‘One Year’ looks back at 1977 and how it altered America

History August 20, 2021
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What could possibly happen in just 365 days that would transform an entire country? How are politics, culture, science and religion revolutionized and remodeled in just one trip around the Sun? “One Year” host Josh Levin takes a hard look at just one year that altered the landscape of the United States. Each season will feature a different pivotal era in the making of America. Their first subject? The year 1977.

Somehow, the U.S. was entirely different, but also wholly the same. Jimmy Carter had just been sworn into office as the 39th President, the first Star Wars film was released in theaters, the King of Rock and Roll died in his home, and the first woman had just been hired as a major league baseball announcer. Marijuana was on the verge of being legalized. Gay rights were under attack, led by singer and anti-gay rights activist Anita Bryant. And that’s where this story starts.

Dade County, Miami, Florida. Pop singer and orange juice spokeswoman Bryant stood up against a local ordinance that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It would prohibit discrimination at the workplace, access to housing, and access to public services. It was a huge step forward for gay rights and it’s an ordinance that stands today nation-wide. But it also helped create a new brand of conservative activism that shifted America to the political right. And Bryant was the leader of the anti-gay, Save Our Children campaign.

Through Save our Children, she spearheaded more anti-gay, pro-discrimination laws that stood for decades; gay adoption was not permitted until 2008 in Dade County, when it was finally declared unconstitutional. She led several more campaigns across the country to repeal anti-discrimination ordinances. She prompted the creation of the Briggs Initiative that, if passed, would have made pro-gay statements regarding homosexual people or homosexuality by a public school employee cause for dismissal. Except literally everyone, like President Jimmy Carter, former President Gerald Ford, even future President Ronald Reagan, voted against it. For those looking for a happy ending, Bryant was the first person to ever be publicly “pie-d” (yes, it’s what it sounds like) and her career, businesses, endorsement deals, and marriage all massively tanked. So, yeah, 1977 was getting out of hand.

And that’s just the first episode. Episode 2 looks at America’s top weed evangelist and the country’s drug czar’s shared goal of loosening marijuana laws. And they were close, too. Until a disastrous Christmas Party that changed the timeline of America’s pot legalization.

The third episode follows Mary Shane, the first woman to be hired as a major-league baseball announcer. She made history with the Chicago White Sox and opened the door for female sports professionals across the nation. And, unsurprisingly, in 1977 she had to fight tooth and nail to be taken seriously in one of America’s most prolific boys’ clubs.

How does this have anything to do with the year 2021, you ask? Let’s take a look. Gay marriage has only been legal for six years, and the gay rights movement is still fighting bigotry at every turn. Fighting for adoption, for the abolishment of anti-trans laws, for business services. Marijuana is recreationally legal in 18 states, medically legal in 17 more. Decriminalized in only 12. And the MLB just had their first ever all-female broadcast crew on July 20, 2021 while the Baltimore Orioles took on the Tampa Bay Rays.

It’s been 44 years, and so much changed while, at the same time, so little progress seems to have been made. Subsequent seasons of Salte’s “One Year” will focus on different pivotal years in America, speaking about moments and the movements you remember, and the ones you’ve never heard before. Listen to “One Year” for more stories on the transformation of the United States and how we look back on that history today.

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