The SixtiesWhy were the sixties a importance to our country’s history? The
sixties were an exciting, revolutionary, turbulent time of great social and
technological change: assassination, unforgettable fashion, new musical
styles, Camelot, civil rights, women’s liberation, a controversial and decisive
war in Vietnam, the anti-war protest to go along with the war, space
exploration and the space race, peace marches, flower power, great TV and
film and sexual freedom, and of course the great babyboomers. The sixties
also showed Communism coming into the Western hemisphere and thus
coming to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Movements towards the end to poverty,
helping the environment, and the women’s rights all came to be in the
sixties. Medical breakthroughs were important in the sixties. This essay
explains the events and people of the sixties from 1960 to 1970.
One thing in the sixties was the years of the American Camelot. In
1960 a president was elected by the slimmest measure of margin since 1884,
John Fitzgerald Kennedy is elected president by just over 100,000
votes(Turbulent Years 23). Some say that John’s father bought the election,
but the truth is unknown. This election was the first election that was on
radio and television. Kennedy and Nixon engaged in the first televised
campaign debates. President Kennedy was the youngest man to become
president and the youngest president to die in office. President Kennedy
was also the first and only Roman Catholic President in history.
During President Kennedy’s Presidency, he had to make many
decisions about the relationship between the United States and the Soviet
Union. In the sixties the Cold War was heating up. Before President
Kennedy came into office, a U-2 plane was shot down in the Soviet Union
while spying on the Soviet Union, thus cutting all Diplomatic ties between
the Soviet Union and the United States. Amongst other problems President
Kennedy faced with the Soviet Union, no other was more serious than the
Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1960, Soviet Premier Khrushchev supplied Cuba with
nuclear missiles that would put the eastern United States within range of
nuclear missile attack. During the summer of 1962, U. S. spy planes flying
over Cuba photographed Soviet-managed construction sites and spotted the
first missile on October 14. Kennedy consulted with advisors for seven days ,
discussing the possible means of action. On October 22, Kennedy told the
nation about the discovery of the missiles and demanded that the Soviet
Union remove the missiles, he also declared the waters around Cuba a
For several tense days, Soviet vessels en route to Cuba avoided the
quarantine zone, while Khrushchev and Kennedy discussed the issue through
diplomatic channels. Khrushchev, realizing his weak military position, sent a
message to Kennedy in which he agreed to remove the missiles. The
following day, before the United States could respond to the first note a
second note was sent by Khrushchev to try and negotiate terms. Kennedy
responded to the first message and an agreement was met for the Soviet
missiles to be dismantled and removed from Cuba. In return Kennedy
secretly promised not to invade Cuba and to remove older missiles from
Turkey. These decisions were perhaps Kennedy’s greatest moment as
president. Many feel that because of Kennedy’s aggression that perhaps
WWIII or a Nuclear war was avoided.
Kennedy was also a strong supporter of civil rights. He was strongly
against segregation. President Kennedy helped Dr. Martin Luther King with
his fight for civil rights. Many Black leaders had sided with Kennedy in the
presidential race because Kennedy claimed to be a strong believer in civil
rights. In the beginning President Kennedy ignored his claims for civil rights
but in his later presidency he changed and began trying to pass laws against
November 22, 1963, President and Mrs. Kennedy were in Dallas, Texas.
As the motorcade approached an underpass, two shots were fired in rapid
succession. One bullet passed through Kennedy’s neck, and the other bullet
hit the president in the head. At 1:00PM, he was pronounced dead; he had
never regained consciousness. Ninety minutes after Kennedy was fatally
shot, Vice-president Johnson was sworn in as president on Air Force One.
That afternoon, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and charged with murder.
On November 24, a Dallas Man, Jack Ruby, shot and killed Oswald before
there was a chance to put him on trial. (www.thinkquest.com). John F.
Kennedy was survived by his wife and his two children. Kennedy’s death was
the fall of the American Camelot.
During the sixties, the Civil Rights Movement was in full force. With
leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the Civil Rights Movement
grew to be one of the most important movement in the sixties. The
movement was started in the fifties– and it hit it’s peek with Dr. Martin
Luther King. Dr. Martin Luther King was a civil rights activist who sought and
fought for civil rights without violence. He lead marches and spoke to
millions of people. His most famous speech was titled I have a Dream. He
lead sit-ins and marches as means of peaceful protests. He won awards like
the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. Sadly his life came to an end by a
bullet from his assen, James Earl Ray, on April 4, 1968.
Important events in the movement involved the many sit-ins, riots, and
the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 passed. Starting in 1960 sit-ins began
all around the south, the people were fighting for the end of segregation.
Although most sit-ins were peaceful, they started to send out a very powerful
message. In 1962, the Klu Klux Klan began to lash out and bombed four
black churches in Georgia Towns. That same year, James Meridith, a black
college student, enters the University of Mississippi as the first black person
to enter the college after he was rejected three times because of the color of
his skin. Rioting breaks out in Detroit killing people and injuring many in
1965. In 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which
prohibits discrimination in all public places and creates the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission. In 1968, congress passed the Civil
Rights Act of 1968. The Black Panther Party is formed in 1966 by Huey
Newton and Bobby Seale. Thurgood Marshall was the first black to be
nominated for the Supreme Court in 1967. This movement proved to be a big
impact on our country’s history.
The War on Poverty was also another movement important to the
sixties. In March of 1964, President Johnson declares war on poverty. He
signs an Economic Opportunity Act in August and appoints R. Sargent
Shriver, to head the new Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). Johnson
tried throughout his presidency to get people back on their feet
economically and end the poverty in the United States.
Another movement that started in the sixties, was the environmental
movement. It started in 1962 with the publishing of Rachel Carson’s book
Silent Spring. (Holland 127). Her book attacked the use of chemical
pesticides. Her book caused such an uproar, President Kennedy ordered
the Science Advisory Committee to study the effects of pesticides.
(www.onlineethnics.org). The pesticide that was causing such an uproar was
called DDT which was later banned because it was proved to be very
harmful to the environment.
The Women’s Movement to flight in the sixties also. It also began by
the publishing of a book. The book was The Feminie Mystique, by Betty
Friedans. The book explained how women were being mistreated and what
women can to do to be equal to men. As the sixties unfolded, women
began to meet together to compare experiences. (Cayton 846). In 1966,
women formed the National Organization for Women. A movement was
needed because of the unfairness and discrimination by sex in the work
One of the most violent wars happened in the sixties. The United
States lost more people in the Vietnam War than in any other war the United
States ever participated in. Though the war started in the fifties, it did not
hit home hard until the sixties. In 1961, the U.S. provided the first direct
military support to South Vietnam, which included 36 army helicopters and
air and ground crews, totaling nearly 400 men. The U.S. really got into the
war when President Kennedy gave the signal on February 14, 1962 to return
fire if fired upon. (Hooland 126). In 1965, the U.S. began to bomb North
Vietnam because of an alleged attack on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of
Tonkin. In 1966, the war spread into Cambodia. The USSR and Red China
supported North Vietnam giving the Viennese a slight advantage over the
Americans. The Americans fought in the war because they were afraid of
Communism and how fast it was spreading. It had already spread to the
Western Hemisphere and the U.S. did not want another country to fall to
Communism. Peace talks began in 1968 in Paris between the United States
and North Vietnam. The late sixties began the end of Vietnam. The My Lai
incident was a massacre of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. soldiers. On March
16, 1968, a unit of the U.S. army Americal division, led by Lt. William L. Calley,
invaded the South Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai, an alleged Viet Cong
stronghold. In the course of combat operations, unarmed civilians, including
women and children, were shot to death. The death toll totaling 347 people.
The incident remained unknown to the American public until the Autumn of
1969, when a series of letters by a former soldier to government officials
forced the army to take action. Only one soldier was actually convicted of
murder but that verdict was later overturned.
Along with every war comes an anti-war movement. Back at home,
the Nation was divided: The Hawks and The Doves. The Hawks supported
the war while the Doves did not support the war. The anti-Vietnam War
movement was a domestic and international reaction in opposition to U.S.
policy during the Vietnam War. During the four years following passage of
the Tonkin Gulf resolution, which authorized U.S. military action in Southeast
Asia, the American air war intensified and troop levels climbed to over
500,000. Opposition to the war grew as television and press coverage
graphically showed the suffering of both civilians and conscripts. In 1965,
demonstrations in New York City attracted 25,000 marchers; within two
years, similar demonstrations drew several hundred thousand participants in
Washington, DC, London, and other major capitals. Most of the
demonstrations were peaceful, though acts of civil disobedience?intended
to provoke arrest?were common. Much of the imputes for the antiwar
protests came from college students. Objections to the military draft led
some protesters to burn their draft cards and to refuse to obey induction
notices. By 1967, the Students for a Democratic Society invoked the language
of revolution in its denunciations of the war in Vietnam as an inevitable
consequence of American imperialism. There was also a more moderate
opposition to the war from clergy, elected politicians, and people such as Dr.
Benjamin Spock. In 1968, President Johnson, who was challenged by two
antiwar candidates within his own party for the presidential nomination,
Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, chose not to run. The
election of Richard Nixon in 1968 and his reduction of U.S. ground forces did
little to dampen the antiwar movement. His decision to invade Cambodia in
1970 led to massive demonstrations on college campuses, most tragically at
Kent State University. where four people were killed by members of the Ohio
National Guard. The legacy and meaning of the massive protests against the
Vietnam War are still being debated to this day.
The anti-war protest brought the popular flower power trend. The
new generation trusted no one over the age of thirty and did not like and
rebelled against the country and the war. The young people of the 1960s
became known as hippies. They wanted peace and tried everything from
music to drugs to sit-ins to protests. Music was their biggest contribution to
the sixties American soldiers.
Music came alive in the sixties. The Beatles came alive along with
Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and a lot of other music tycoons.
One of the most unforgettable concerts happen in the summer of 1969,
Woodstock. It was a time when everyone came together from anti-war
protesters to Vietnam vets; it was three days of freedom, music, drugs, and
sex, Woodstock had everything. Woodstock even had two babies born and
two people pass away.
The sixties was filled with many medical break throughs. The birth
control pill was put onto the market in 1960. Also in 1960, CPR is first
demonstrated and used. In 1963, Thalidomide, a drug found to cause birth
defects, is taken off the market. A year later silicone gel sacs are used in
plastic surgery for breast implants. President Johnson made Medicare in
1965. People started to be warned of smoking hazards in 1966. In 1967, the
first heart transplant was performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard in South
Africa. Finally, in 1969, a vaccine becomes available in the United States for
When people think of the sixties, one thing comes into mind, the
space race. Although in 1961 the USSR got the first man into space, the
United States was less than a month off getting Alan B. Shepard into space.
On February 20, 1962 John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth.
Sadly, the race tragedy also struck, 3 U.S. astronauts were killed in a fire
during a launch drill in Cape Kennedy. At 10:56 P.M. on July 20, 1969, Neil
Armstrong became the first human on the moon. It was Apollo 11 which had
the crew of Edwin Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong. The United
States won the great race to the Moon.
The sixties were filled with so many memorable events. This decade
saw the first Playboy Club, the invention of the first laser, the formation of
the Peace Corps and the passage of the Immigration Act. The sixties also
had extraordinary people. Some people in the sixties were: Robert F.
Kennedy (President Kennedy’s brother, who was running for President but
was killed by Sirhan Sirhan) Jacqueline Kennedy (President Kennedy’s
widow, married Greek shipping businessman, Aristotle Onassis), and Charles
Manson (who was convicted of the murder of actress Sharon Tate and six
others). Television also became very popular and shows such as The
Flintstones, Wide World Of Sports, The Beverly Hillibillies, My Favorite
Martian, Jeopardy, Day of Our Lives, Mission: Impossible, The Flying Nun, The
Mod Squad, The Brady Bunch, and Sesame Street came to be in the sixties.
New products such as canned Coca-Cola, Total cereal, Polaroid color film,
the Trimline phone, Ford Mustang, Gatorade, Bac*os, Fresca soda,
McDonald’s Big Mac, and Frosted Mini-Wheats all became popular in the
In conclusion, the sixties was filled with so many events and important
people that the sixties can not be explained in one or even a thousand
words. The American Camelot, the Civil Rights Movement, some of the many
movements, the Vietnam War and the anti-war, medical breakthroughs, the
space race, and finally, the music and youth were all part of the sixties.
Some people called it the decade of discontent because of all the protests
on the war and the civil rights movement. Others called it the decade of
peace, love, and harmony because of the peace movement and the
emergence of the flower children. To some, it was acid trips and mind
expansion: Far out, man. But all of the baby boomers can not say that the
sixties did not changed the whole century one way or another. So, the
flowers did have some power in sixties.