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1960s Era Brought to Life at Oakland Museum

Mills College Weekly

The “What’s Going On” exhibit at the Oakland museum is like
walking into another era with its Joni Mitchell album covers, Nixon
for President buttons, and “Fixing to Die Rag” playing in the

The exhibit details the unrest of the sixties that lasted long
into the seventies. “What happened in California,” a narrator says
in a video, “made the whole world watch us.”

Lois Lundleberg, a Goldwater supporter in 1964, donated her
black and white polka dot dress for display. “We were living the
American Dream,” Lundleberg said on a tape provided by the museum,
“you were looking for a lifestyle that was wholesome.”

That lifestyle began to change with Vietnam. Several pictures of
soldiers in uniform were in another display, also with manuals on
how to live in Canada after someone left to avoid the draft and for
conscientious objectors. Another had items a soldier carried with
him: a picture of his girlfriend, letters from home.

A wall was devoted to people who were affected by Vietnam. One
was Bonnie Baird, whose brother died in 1968. On tape, she stopped
several times to cry. “He left around Thanksgiving…he was killed
February 14… My teacher sent me to the principal’s office… when
I got there…I knew someone had died…. I kept on telling people
‘it’s okay, it’s all right’… But it wasn’t okay. It wasn’t okay
for thirty-five years.”

People could also sit in a passenger seat from a DC-10, and
listen to stories on tape by Lily Adams and Jan Wollet. Adams, a
nurse who flying home after a tour of duty in Vietnam, described
flying over San Francisco: “I wanted to kiss the ground when we
landed at SFO. I was so grateful, coming home.”

Wollet, who flew with Operation Baby Lift which brought
Vietnamese orphans to America, described the night they flew in.
“There was no fog… It was crystal clear, and you could see all
the stars. And then the children were saying: ‘America, America’
and we repeated it back to them: ‘Yes, America, America.'”

At the end of the exhibit, there is a place where a person can
write down “In Honor” cards. One card said: “In Honor of Terry Lee
Sawyer, who died in 1997. Agent Orange got him.” Another card
summed up how many people still feel, years later: “What the hell
have we learned?”

It was at this point that this reporter had to go to the
bathroom and cry, not prepared to be so moved, how fair-minded it
was going to be. I was reminded of an Anne Lamott quote: “One
hundred years? All new people.” This is a powerful exhibit, and
it’s good to see where we’ve been, and hopefully learn from the

“What’s Going On? California and the Vietnam Era” will be at the
Oakland Museum until February 27. Student admission is $9, and $5
on the second Sunday of each month.