A Decade of Contrasts.
The 1960s were years of enormous contrasts in American politics. President John F. Kennedy's challenge to "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country" at his inauguration in January 1961 ushered in a new decade of activism with consequences neither he nor anyone else at that time could foresee. Young idealists flocked to join the Peace Corps and VISTA—for government service to the needy overseas and at home. Others, believing that America could indeed be a land of equal opportunity, joined the civil rights movement and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Yet as the decade progressed, optimism gave way to anger and pessimism.
Violence and Disillusionment.
The assassinations of President Kennedy in November 1963; civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in April 1968; and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy's brother, a few months later made Americans question the character of their nation. As the decade wore on, the "freedom now" chant of the nonviolent civil rights movement yielded to "black power" demands of black militants who saw the lives lost and the beatings borne as too great a price for rights won. President Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy's successor, offered a vision of a Great Society, with freedom from want and equal opportunity for all, but his...
(The entire section is 1588 words.)
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