History Timeline 1980's

Photo above: President Ronald Reagan. Courtesy Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, Naval Photographic Center. Right: IBM PC circuitboard for the 5150. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

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U.S. Timeline - The 1980s

The Reagan Revolution

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  • Timeline

  • 1986 - Detail

    May 25, 1986 - Five million people make a human chain across the United States in the Hands Across America campaign to fight hunger and homelessness.

    Hands Across America

    It was a time when people came together to help eliminate or alleviate a crises that was affecting the world. Whether it be pollution in our rivers, streams, and air; there was Earth Day. Whether it be the suffering for hunger and medical care in Africa; there was the charity song, "We Are the World," and the huge concert, "Live Aid," held in Philadelphia and London. Whether it be a chain of people holding hands across the United States to assist in the awareness of hunger and homelessness, there was, on May 25, 1986, Hands Across America.

    Instead of complaining about the problems, there were multiple efforts by musicians, charities, and regular people to do something about it. No worry about pronouns, no matter which side of that issue you are on. No reliance on government to solve every large problem that man or nature created.

    The charity event called Hands Across America involved five to six and one half million people, many of whom had donated $10 for their place in line, holding hands for fifteen minutes over a four thousand one hundred and thirty-seven mile route from Battery Park, New York to Long Beach, California. At 3:00 p.m. on May 25, 1986, a cause to help others overwhelmed the country. It had been formulated by Ken Kragen, head of USA for Africa, as an additional push for the organization after their successful, "We Are the World," recording with dozens of the day's musicians, including Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie, who co-wrote the song, plus Hall and Oates, the Pointer Sisters, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and many more. That record had made $53 million for the charity.

    The song, "Hands Across America," was played over thousands of radio stations as the six million people chain waived across the plains. It was sung by Voices of America, which included lead singers Joe Cerisano, Sandy Farina, and the band Toto. The song was not as successful as "We Are the World," peaking only at #65 on the Billboard Charts, but symbolic to the event. The event was also not as successful as Live Aid or the other songs; it made $15 million for the charity after expenses. Coca-Cola was the founding sponsor.

    The Route Itself

    Starting in Battery Park overlooking the Statue of Liberty, famous stars and musicians intermingled with residents, including Brooke Shields, Liza Minnelli, Cardinal John O'Connor, Susan Anton, Gregory Hines, Edward James Olmos, Yoko Ono, and Harry Belafonte anchoring the George Washington Bridge.

    As it wound through Philadelphia past sites such as the Museum of Art, eighty thousand people took part, while the rest of Pennsylvania saw a total of two hundred and fifty thousand people holding hands.

    In Washington, D.C., the politicians took center stage with President Ronald Reagan at the White House and Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill at the United States Capitol.

    A cornfield in central Illinois, near Chebanse was the center-point of the nation. Sixteen thousand people participated there.

    Springfield, Illinois had fifty Abraham Lincoln impersonators while Memphis, Tennessee had fifty-four Elvis Presley impersonators. Even though not a contest, Elvis won.

    At the end of the human chain in Long Beach, California, there was a grand variety of people and characters; Mickey Mouse, Goofy, C-3PO, plus Reverend Robert Schuller, Kenny Loggins, Joan Van Ark, and John Stamos.

    There were enough people participating that if they had been evenly spread out, an actual chain would have reached from end to end. But in more sparsely populated locations, that was only symbolically achieved.

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    New York Times Reflects, 30 Years Later

    "Americans united on this day 30 years ago like never before. Six and a half million people formed a chain called "Hands Across America" to raise money for the nation's hungry and homeless. It was planned by U.S.A. for Africa, the charity known for recording the song "We Are the World" in 1985.

    At 3 p.m. in New York and noon in Los Angeles, they joined hands for 15 minutes, enough time to sing "We Are the World," "America the Beautiful" and the "Hands Across America" theme. The chain included fans at baseball gaemes, staff members at the White House (including President Reagan), scuba divers in rivers, and Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck at Disneyland.

    One honorary chairman, the singer Kenny Rogers, delivered on his promise of a concert to get people to stand in the desert at the Texas-New Mexico border. Still, there were some gaps in the line, which were filled with a chain of paper dolls, made by children, and rope. After costs, only about $15 million was distributed, but it remains a spectacle like no other," New York Times, May 25, 2016.

    Photo above: Hands Across America in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1986, Sam Cali, Buchoamerica at English Wikipedia, C.C. 3.0. Below: Montage of Participants (left) Brooke Shields, 1986, PH1 Doty, U.S. Navy. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons; (center) Dionne Warwick, Allen Warren. Courtesy Wikipedia, C.C. 3.0; (right) Kenny Rogers, 1997, John Mathew Smith. Courtesy Wikipedia, C.C. 2.0; Info source: "Remembering Hands Across America," 2020, theconstitutional.com; New York Times; USA for Africa; Wikipedia Commons.

    Brooke Shields, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Rogers

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