Many social changes that were addressed in the 1960s are still the issues being
confronted today. the '60s was a decade of social and political upheaval. in spite of all
the turmoil, there were some positive results: the civil rights revolution, john f.
Kennedy's bold vision of a new frontier, and the breathtaking advances in space, helped
bring about progress and prosperity. however, much was negative: student and anti-war
protest movements, political assassinations, and ghetto riots excited American people and
resulted in lack of respect for authority and the law.
The decade began under the shadow of the cold war with the soviet union, which was
aggravated by the u-2 incident, the Berlin wall, and the Cuban missile crisis, along with
the space race with the USSR. The decade ended under the shadow of the Vietnam
war, which deeply divided Americans and their allies and damaged the country's
self-confidence and sense of purpose.
Even if you weren't alive during the '60s, you know what they meant when they said,
"tune in, turn on, drop out." you know why the nation celebrates Martin Luther
king, jr.'s birthday. all of the social issues are reflected in today's society: the civil
rights movement, the student movement, space exploration, the sexual revolution, the
environment, medicine and health, and fun and fashion.
The Civil Rights Movement
The 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 black children actually attended integrated
schools, and in the south, "Jim crow" practices barred blacks from jobs and
public places. New groups and goals were formed, new tactics devised, to push forward for
full equality. as often as not, white resistance resulted in violence. this violence
spilled across TV screens nationwide. the average, neutral American, after seeing his/her
TV screen, turned into a civil rights supporter.
Black unity and white support continued to grow. in 1962, with the first large-scale
public protest against racial discrimination, rev. Martin Luther king, jr. Gave a dramatic
and inspirational speech in Washington, d.c. After a long march of thousands to the
capital. the possibility of riot and bloodshed was always there, but the marchers took
that chance so that they could accept the responsibilities of first class citizens.
"the Negro," King said in this speech, "lives on a lonely island of poverty
in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity and finds himself an exile in his own
land." King continued stolidly: "it would be fatal for the nation to overlook
the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. this
sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an
invigorating autumn of freedom and equality." when King came to the end of his
prepared text, he swept right on into an exhibition of impromptu oratory that was
catching, 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 one day on the red
hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be
able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."
"I have a dream," he went on, relentlessly shouting down the thunderous swell
of applause, "that even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with people's
injustices, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of
freedom and justice. I have dream," cried King for the last time, "that my four
little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color
of their 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 to mobilize sufficient support to pass a
civil rights bill with teeth over the opposition of segregationist southern members of
congress. but after his assassination, president Johnson, drawing on the Kennedy legacy
and on the press coverage of civil rights marches and protests, succeeded where Kennedy
However, by the summer of 1964, the black revolution had created its own crisis of
disappointed expectations. rioting by urban blacks was to be a feature of every
"long, hot, summer" of the mid-1960s.
In 1965, King and other black leaders wanted to push beyond social integration, now
guaranteed under the previous year's civil rights law, to political rights, mainly
southern blacks' rights to register and vote. king picked a tough Alabama town to tackle:
Selma, where only 1% of eligible black voters were registered to vote. the violence, the
march, the excitement all contributed to the passage of the second landmark civil rights
act of the decade. even though there was horrendous violence, rev. king announced that as
a "matter of conscience and in an attempt to arouse the deepest concern of the
nation," he was "compelled" to lead another march from Selma to Montgomery,
The four-day, 54-mile march started on the afternoon of Sunday, march 21, 1965, with
some 3500 marchers led by two Nobel prizewinners, the rev. Martin Luther King, jr. And
Ralph Bunche, then u.n. Under secretary for special political affairs. in the march,
whites, Negroes, clergymen and beatniks, old and young, walked side by side. president
Johnson made sure they had plenty of protection this time with 1000 military police, 1900
federalized Alabama national guardsmen, and platoons of u.s. Marshals and FBI men.
When the marchers reached the capital of Alabama, they were to have presented a
petition to then governor George Wallace protesting voting discrimination. however, when
they arrived, the governor's aides came out and said, "the capital is closed
About this same time, the term, "black power" was coming into use. it was
meant to infer long-submerged racial pride in Negroes. Martin Luther king, jr.
Specifically sought to rebut the evangelists of black power. "it is absolutely
necessary for the Negro to gain power, but the term black power is unfortunate, because it
tends to give the impression of black nationalism. we must never seek power exclusively
for the Negro, but the sharing of power with white people," he said.
Unfortunately, the thing that really moved the civil rights movement along
significantly was the murder of rev. Martin Luther king, jr. In late 1965. cruelty
replaced harmony with nightmarish suddenness. rioting mobs in the Negro suburb of watts,
California, pillaged, burned and killed, while 500 policemen and 5000 national guardsmen
struggled in vain to contain their fury. hour after hour, the toll mounted: 27 dead at the
week's end, nearly 600 injured, 1700 arrested, and property damage well over $100 million.
The good that came out of all of this, is that thousands of Negroes were flocking to
register in the nine counties in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi where the government
posted federal examiners to uphold the voting law. in four days, 6,998 Negro voters were
added to the rolls in counties where there had previously been only 3,857.
In that time of sorrow and guilt when King was murdered, there was an opening for peace
between the races that might otherwise never have presented itself. president Johnson
pleaded, "I ask every citizen to reject the blind violence that has struck dr.
King." he went on to say that to bring meaning to his death, we must be determined to
strike forcefully at the consciences of all Americans in order to wrest from tragedy and
trauma, the will to make a better society.
The Student Movement
Americans who were young in the 1960s influenced the course of the decade as no group
had before. the motto of the time was "don't trust anyone over 30." another,
"tell it like it is," conveyed a real mistrust of what they considered adult
Youthful Americans were outraged by the intolerance of their universities, racial
inequality, social injustice, the Vietnam war, and the economic and political constraints
of everyday life and work. one group that formed during this time was s.d.s. (students for
a democratic society). opposed to "imperialism," racism, and oppression, the
s.d.s. found the American university guilty of all three. they did do some good at the
beginning like organizing northern ghetto dwellers in projects such as Chicago's jobs or
income, now (join). but the Vietnam war led to a change in their tactics. they became an
independent radical force against society. the deluge of disorders made it harder and
harder for most Americans to keep events in perspective. they tended to forget that most
of the nation's 6,700,000 collegians were studying hard at school and not causing trouble.
an underlying pattern emerged in the American university. the university suddenly became a
political arena. the students wanted to address the national problems of war, race, and
poverty. as a result, the university lost some of its neutrality. students created a new
u.s. institution: the political university.
However, another element among youths was also emerging. They were called hippies. this
movement marked another response to the decade as the young experimented with music,
clothes, drugs, and a "counter-culture" lifestyle. in 1967, hippies preached
altruism and mysticism, honesty, joy and nonviolence. they had a child-like fascination
for beads, blossoms, and bells, strobe lights, ear-shattering music, exotic clothing and
erotic slogans. they wanted to profess "flower power" and love. they were
predominantly white, middle-class, educated youths, ranging in age from 17 to 25. Perhaps
the most striking thing about the hippie phenomenon, is the way it touched the imagination
of the "straight" society. hippie slang entered common usage and spiced American
humor. boutiques sprang up in urban and suburban areas to sell the "psychedelic"
color clothes and designs that resembled art nouveau.
A major development in the hippie world was the "rural community," where
nature-loving hippie "tribesmen" escaped the commercialism of the cities in an
attempt to build a society outside of society. another development was the illicit use of
drugs, creating the slogan, "tune in, turn on, drop out." "better living
through chemistry" was another advertising slogan that was a sly joke to the young,
but a real worry to their parents.
Marijuana (pot, grass, mary jane, weed) was their favorite preparation. however, some
were smoking hash, taking mescaline, peyote, LSD, barbiturates and sedatives. The list
goes on and on. and it was only the beginning. Drug use was everywhere. rock musicians
used drugs frequently and openly. their compositions were riddled with references to
drugs, from the Beatles' "I get high with a little help from my friends" to the
Jefferson airplane's "white rabbit."
At the end of 1968, Americans became the first human beings to reach the moon. seven
months later, they were the first to actually walk on the moon. their telecast gave
earthbound viewers an unforgettable view of the moon. Astronaut lovell reported, "the
moon is essentially grey, no color. we can see quite a bit of detail. the craters are all
On Christmas eve, the astronauts of Apollo 8 (borman, lovell, and anders) gave their
best description of the moon in a most impressive telecast. "this is Apollo 8 coming
to you live from the moon," reported borman, focusing his camera on the lunar
surface. "the moon is a different thing to each of us," said borman. "my
impression is that it's a vast, lonely, forbidding-type existence......it certainly would
not be a very inviting place to live or work."
Lovell agreed, but added, "the vast loneliness up here is awe-inspiring, and it
makes you realize just what you have back there on earth."
In Apollo 11, the astronauts landed on the moon on July 25, 1969. astronaut Neil
Armstrong called out the word everyone was waiting for......."Houston," he
called. "tranquility base here. the eagle has landed." all of America was on the
edge of their seats. it was a very exciting time; cheers, tears and frantic applause went
up around the nation.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," became the
watchword when u.s. Astronaut Armstrong said this as he placed his foot firmly on the
fine-grained surface of the moon. after centuries of dreams and prophecies, the moment had
come. man broke his terrestrial shackles and set foot on another world. the new view could
help man place his problems, as well as his world, in a new perspective. The Sexual
The medical introduction of the "pill" changed the interaction between the
sexes dramatically in 1964. Americans discovered that the freedom from fear of unwanted
pregnancy went hand in hand with other kinds of sexual freedom. it became an era in which
morals were held to be both private and relative, in which pleasure was being considered
almost like a constitutional right rather than a privilege, in which self-denial became
increasingly seen as foolish rather than virtuous.
The "pill" is a tablet that contains as little as one thirty-thousandth of an
ounce of chemical. it used to cost 1 1/4 cents to manufacture and a month's supply sold
for $2.00, retail. yet, in a mere six years, it changed and liberated the sex and family
life of a large segment of the u.s. Population. did the convenient contraceptive promote
promiscuity? are Americans paying the price today for the decline in morals and values?
A book written by Rachel Carson, silent spring, earned her a reputation not only as a
competent marine biologist, but as a gifted writer. the villains in silent spring are
chemical pesticides, against which miss Carson took up her pen in alarm and anger. many
readers were firmly convinced that most of the u.s. Was already laced with poison that
would soon start taking a dreadful toll. the only way to fix the situation was to stop
using chemical pesticides and let the "balance of nature" take care of the
insects. Another "activist" of the day was lady bird Johnson, president
Johnson's wife. she envisioned beautification all over America. she is generally credited
with inspiring the highway beautification act of 1965. This is the decade when scientists
were becoming more vocal about the ozone layer, pollution, and smoking cigarettes.
Americans became aware of the dangers they encountered everyday and would perhaps hand
down to their children. the federal communications commission voted 6 to 1 to ban
cigarette advertising on radio and TV. eventually, with congressional approval, cigarette
packages had a new warning on them: "caution: cigarette smoking may be hazardous to
Medicine and Health
Mistakes made in the past caused great social and health problems to children around
the world when it was discovered that using a tranquilizer called thalidomide caused
severe birth defects. babies were born with hands and feet like flippers, attached close
to the body with little or no arm or leg. as results of using thalidomide became apparent,
every compound drug containing thalidomide was taken off the market.
The 1960's was a decade where we searched for many changes. The world was
changing. Discrimination was wrong. Pollution was wrong. War was wrong.
There were many wrongs that were blatantly visible within our everyday society.
As we looked to the stars with the space exploration program, and back down to the
world around us, we searched for new directions in order to make our society a better
place to live.