the ’60s was a decade of social andpolitical upheaval. in spite of all the turmoil, there were some positiveresults: the civil rights revolution, john f. Kennedy’s bold vision of anew frontier, and the breathtaking advances in space, helped bring aboutprogress and prosperity. however, much was negative: student and anti-warprotest movements, political assassinations, and ghetto riots excitedamerican people and resulted in lack of respect for authority and the law. The decade began under the shadow of the cold war with the sovietunion, which was aggravated by the u-2 incident, the berlin wall, and thecuban missile crisis, along with the space race with the ussr.
The decade ended under the shadow of the viet nam war, which deeplydivided americans and their allies and damaged the country’sself-confidence and sense of purpose. Even if you weren’t alive during the ’60s, you know what they meantwhen they said, “tune in, turn on, drop out. ” you know why the nationcelebrates Martin luther king, jr. ‘s birthday. all of the social issuesare reflected in today’s society: the civil rights movement, the studentmovement, space exploration, the sexual revolution, the environment,medicine and health, and fun and fashion.
The Civil Rights MovementThe momentum of the previous decade’s civil rights gains led by rev. Martin luther king, jr. carried over into the 1960s. but for most blacks,the tangible results were minimal.
only a minuscule percentage of blackchildren actually attended integrated schools, and in the south, “jim crow”practices barred blacks from jobs and public places. New groups and goalswere formed, new tactics devised, to push forward for full equality. asoften as not, white resistance resulted in violence. this violence spilledacross tv screens nationwide. the average, neutral american, after seeinghis/her tv screen, turned into a civil rights supporter.
Black unity and white support continued to grow. in 1962, with thefirst large-scale public protest against racial discrimination, rev. Martinluther king, jr. Gave a dramatic and inspirational speech in washington,d. c. After a long march of thousands to the capital.
the possibility ofriot and bloodshed was always there, but the marchers took that chance sothat they could accept the responsibilities of first class citizens. “thenegro,” King said in this speech, “lives on a lonely island of poverty inthe midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity and finds himself an exilein his own land. ” King continued stolidly: “it would be fatal for thenation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate thedetermination of the negro. this sweltering summer of the negro’slegitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumnof freedom and equality. ” when King came to the end of his prepared text,he swept right on into an exhibition of impromptu oratory that wascatching, dramatic, and inspirational.
“I have a dream,” King cried out. the crowd began cheering, but king,never pausing, brought silence as he continued, “i have a dream that oneday on the red hills of georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons offormer slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table ofbrotherhood. “”I have a dream,” he went on, relentlessly shouting down thethunderous swell of applause, “that even the state of mississippi, a statesweltering with people’s injustices, sweltering with the heat ofoppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. ihave dream,” cried King for the last time, “that my four little childrenwill one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color oftheir skin but by the content of their character. “Everyone agreed the march was a success and they wanted action now!but, now! remained a long way off. president kennedy was never able tomobilize sufficient support to pass a civil rights bill with teeth over theopposition of segregationist southern members of congress.
but after hisassassination, president johnson, drawing on the kennedy legacy and on thepress coverage of civil rights marches and protests, succeeded wherekennedy had failed. However, by the summer of 1964, the black revolution had created itsown crisis of disappointed expectations. rioting by urban blacks was to bea feature of every “long, hot, summer” of the mid-1960s. In 1965, King and other black leaders wanted to push beyond socialintegration, now guaranteed under the previous year’s civil rights law, topolitical rights, mainly southern blacks’ rights to register and vote. king picked a tough alabama town to tackle: selma, where only 1% ofeligible black voters were registered to vote.
the violence, the march,the excitement all contributed to the passage of the second landmark civilrights act of the decade. even though there was horrendous violence, rev. king announced that as a “matter of conscience and in an attempt to arousethe deepest concern of the nation,” he was “compelled” to lead anothermarch from selma to montgomery, alabama. The four-day, 54-mile march started on the afternoon of sunday, march21, 1965, with some 3500 marchers led by two nobel prizewinners, the rev.
Martin luther king, jr. And ralph bunche, then u. n. Under secretary forspecial political affairs.
in the march, whites, negroes, clergymen andbeatniks, old and young, walked side by side. president johnson made surethey had plenty of protection this time with 1000 military police, 1900federalized alabama national guardsmen, and platoons of u. s. Marshals andfbi men. When the marchers reached the capital of alabama, they were to havepresented a petition to then governor george wallace protesting votingdiscrimination. however, when they arrived, the governor’s aides came outand said, “the capital is closed today.
“About this same time, the term, “black power” was coming into use. itwas meant to infer long-submerged racial pride in negroes. Martin lutherking, jr. Specifically sought to rebut the evangelists of black power. “itis absolutely necessary for the negro to gain power, but the term blackpower is unfortunate, because it tends to give the impression of blacknationalism.
we must never seek power exclusively for the negro, but thesharing of power with white people,” he said. Unfortunately, the thing that really moved the civil rights movementalong significantly was the murder of rev. Martin luther king, jr. In late1965. cruelty replaced harmony with nightmarish suddenness. rioting mobsin the negro suburb of watts, california, pillaged, burned and killed,while 500 policemen and 5000 national guardsmen struggled in vain tocontain their fury.
hour after hour, the toll mounted: 27 dead at theweek’s end, nearly 600 injured, 1700 arrested, and property damage wellover $100 million. The good that came out of all of this, is that thousands of negroeswere flocking to register in the nine counties in alabama, louisiana, andmississippi where the government posted federal examiners to uphold thevoting law. in four days, 6,998 negro voters were added to the rolls incounties where there had previously been only 3,857. In that time of sorrow and guilt when King was murdered, there was anopening for peace between the races that might otherwise never havepresented itself. president johnson pleaded, “i ask every citizen toreject the blind violence that has struck dr. King.
” he went on to saythat to bring meaning to his death, we must be determined to strikeforcefully at the consciences of all americans in order to wrest fromtragedy and trauma, the will to make a better society. The Student MovementAmericans who were young in the 1960s influenced the course of thedecade as no group had before. the motto of the time was “don’t trustanyone over 30. ” another, “tell it like it is,” conveyed a real mistrustof what they considered adult deviousness.
Youthful americans were outraged by the intolerance of theiruniversities, racial inequality, social injustice, the viet nam war, andthe economic and political constraints of everyday life and work. onegroup that formed during this time was s. d. s. (students for a democraticsociety). opposed to “imperialism,” racism, and oppression, the s.
d. s. found the american university guilty of all three. they did do some goodat the beginning like organizing northern ghetto dwellers in projects suchas chicago’s jobs or income, now (join). but the viet nam war led to achange in their tactics. they became an independent radical force againstsociety.
the deluge of disorders made it harder and harder for mostamericans to keep events in perspective. they tended to forget that mostof the nation’s 6,700,000 collegians were studying hard at school and notcausing trouble. an underlying pattern emerged in the american university. the university suddenly became a political arena.
the students wanted toaddress the national problems of war, race, and poverty. as a result, theuniversity lost some of its neutrality. students created a new u. s. institution: the political university. However, another element among youths was also emerging.
They werecalled hippies. this movement marked another response to the decade as theyoung experimented with music, clothes, drugs, and a “counter-culture”lifestyle. in 1967, hippies preached altruism and mysticism, honesty, joyand nonviolence. they had a child-like fascination for beads, blossoms,and bells, strobe lights, ear-shattering music, exotic clothing and eroticslogans.
they wanted to profess “flower power” and love. they werepredominantly white, middle-class, educated youths, ranging in age from 17to 25. Perhaps the most striking thing about the hippie phenomenon, is theway it touched the imagination of the “straight” society. hippie slangentered common usage and spiced american humor.
boutiques sprang up inurban and suburban areas to sell the “psychedelic” color clothes anddesigns that resembled art nouveau. A major development in the hippie world was the “rural community,”where nature-loving hippie “tribesmen” escaped the commercialism of thecities in an attempt to build a society outside of society. anotherdevelopment was the illicit use of drugs, creating the slogan, “tune in,turn on, drop out. ” “better living through chemistry” was anotheradvertising slogan that was a sly joke to the young, but a real worry totheir parents. Marijuana (pot, grass, mary jane, weed) was their favoritepreparation.
however, some were smoking hash, taking mescaline, peyote,lsd, barbiturates and sedatives. The list goes on and on. and it was onlythe beginning. Drug use was everywhere. rock musicians used drugsfrequently and openly.
their compositions were riddled with references todrugs, from the beatles’ “i get high with a little help from my friends” tothe jefferson airplane’s “white rabbit. “Space ExplorationAt the end of 1968, americans became the first human beings to reachthe moon. seven months later, they were the first to actually walk on themoon. their telecast gave earthbound viewers an unforgettable view of themoon. Astronaut lovell reported, “the moon is essentially grey, no color. we can see quite a bit of detail.
the craters are all rounded off. “On christmas eve, the astronauts of apollo 8 (borman, lovell, andanders) gave their best description of the moon in a most impressivetelecast. “this is apollo 8 coming to you live from the moon,” reportedborman, focusing his camera on the lunar surface. “the moon is a differentthing to each of us,” said borman.
“my impression is that it’s a vast,lonely, forbidding-type existence. . . . . .
it certainly would not be a veryinviting place to live or work. “Lovell agreed, but added, “the vast loneliness up here isawe-inspiring, and it makes you realize just what you have back there onearth. “In apollo 11, the astronauts landed on the moon on july 25, 1969. astronaut neil armstrong called out the word everyone was waitingfor. .
. . . . . “houston,” he called.
“tranquility base here. the eagle haslanded. ” all of america was on the edge of their seats. it was a veryexciting time; cheers, tears and frantic applause went up around thenation. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” becamethe watchword when u. s.
Astronaut armstrong said this as he placed his footfirmly on the fine-grained surface of the moon. after centuries of dreamsand prophecies, the moment had come. man broke his terrestrial shacklesand set foot on another world. the new view could help man place hisproblems, as well as his world, in a new perspective. The Sexual RevolutionThe medical introduction of the “pill” changed the interaction betweenthe sexes dramatically in 1964. Americans discovered that the freedom fromfear of unwanted pregnancy went hand in hand with other kinds of sexualfreedom.
it became an era in which morals were held to be both private andrelative, in which pleasure was being considered almost like aconstitutional right rather than a privilege, in which self-denial becameincreasingly seen as foolish rather than virtuous. The “pill” is a tablet that contains as little as onethirty-thousandth of an ounce of chemical. it used to cost 1 1/4 cents tomanufacture and a month’s supply sold for $2. 00, retail.
yet, in a meresix years, it changed and liberated the sex and family life of a largesegment of the u. s. Population. did the convenient contraceptive promotepromiscuity? are americans paying the price today for the decline inmorals and values?The EnvironmentA book written by rachel carson, silent spring, earned her areputation not only as a competent marine biologist, but as a giftedwriter. the villains in silent spring are chemical pesticides, againstwhich miss carson took up her pen in alarm and anger. many readers werefirmly convinced that most of the u.
s. Was already laced with poison thatwould soon start taking a dreadful toll. the only way to fix the situationwas to stop using chemical pesticides and let the “balance of nature” takecare of the insects. Another “activist” of the day was lady bird johnson, presidentjohnson’s wife.
she envisioned beautification all over america. she isgenerally credited with inspiring the highway beautification act of 1965. This is the decade when scientists were becoming more vocal about theozone layer, pollution, and smoking cigarettes. americans became aware ofthe dangers they encountered everyday and would perhaps hand down to theirchildren. the federal communications commission voted 6 to 1 to bancigarette advertising on radio and tv. eventually, with congressionalapproval, cigarette packages had a new warning on them: “caution:cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health.
“Medicine and HealthMistakes made in the past caused great social and health problems tochildren around the world when it was discovered that using a tranquilizercalled thalidomide caused severe birth defects. babies were born withhands and feet like flippers, attached close to the body with little or noarm or leg. as results of using thalidomide became apparent, everycompound drug containing thalidomide was taken off the market.