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1960 to 1969

Page history last edited by Mr. Hengsterman 12 years, 6 months ago

The Stormy Sixties

The 1960’s marked a dramatic shift from the conformity and consensus that the 1950’s had imparted. The decade was rocked with a brush with nuclear war, the assassinations of political and cultural leaders, protests, riots, and a war. In what many consider to be America’s worst year, 1968 had virtually all of the above elements in one calendar year.

1960 was an election year. The two candidates were very dissimilar from one another. Republican Richard Nixon was an experienced, shrewd politician, but cold and ruthless. Democrat John Kennedy was youthful and inexperienced, but very charismatic and personable. The two met in the first ever Presidential debate, which was televised. Kennedy looked more presidential and may have convinced enough voters to elect him in the closest election in the 20th century.


Kennedy inherited a plan to train exiled Cubans and have them attack the newly communist Cuba. They trained on Cayo Costa in Lee County. The plan, called the Bay of Pigs, was a complete disaster. This was one of a number of events in the simmering cold war. The Soviets completed the Berlin Wall in 1961 separating east and west Berlin, essentially making East Germany a prison. The emboldened Soviets placed missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from Florida. The interstate was closed except for military traffic as the world watched and hoped a nuclear war would not occur. A tense stand off began as the United States demanded the Soviets remove the missiles. The world held its breath for thirteen days as the two countries glared frostily at each other. The Soviets finally backed down and removed the missiles, in exchange for our promise not to invade Cuba.


President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. The new President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, embarked on an ambitious program to combat poverty and inequality. The program, called the Great Society, would introduce head-start, Medicare, Medicaid, a civil rights act, and a voting rights act. Johnson tried to help the lower tiers of society achieve the success of middle class enjoyed.


African Americans began the civil rights movement in 1954. By the mid 1960’s they gained ground. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s steady confrontational, non violent approach was working. He headed up the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a student organization the Students Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed for younger people to protest. But for many African Americans, it wasn’t working quickly enough. It was true that the poll tax had been eliminated as did segregation in schools and public facilities. However, in the Deep South it persisted stubbornly. New leaders such as Stockley Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and Malcolm X espoused a more militant stance. Freedom Riders were organized to integrate buses. Freedom Summer was held to register blacks to vote. The Black Panthers formed and began to arm themselves to fight the white opposition with bullets. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965 in an internal power struggle in his organization, the Nation of Islam. That year the black ghetto of Watts, in Los Angeles, violently rioted what began many “long, hot summers” of discontent among inner city African Americans.


The Supreme Court, under the leadership of Earl Warren, became a liberal defender of people’s rights. They ruled against segregation,  for the rights of people accused of crimes (most famously Miranda v. Arizona). The court also ruled that congressional voting districts should be more representative and equal, known as “one man one vote”.[Wesberry vs Sanders case.] Other Warren/Burger court cases were: Gideon vs Wainwright, Escobedo vs Illinois, & Tinker vs Ohio.

College students began to protest during the 1960’s. At first it was a minority movement who wanted people to change society that they believed was morally corrupt. As the Vietnam War drug on, they protested that our involvement was immoral. The movement gained members, some of whom were Hippies. Hippies lived an alternative lifestyle dubbed the counterculture. They used drugs, had premarital sex, didn’t bathe regularly, didn’t hold jobs, and grew their hair long.


America’s involvement in Vietnam was gradual. In the late 1940’s, we gave money to the French to control the country. When the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, we sent advisors to help the South Vietnamese against the communist North Vietnamese. It was part of the containment policy known as the Domino Theory which stated that if Vietnam fell to communism its neighbors might succumb to communism as well. We increased the advisors to 16,000 by 1963. To not appear soft on communism, President Johnson looked for an excuse to escalate our involvement in Vietnam. He found it in 1964 at the Gulf of Tonkin. He claimed we were attacked by the North Vietnamese. Congress allowed the President to do whatever was necessary to control Vietnam. Johnson said of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that it was “like grandmas night shirt, it covered everything”. By 1968 we had 500,000 troops fighting in Vietnam.


The year 1968 opened with the Vietnamese attacking on their new year, Tet. The Tet Offensive was a simultaneous attack on 100 cities and bases. The North Vietnamese used the Ho Chi Minh Trail, named after the leader of North Vietnam to move troops and supplies through other, the neutral countries of Laos and Cambodia to avoid the American Army. Though the United States beat back the North Vietnamese, the American people were shocked. The Americans had been told we were winning the war, now it appeared very different on their televisions. This opened up a yawning credibility gap between Americans and their leaders. The anti war movement grew and began protesting more loudly. In March United States soldiers killed nearly 500 unarmed women, children, and old people in the Mai Lai Massacre. President Johnson decided not to run for reelection, which shocked the nation. Robert Kennedy, John’s brother, decided to run for president. He was youthful and gave hope to many people. In April, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, riots rocked over thirty cities. In June Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The Democratic Convention to choose a presidential candidate was marred by violent student protests. With the Democrats badly divided, the Republican Convention in Miami nominated Richard Nixon, who managed to win in November over Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The sixties ended on a higher note as America became the first country to have a man walk on the moon in July 1969.

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