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Overview of the 60`s

Overview of the 60`s

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 viet nam 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


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


"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

slaveowners 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


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 had failed.

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, Alabama.

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 today."

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


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


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 deviousness.

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 viet nam 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

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