- George C. Wallace
- Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
- Malcolm X
- Martin Luther King Jr.
Civil rights for blacks was not a new idea in the 1960s. African Americans had been struggling for racial justice since slavery was ended following the American Civil War (1861–65). While they had gained their independence and a few social privileges by World War II (1939–45), the war against racist fascists (people who believe in a political philosophy that prefers a dictatorial government with severe economic and social distinctions between citizens, often based on racial differences) in Europe brought the reality of American racism to light. America sent troops to secure freedom in other parts of the world but maintained a segregated (separated by race; in the South, many public buildings and services, such as schools, buses, and lunch counters, had separate facilities for whites and blacks) society that denied basic rights, such as voting, to people based on race.
World War II served as the catalyst for the dramatic changes in the 1960s. President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served...
(The entire section is 918 words.)
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George C. Wallace
Excerpt from his inaugural speech, delivered January 14, 1963
Reprinted from Our Nation's Archive.
Published in 1999.
"We invite the Negro citizen of Alabama to work with us from his separate racial station to grow in individual freedom and enrichment.…"
George Corley Wallace (1919–1998) made himself a national symbol of racism in the 1960s. During his five-year tenure as an Alabama judge starting in 1953, he established a reputation as an opponent of all civil rights legislation.
Born on August 25, 1919, the son of a cotton farmer in rural Clio, Alabama, George Corley Wallace spent most of his life as an "underdog," someone who was unlikely to succeed. However, he worked hard from an early age to help earn money for his family and to eventually pay his way through college. His first taste of politics came when he was fifteen; he took a part-time position as a page in the Alabama Senate. In college, he launched a campaign to appeal to independent and out-of-state students to beat the favored, fraternity-backed candidates in the race for presidency of his freshman class. After college he joined the Air Force in 1942 and flew several missions during World War II (1939–45).
After his military discharge, Wallace became assistant to the attorney...
(The entire section is 1826 words.)
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: Excerpt from "The Basis of Black Power"
Excerpt from "The Basis of Black Power," 1966
Reprinted from "Takin' It to the Streets:" A Sixties Reader, 2003; also available online at www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/387.html
"Negroes in this country have never been allowed to organize themselves because of white interference. As a result of this, the stereotype has been reinforced that blacks cannot organize themselves."
On February 1, 1960, four black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College sat down at an all-white Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, to order some coffee. When the waitress refused to serve them, the students stayed, stating that they would not leave until they could place an order. The four remained sitting at the counter quietly without service for about an hour until the store closed. The next day, nearly thirty students occupied the lunch counter for about two hours, attracting the attention of local news reporters. The day after that, sixty-six black students filled nearly every seat at the lunch counter. After a week of steady protests, no black student had been served at the lunch counter, and the Woolworth's manager decided to close the store temporarily. Students at other colleges became inspired to organize their own...
(The entire section is 3324 words.)
Excerpt from "The Ballot or the Bullet," a speech delivered in Cleveland, Ohio, April 3, 1964
Reprinted from Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Statements and Speeches, 1965; also available online at:
"Now in speaking like this, it doesn't mean that we're anti-white, but it does mean we're anti-exploitation, we're anti-degradation, we're anti-oppression. And if the white man doesn't want us to be anti-him, let him stop oppressing and exploiting and degrading us."
Although the civil rights movement of the 1960s started with a commitment to nonviolent protest, activists' opinions about how best to gain civil rights diverged by middecade. Malcolm X became a prominent leader of activists who doubted that nonviolent protest would ever produce the desired changes in the lives of blacks.
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, Earl Little, was a minister and activist who supported a "back-to-Africa" movement encouraging blacks to unite and separate from America's oppressive, white society. Because of his father's activism, Malcolm and his family were often harassed by white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, and the family moved often. In Lansing, Michigan, white supremacists burned the family's home and killed Malcolm's father. Malcolm's mother,...
(The entire section is 1751 words.)
Martin Luther King Jr.
Excerpt from "Where Do We Go from Here?," a speech delivered at the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, August 16, 1967.
Reprinted from A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 2001.
"We must no longer be ashamed of being black. The job of arousing manhood within a people that have been taught for so many centuries that they are nobody is not easy.…"
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) was by far the best known of all the 1960s civil rights leaders. Hundreds of thousands of civil rights activists at rallies across the country and millions watching his speeches on the three television networks found inspiration in his words. King's opinions either gave people encouragement to forge ahead or stirred them up to fight against the coming change.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born Michael Luther King, on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. Early in his childhood his name was changed to Martin, Jr., after his father, a Baptist minister. King had a keen intellect. He graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 and went on to earn doctoral degrees in theology and philosophy by the end of the 1950s. Ordained a minister in 1948, King accepted his first position at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery,...
(The entire section is 1689 words.)
- Commission on the Status of Women
- Betty Friedan
- National Organization for Women
- Helen Gurley Brown
The women's liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s was not a political and social reaction limited to conditions of that time, but rather a reaction against many years of social and legal constraints on women in America. Life for women, as for all people, in any country at any time is shaped by custom, law, and circumstance. In the colonial times and the early years of the United States, women could not own property, earn wages, or vote. The lives of women in rural areas focused on the domestic work that accompanied farming, on cooking, and on storing the annual harvest. Traditionally, women also tended to take charge of poultry and would take the eggs into the market to sell or exchange for goods they could not produce at home, like salt and coffee. In both rural and urban areas, women were responsible for quilting and rug making, and for making their family's clothes, nursing the sick, and teaching children. To further add to the family's economic well-being, some women took in other people's laundry or...
(The entire section is 1324 words.)
Commission on the Status of Women
Excerpt from "American Women: The Report of the President's Commission on the Status of Women," which was presented to President John F. Kennedy on October 11, 1963
Reprinted from American Women: The Report of the President's Commission on the Status of Women and Other Publications of the Commission.
Published in 1965.
"Greater development of women's potential and fuller use of their present abilities can greatly enhance the quality of American life. We have made recommendations to this end."
President John F. Kennedy established the President's Commission on the Status of Women on December 14, 1961. Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), one of the most influential woman in America at the time, chaired the twenty-member commission until her death in 1962. The president requested the commission to analyze employment policies affecting women, such as labor laws pertaining to hours and wages, the availability and quality of legal representation for women, and the availability and quality of education and counseling for working women.
The commission's findings were published in the "American Women" report, presented to President John F. Kennedy on October 11, 1963. "American Women" came to be commonly known as the Peterson Report after the commission's executive vice chairman Esther...
(The entire section is 3447 words.)
Excerpt from The Feminine Mystique
Originally published in 1963; excerpt taken from 1997 reprint.
"The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States."
Betty Friedan gave voice to the suffering of many American women in her book The Feminine Mystique, in which she documented the damage American society did to women by insisting that the acceptable roles for them were limited to wives and mothers. Betty Friedan was born Betty Naomi Goldstein on February 4, 1921, in Peoria, Illinois, to Harry (a jeweler) and Miriam (Horowitz) Goldstein. Miriam Goldstein, who had worked as a newspaper editor but left her job to raise her family, encouraged her daughter to pursue her education and work as a journalist. Friedan graduated summa cum laude, which in Latin means with highest praise, from Smith College with a bachelor's degree in psychology and went on to study at the University of California, Berkeley; University of Iowa; and Esalen Institute. She worked as a newspaper journalist in 1943 but gave up her job to a returning veteran after World War II (1939–45) to take another job at a labor union newspaper. She married Carl Friedan (a theater...
(The entire section is 1426 words.)
National Organization for Women
Complete text of "Bill of Rights for Women in 1968"
Originally issued at NOW convention, 1968.
Reprinted from "Takin' It to the Streets:" A Sixties Reader, 2003; also available online at http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst203/documents/nowrights....
"We demand that women be protected by law to ensure their rights to return to their jobs within a reasonable time after childbirth without loss of seniority or other accrued benefits, and be paid maternity leave as a form of social security and/or employee benefit."
The National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded on June 30, 1966, in Washington, D.C., by twenty-eight participants in the Third National Conference of the Commission on the Status of Women who were angered by the conference's dismissal of equal rights issues. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had been established to enforce Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title VII made it illegal for employers to discriminate against people based on their gender. Within its first five years, it received fifty thousand sex discrimination complaints, but at the conference it became known that the EEOC had done little to address these complaints.
NOW was formed to push the...
(The entire section is 1608 words.)
Helen Gurley Brown
Excerpt from Sex and the Single Girl
Published in 1962.
"I never met a completely happy single woman…or a completely happy married one!"
At a time when American society made it very clear that women should aspire to be wives and mothers, Helen Gurley Brown lived happily as a single, working woman. Recognizing that some women felt torn between society's expectations of them to marry and a drive to pursue careers, Brown wrote Sex and the Single Girl as a guide for others to enjoy the kind of life she had discovered for herself. In it she detailed how to get a satisfying job and earn pay raises, dress for success in business, eat right, and exercise. While no book had ever before offered women such useful career advice, the book became a sensation for its explicit discussion of sex between unmarried people. Brown described how to flirt, "be sexy," find available men, and have an affair. "The single woman," Brown wrote, was "far from being a creature to be pitied and patronized," but instead was "emerging as the newest glamour girl of our times."
Helen Gurley Brown was born on February 18, 1922, in Green Forest, Arkansas, the second daughter of Ira and Cleo (Sisco) Gurley. Both parents had worked as schoolteachers, but Cleo quit teaching to raise her two children. Ira Gurley moved his...
(The entire section is 2690 words.)
The War in Vietnam
- Lyndon B. Johnson
- McGeorge Bundy and Robert McNamara
At the beginning of the 1960s, few Americans could have identified Vietnam on a map or explained why the United States might be involved in the small southeast Asian nation that lay halfway around the world. But by the end of the decade, U.S. involvement in Vietnam had cost thousands of American lives and embroiled the nation in a furious and sometimes violent debate over U.S. foreign policy. A growing antiwar movement in the United States drew public attention to its arguments with public protests and campaigns to change policy. By 1968 these protests had helped drive President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973; served 1963–69) from office.
The roots of the conflict in Vietnam stretched back to the nineteenth century, when French colonizers took control of an area they called French Indochina, which included the modern countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and other portions of Asia. Early in World War II (1939–45), as the Japanese attempted to gain control of trade in the Far East, they evicted French forces from Indochina. Like the French, the Japanese were more interested in extracting riches from the area than they were in providing effective government....
(The entire section is 1362 words.)
Lyndon B. Johnson
Excerpt from "Message to Congress, August 5, 1964"
Reprinted from Department of State Bulletin, August 24, 1964
Excerpt from "House Joint Resolution 1145, August 7, 1964"
Reprinted from Department of State Bulletin, August 24, 1964
"The issue is the future of southeast Asia as a whole. A threat to any nation in that region is a threat to all, and a threat to us."
The pressure of America's commitment to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia grew especially intense in the spring and summer of 1964. President Lyndon B. Johnson had inherited from his Democratic predecessor, John F. Kennedy, the policy of providing military advisors and weapons to support the government of South Vietnam. But pressures in Vietnam and at home soon pushed Johnson to look for a different policy. In Vietnam, North Vietnamese troops, supported by their Vietcong supporters in South Vietnam, increased their attacks on South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese army was disintegrating under this pressure, especially following the assassination of brutal South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963.
Back in the United States, 1964 was an election year. Johnson's Republican opponents, especially Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater (1909–1998), accused...
(The entire section is 2776 words.)
McGeorge Bundy and Robert McNamara
Excerpt from "A Policy of Sustained Reprisal"
Memorandum to President Lyndon B. Johnson written by McGeorge Bundy, February 7, 1965
Reprinted from The Pentagon Papers.
Published in 1971.
Excerpt from "Recommendations of Additional Deployments to Vietnam"
Memorandum to President Lyndon B. Johnson written by Robert McNamara, July 20, 1965.
Reprinted from Our Nation's Archive.
Published in 1999.
"Our object in Vietnam is to create conditions for a favorable outcome by demonstrating to the VC/DRV that the odds are against their winning. We want to create these conditions, if possible, without causing the war to expand into one with China or the Soviet Union and in a way which preserves support of the American people and, hopefully, of our allies and friends."
When President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress to authorize his use of force in North Vietnam in August of 1964, he declared that the United States "seeks no wider war" (see "Message to Congress" excerpt, page 113). In fact, he hoped that the mere threat of American military force would convince North Vietnam to stop its efforts to topple the government of South Vietnam and reunite the country under communist leadership. Instead, North Vietnam stepped up its attacks in late...
(The entire section is 5024 words.)
The Antiwar Movement
- Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
- John Kerry
Like the American involvement in the Vietnam War (1954–75), the movement to protest that war started slowly. Before President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973; served 1963–69) asked Congress for authorization to broaden American involvement in Vietnam in August of 1964, most Americans did not even realize that the United States had a stake in the small country in Southeast Asia. But those few political activists who knew Vietnam and its history as a French colony perceived it to be a small, impoverished country that wished to shake off the yoke of French domination and practice self-government—much like the United States had done when it freed itself from British rule two hundred years earlier. These activists hoped that the United States would help North and South Vietnam unite under a policy of self-rule. When it became obvious that the United States would rather support a corrupt but capitalistic government in South Vietnam than a popular but communist government in North Vietnam, these activists launched a campaign to criticize American involvement. (A capitalist government, like the one in the United States, is characterized by private ownership of property and free-market...
(The entire section is 875 words.)
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: Position Paper on Vietnam
Complete text of "Position Paper On Vietnam," January 6, 1966
Reprinted from "Takin' It to the Streets:" A Sixties Reader, published in 2003; also available online at http://lists.village.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resourc...
"The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee has a right and a responsibility to dissent with United States foreign policy on any issue when it sees fit. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee now states its opposition to the United States' involvement in Vietnam on these grounds.…"
The 1960s are known for the many organized movements that worked to bring about social change. Student activists, women's rights activists, gay rights activists, and civil rights activists, among others, are a few examples of groups that organized to press for important changes they felt were needed to ensure that all Americans had access to equal rights. In the late 1950s, some college students had participated in nonviolent sit-ins to protest the separation according to race in eating facilities, pools, theaters, and other public facilities in the South. These students were deeply influenced by the teachings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), who advocated nonviolent civil...
(The entire section is 1857 words.)
Excerpt from a statement on behalf of Vietnam Veterans Against the War
Delivered to the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations, April 23, 1971
Reprinted from "Takin' It to the Streets": A Sixties Reader, published in 2003; also available at http://lists.village.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resourc...
"We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country, we could be quiet, we could hold our silence, we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country…that we have to speak out.…"
By the late 1960s there were many groups speaking out against the Vietnam War, but few did so with as much authority as a group known as Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). The group was formed in 1967 when six Vietnam veterans met while participating in a protest march in New York City. These six soon expanded their group to include hundreds and then thousands of war veterans who were interested in talking about their experiences both during the war and after their return home. They spoke out against the terrible acts they were forced to commit while waging war in...
(The entire section is 3334 words.)
"The Times They Are a Changin'": Radicals on the Left and Right
- Students for a Democratic Society and Young Americans for Freedom
- The Yippies
- Barry Goldwater
The United States in the 1960s was an immensely powerful and wealthy country. The dominant world power at the end of World War II (1939–45), the United States had developed the strongest military in the world during the 1950s. The military buildup was a product of the Cold War (1945–91), a long-simmering conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union that prompted both countries to maintain large armies and develop powerful arsenals of weapons. The United States was also the world's economic giant. Well-off in the 1950s, the nation became even more prosperous in the 1960s. For example, the country experienced economic growth during every month between 1961 and 1969. This American affluence was widespread, bringing such goods as televisions, automobiles, and electric appliances within reach of a large segment of the American population.
Yet all this wealth and power did not necessarily mean that the United States was at peace with itself. Indeed, in the 1960s Americans confronted a number of issues that had simmered beneath the surface of...
(The entire section is 808 words.)
Students for a Democratic Society and Young Americans for Freedom
Excerpt from "The Port Huron Statement," 1962
Originally published as The Port Huron Statement, New York, 1964. Reprinted from "Takin' It to the Streets:" A Sixties Reader, 2003. Also available online at The Sixties Project: Primary Document Archive, http://lists.village.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resourc... .
Complete text of "The Sharon Statement," 1960
Originally published in National Review, September 24, 1960, pp. 172-173. Reprinted from "Takin' It to the Streets:" A Sixties Reader, 2003. Also available online at www.yaf.com/sharon.html.
"We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit."
College students had never played a very large role in American politics before the 1960s. First, there were not many of them: only two million people were enrolled in American colleges in 1950. Second, most were not old enough to vote: until 1971, the voting age in federal elections was set at twenty-one. Beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s, however, college students began to play a larger role...
(The entire section is 7893 words.)
Complete text of "The Yippie ManifestoA public declaration of principles and goals, especially of a political nature."
Issued in 1968.
Reprinted from "Takin' It to the Streets:" A Sixties Reader, 2003.
"Let's parade in the thousands to the places where the votes are counted and let murderous racists feel our power."
One of the most striking social trends of the 1960s was the emergence of the counterculture, a minority culture that distinguished itself by being against the majority culture. American society had always had countercultures—groups of primarily young people who rejected the values of mainstream society in favor of ways of living that they found more authentic or liberating. In the 1960s, the counterculture was large, diverse, and very well publicized. The publicity came thanks to the counterculture's public engagement with political issues such as the movement against American participation in the Vietnam War (1954–75), but thanks also to the news and entertainment media, which found the often colorful and dramatic counterculture a good source of vivid news. Perhaps the most colorful counterculture subgroup of the 1960s was the hippies, a group of people known for their love of rock 'n' roll music, drug use, sexual experimentation, and communal...
(The entire section is 2178 words.)
Excerpt from Goldwater's 1964 acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination
Originally given at the Republican presidential nominating convention, San Francisco, California, July 16, 1964.
Reprinted from Our Nation's Archive: The History of the United States in Documents, 1999; also available online at www.nationalcenter.org/Goldwater.html.
"My fellow Republicans, our cause is too great for any man to feel worthy of it. Our task would be too great for any man, did he not have with him the heart and the hands of this great Republican party."
By the early 1960s, American conservatives had been unhappy with the direction of American government for many years. Beginning with the New Deal programs of Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945), who served as president from 1933 to 1945, the size of the American government had grown sharply. Roosevelt's New Deal created programs like social security, welfare, and government subsidies that expanded the size of the government and established the precedent for the federal government protecting or preserving the rights of certain social groups. Conservatives believed the expansion of the government and its intrusion into the lives of Americans was wrong-minded and...
(The entire section is 4388 words.)
Debating the Power of Television
- Newton Minow
- Marshall McLuhan
Anyone who doubted that television had become an influential force in American culture had only to watch the first televised presidential debates held in 1960. Those who only listened to the debates on the radio thought that Republican vice president Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994) was the clear victor, for he seemed knowledgeable and persuasive. But those who watched the debates on television had a completely different opinion. On TV Nixon looked hot, haggard, and uncertain, wiping his sweaty brow repeatedly. His opponent, the handsome, young Democratic senator John F. Kennedy (1917–1963), appeared calm, cool, and unflappable. Kennedy's appearance persuaded TV viewers more than Nixon's words. TV viewers felt that Kennedy had won the debate. Style had triumphed over content. The differing opinions on the debates of viewers and listeners made Americans keenly aware of the power of this still young medium, television. Into the early 2000s, the role of television in Americans' lives remained an issue of great controversy.
Television first entered American life in the 1940s. By the early 1950s, 20 percent of Americans had a television in their home. By 1960, that number had grown to 90...
(The entire section is 460 words.)
Excerpt from an address to the National Association of Broadcasters, May 9, 1961
Originally published in Equal Time: The Private Broadcaster and the Public Interest. New York: Atheneum, 1964.
Reprinted from Abandoned in the Wasteland: Children, Television, and the First Amendment, 1995.
"When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse."
When John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, he brought to American politics a renewed sense of idealism and commitment to public service. "Ask not what your country can do for you," he proclaimed to the American public at his inauguration in 1961, "ask what you can do for your country." Kennedy, like most American politicians at the time, believed that America was in a race with the Soviet Union to establish dominance in the world. That race was also known as the Cold War (1945–91). Kennedy believed that the United States could win that race if its citizens committed themselves to the highest ideals of education, economic growth, military and public service, even entertainment. He brought to Washington, D.C., a new generation of public servants; among them was Newton Minow (1926–), the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the...
(The entire section is 4663 words.)
Excerpts from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man
Originally published in 1964; excerpts taken from 1994 reprint.
"In a culture like ours…it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message."
In 1961 Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minow (1926–) argued that the content of television programming played a crucial role in the cultural life of the nation. In 1964 media theorist Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980) argued that the content of programming mattered far less than the underlying form of televised communication. He claimed, in one of the most famous expressions of the 1960s, "the medium is the message." But what did McLuhan mean by his famous pronouncement, and why did it seem to open up a whole world for those who claimed to understand it?
Marshall McLuhan was one of the most celebrated intellectuals of the 1960s. His most notable books are The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (1951), The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962), Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), and The Medium Is the Massage (1967). ("Mas-sage," rather than "Message," is correct. The title of McLuhan's 1967 collection of works has caused much confusion. Long...
(The entire section is 1760 words.)