July 4, 1954. Two weeks later “Operation Wetback” was started to send back to Mexico almost 4 million illegal immigrants. Just goes to show, there is nothing new under the sun.
- The summer I was born, Bill Haley & His Comets recorded “Rock Around the Clock” and it became a #1 hit, helping to initiate the Rock & Roll craze. Soon followed the release of Elvis Presley’s first single, “That’s All Right.” It was recorded July 5 and released on July 19. Talk about simpler times! Rock & Roll became the soundtrack of the 50s, 60s, and arguably beyond.
- The year I was born the first successful kidney transplant was in the news ushering in many new developments in medical advances.
- When I was a baby, the Vietnam War was just a seedling when the Geneva Conference sent French forces to the south and Vietnamese forces to the north of a ceasefire line at the 17th parallel. The plan was for elections to decide on a government for all of Vietnam by July 1956. Failure to abide by the terms of the agreement led to the establishment of the defacto regimes of North Vietnam and South Vietnam, followed by the Vietnam War which lasted until the Fall of Saigon in 1975. The Vietnam War or Second Indochina War (known in Vietnam as the American War) was one of the most destructive conflicts in history and ended with a triumphant victory for Ho Chi Minh’s Communist forces in the most humiliating military defeat the United States has ever experienced. Over 58,000 American soldiers lost their lives and many of our Vietnam veterans still live with the physical and mental challenges they came back with. I just learned that our Pastor Tommy, who was our pastor in Carmel in the 80s and 90s, and who died of ALS at age 51, most likely developed ALS from Agent Orange used as a defoliant during his deployment. I was 21 when we finally pulled our troops out of Vietnam. The year I graduated from high school was 1972 and during that year alone, antiwar demonstrations drew 100,000 demonstrators in US cities. Boys my age were being drafted, but no one could exactly explain what we were fighting for. Hawks and doves were at each other’s throats. It was an ugly time in our history.
- Disneyland in California opened when I was just one year old and a one-day ticket cost $1. Disney World in Florida opened in October 1971 when I was a senior in high school and the price of a one-day ticket was $3.50.
- I was just one year old when 14-year-old Emmett Till, an African American from Chicago, was savagely murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman in Money, Mississippi. Again, no proof needed. The details of his murder are too upsetting to share here, but it is just one more example of the cesspool of bigotry left by 400 years of slavery and cruelties. Read the book Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis. And lest we think this was such a long time ago and surely, we must have advanced as a society since, the George Floyd legacy (2020) reminds us of something very different.
- I finished 1st grade in the spring of 1961 and that summer Barack Hussein Obama II was born in Honolulu. He grew up to serve as 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. Obama was our first African-American president. Four years later, Camilla Harris became our first woman and person of color to become Vice President. Lesson: Never give up on your dreams no matter how crazy they seem in the world’s view.
- I had just started 4th grade in Evansville, Minnesota, when four little girls were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. One girl was my age, 11 years old. It was a white supremacist terrorist atrocity carried out on Sunday morning, September 15, 1963. Four members of a local Ku Klux Klan chapter planted 19 sticks of dynamite attached to a timing device beneath the steps located on the east side of the church. Two more black youths were shot to death in Birmingham within seven hours. Robinson, aged 16, was shot in the back by a policeman as he fled down an alley. Ware, aged 13, was shot in a suburb north of the city while sitting on the handlebars of a bicycle ridden by his brother. Two months later President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Lesson: Newton’s third law is “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This holds true in more than a science experiment. Remember, change is inevitable, but progress may not be.
- The summer before 6th grade in August of 1965, my sister and I took the Greyhound Bus from Evansville, MN to Minneapolis to see the Beatles in concert at the old Metropolitan Stadium. My first concert! The ticket price was $4.50 and 25,000 screaming girls (and my cousin Tom) were there. My second concert was in 1967 at the Minneapolis Auditorium to see Herman’s Hermits. The Who warmed up for them by ending their set with their signature destruction of their guitars and equipment. My friend, JoAnne and I had front row seats and wore skirts, hose, and heals. There’s something you don’t see at Rock & Roll concerts anymore!
- I was in 7th grade in 1967 when Loving v. Virginia, a unanimous landmark civil rights decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled that laws banning interracial marriage violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Before that, it was illegal in 31 states for a black person to marry a white person, even though the US Constitution clearly states that all men are created equal. It took a couple hundred years of fights and amendments for that term to include women, minorities, people with disabilities, and people who love someone of the same sex. These groups had to fight, sometimes all the way to the US Supreme Court to be recognized as equal.
- I was in 8th grade when the first call was made to 911, a new emergency phone number service. Before that you had to memorize and dial the 10-digit phone number to police or fire departments.
- 1969 was the summer between my 9th and 10th grades when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon and made it back to earth safely. I almost watched it on TV but was too busy getting my ears pierced. But that’s another story for another time. This year a couple of billionaires sent private citizens up in rockets to orbit the earth, opening the door for a different kind of future space exploration and travel.
- I had just turned 15 the summer of Woodstock, which was the first of its kind of outdoor music festival with over 400,000 people enjoying three days of peace, love, and music. In 1969, the country was deep into the controversial Vietnam War, a conflict that many young people vehemently opposed. It was also the era of the civil rights movement, a period of great unrest and protest. Woodstock was an opportunity for people to escape into music and spread a message of unity and peace. It was a rainy muddy mess with not enough food or medicine for all the people who attended, but the hippies didn’t care. The music was great, and the atmosphere was peaceful. Three babies were born at the festival and three people died (2 of accidental drug overdoses and 1 got run over by a tractor.) If I had been older, I would have been there. For sure!
- I was 18 years old when Title IX of the Federal Education Amendments of 1972 prohibiting sex discrimination, including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity, in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Before that, Universities fully funded men’s sports but women’s sports were virtually non-existent in high schools and colleges. Today my grandchildren ask me what sports I played when I was little and are shocked when I tell them that they didn’t let girls play sports when I was little. It has taken another 50 years for professional women soccer players to be paid the same as the men; in February 2022 the U.S. national women’s soccer team won $24 million in equal pay settlement and received a promise for an equal rate of pay between the men’s and women’s national senior teams in all friendlies and tournaments, including the World Cup. Lesson: never give up fighting for justice!
- The theme of the 1950s was conformity, little pink houses with white picket fences, the 3-martini lunch, tight sweaters, lots of hairspray, and glass ceilings firmly in place. In the 50s however, the gap between the middle class and the poor began to widen. Women were viewed as the “happy housewife” and not all women liked this. Blacks were beginning to gain momentum in their quest for equal rights. All of this set the stage for the turbulent 60s to come.
- The theme of the 1960s was revolution. Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy were gunned down in cold blood; they had seemed like our nation’s bright hope for progress. Anti-war protests were common. Bra-burning rallies were gaining in popularity. The Civil Rights Act was passed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, in housing, hiring, promoting, and firing.
- I graduated from high school in 1972 and here are the big news flashes for that year: Five White House operatives under the direction of President Richard Nixon were arrested for burglarizing the offices of the Democratic National Committee and that started the Watergate scandal and the demise of President Nixon. The United States and Soviet Union signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. NASA’s Space Shuttle Program was officially launched. There was lots of bloodshed in Ireland with bombings and killings. There were more antiwar protests at home. The Godfather, The Poseidon Adventure, and Sounder were at the movies. Best new songs that year included Without You, American Pie, and Lean on Me.
- Nowadays you can watch TV at any time day or night. In the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s TVs actually went static at midnight when the transmitter was shut down. The station would play the National Anthem before the TV went to static. Programming would come back on around 6 a.m. the next day. Oh, and there were only three stations: ABC, CBS, and NBC. And look! We survived!!
- In 1970, Jane Roe (a fictional name used in court documents to protect the plaintiff’s identity) filed a lawsuit against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas, where she resided, challenging a Texas law making abortion illegal except by a doctor’s orders to save a woman’s life. In her lawsuit, Roe alleged that the state laws were unconstitutionally vague and abridged her right of personal privacy, protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The case made it to the US Supreme court and was argued in 1971, reargued in 1972, and decided in 1973 with a 7 to 2 Supreme Court ruling making abortion legal in all 50 states. As I write this, the ruling still stands, however the case will be heard again in the next year or so by a Conservative Supreme Court and it could be overturned, leaving it back to the states whether to legalize abortions. Birth control has always been a contentious topic for lawyers and politicians and I don’t see that changing. Both sides of the issue tap into emotion and as I have said before, when emotion and logical thought collide, emotion wins every time. I could not be more anti-abortion because I believe there are so many other avenues for birth control available to women and men in this age. But I believe we could do much more to support women caught in an unintended pregnancy. If men were the ones who carried the offspring, society would have solved this problem a long time ago.
- Karl and I married in 1981 and here are just a few of the things we have now that we did not have before: the Internet, cell phones, flat screen TVs, Netflix and other streaming services, Facebook, TikTok, and other social media, YouTube (2005), electric cars, wind turbines, solar panels, GPS, Zillow, DNA testing, 3D Printing, self driving vehicles, Crypto-currency, the Tea Party, Rap music, Anti-depressants, TSA security lines (2001), personal computers and tablets, video games, child car seats (1986), AIDS, accommodations for people with disabilities (1990), Door Dash, Uber, gay marriage, digital recording, and music streaming services, just to name a few. What a big difference technology has made in our daily lives!
- Financially speaking there has been a lot of change in my lifetime.
- When I was born in 1954, my mother and I stayed in the hospital for five days and the bill came to $100.50. In 1972 the average cost of having a baby in a hospital was $1,500. Today the average cost is $10,000.
- The inflation rate in 1954 was 0.32%. By 1972 it was 3.21%, today the inflation rate is 7.9% which has a stranglehold on many Americans living in poverty.
- The average cost of a new house in the United States in 1954 was $10,250. In 1972 it was $27,600, and today the national average of a new home is $405,000. My parents purchased our home in Chanhassen in 1966 for $19,000; today its Zillow estimate is nearly $450,000! We bought our house in Carmel in 1994 for $139,500; today its Zillow estimate is $390,000. Lesson: buy dirt!
- Average monthly rent in 1954 was $85. By 1972 it had increased to $165, and today the average is $962.
- The average annual wage in 1954 was $4,100. By 1972 it was $11,859, and today it is $53,500.
- The average cost of a new car in 1954 was $1,700. In 1972 it was $3,853, and today it is $47,000.
- The federal minimum wage in 1954 was $1 per hour, in 1972 it was $1.60, and today it is $7.25; still not enough to live on.
- In 1954 it cost 70 cents for a movie ticket, $1.75 in 1972, and today the average price of a movie ticket is $9.25.
- The national average of a gallon of gas in 1954 was 21 cents, 55 cents in 1972, and this month (April 2022) the national average is $4.25 per gallon. Ouch!
- One year of tuition at Harvard in 1954 was $1,560, in 1972 it was $2,800. One year of tuition to Harvard in 2022 is $51,153.
- In 1954 the Dow Jones finally recovered back to pre-Wall Street Crash high of 381, and in January 2022 the Dow hit an all-time high of 36,953. Lesson: invest in the stock market and leave it there!
- The population of Carmel, Indiana in 1954 was 1,009. By 1972 it was 6,691. Today Carmel is a growing thriving community of 101,068!
- They say that change is inevitable, but progress is not. Progress depends on what we do with the changes that come our way. If I had to choose four huge factors which have negatively affected the state of our nation during my lifetime, it would be these:
- I was 47 years old in September 2001 when the World Trade Center Twin Towers were destroyed by middle eastern terrorists’ hijacked airplanes. Over 3,000 people died and countless more were sickened and traumatized. This event forever changed how the world travels and how seriously we take security. It felt like our generation’s Pearl Harbor, and it dragged us into a twenty year war in Afghanistan. It also began to fuel anti-Muslim sentiments across the country.
- Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely! I was 33 years old in 1987 when the FCC formally repealed the Fairness Doctrine, the origins of which lay in the Radio Act of 1927 which limited radio broadcasting to licensed broadcasters but mandated that the stations serve the public interest. In the 1980s, Roger Ailes and President George H. W. Bush orchestrated its repeal which was sold as way to promote free speech and to expand radio licenses to underserved pockets of US population. Before it’s repeal, TV and radio stations were required to give equal time to both sides of a controversial issue. In theory the repeal might have been a good idea, but tragically, it set the stage for cable TV and radio stations to take one side of an issue and run with it for the sake of generating profits, not fair and balanced reporting as had been the journalism standard. “The result is one of the most powerful political machines in American history, one that plays a leading role in defining right wing talking points and advancing their agenda,” writes political correspondent Tim Dickenson. Far right media outlets have been able to successfully stoke fears across the country ever since the 1990s, leading to the election of our most controversial president in 2016 and then going on to defend the January 6 insurrection at the Capital. Over the years, the onetime Nixon operative, Roger Ailes, created the most profitable (and the least accountable) propaganda machine in history. It is a regular fear factory. Remember the old public speaking advice we heard in high school? “It’s not so much what you say, but how you say it.” Unfettered by the FCC, these groups have figured out that if you say something loud enough or often enough or with enough anger, you can say anything you want without recourse, including proven false claims. The more sensational and apocalyptic the presentation, the more viewers stay tuned in, the more money you rake in. While this may be a sound business model, it has done more to damage unity in our nation than anything else in our history. As singer songwriter Mary Gauthier writes, “People in power, they will do anything to keep their crown.”
- The white supremacist movement. What’s up with that? A bunch of guys who will kill anyone just for having a different world view. What a bunch of big babies! I was 38 years in 1992 when an FBI incident at Ruby Ridge with white separatists sparked more distrust of the government and more conspiracy theories. The siege at a Branch Davidian compound in WACO happened the following year; 76 people perished, and more fears were stoked leading to Timothy McVey bombing. I was 40 years old when Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City became the deadliest act of homegrown terrorism in U.S. history. It could be argued that the January 6, 2021 insurrection and attempt to overthrow the US government has its roots in this crazy train. These hate-driven groups are able to rally the troops and radicalize fragile young men using the radio and internet outlets who are running a lucrative business. This is possible because of the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.
- Too many guns! There are more guns in America than there are people. There are more than 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the United States, or enough for every man, woman, and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over! I was 45 years old when 2 boys in trench coats murdered 15 high school kids at Columbine High School; it was the first time we had heard of such a thing. I was 58 years old when 26 people were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 of them were 6 or 7 years old! I was 63 years old when 58 people were mowed down at a Las Vegas concert. In the cases of all of these mass shootings, the chicken-shit gunman turned the gun on themselves after slaughtering innocent human beings. My dad used to say, “The biggest problem with a murder suicide is the order.” The gun homicide rate in the US is astoundingly over 25 times higher than in other first world countries and the US leads the world in children dying from gunshots. More than 140 mass shootings have taken place in the United States in the first four months of 2022. That is more than one a day! Mental health issues and readily available guns come together to create a toxic combination that targets the innocent. In just our immediate family, we have two friends/family shot to death, one is unsolved. Gun violence touch too many families in our country, and yet lawmakers and indeed the American people cannot agree on how to remedy this crisis. On May 19, 1986, Congress banned the transfer and possession of machine guns. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed a temporary assault-weapons ban, which outlawed the AR-15 and other similar semiautomatic rifles. Mass shootings were down in the decade that followed, compared to the decade before (1984-94) and the one after (2004-14), but they did not end entirely. After the assault-weapons ban expired in 2004, gun makers quickly reintroduced them and sales were brisk with targeted marketing equating “manhood” with gun ownership. The fact is assault-weapons are designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest time. They are military weapons and have no place in civilian recreation, hunting, or target practice. Yet the gun industry and its powerful lobby has America hog-tied and fearful to make a change, sighting a potential slippery slope for the Second Amendment. Fear and anger are rampant in recent years, and I guess you can’t legislate emotions, but I submit that we CAN find a way to legislate the killing machines available to emotional unhinged men. I love a good western and hunting as much as the next guy but COME ON already! Our children are dying for the rights of gun owners.
So, how has the country changed in my lifetime? A lot. And not so much. Media and technology have simply provided a new spin to the same old problems. The heart of man is desperately wicked AND hope springs eternal for a brighter tomorrow, both at the same time. After nearly 68 circles around the sun, I find myself agreeing with Hubert Humphrey: “The good old days were not that great, believe me. The good new days are today, and better days are coming tomorrow. Our greatest songs are still unsung.”