The 1960s was one of the most prosperous decades in the history of the United States. Between 1960 and 1965, low unemployment and low inflation dominated. The average worker’s salary increased by one-fifth. People had more money and more things to spend it on. Still, there was some labor unrest, such as a short strike by the United Auto Workers (UAW) against General Motors in 1964. Despite such incidents, America’s economic strength contributed to its position as a world leader. This position was sometimes difficult and lead to longterm problems. America renewed its commitment to prevent the communist insurgency in the small Asian country of Vietnam in 1964 by committing the first significant troop dispatches to aid the South in their battle against the Vietcong in the North. The U.S. also continued its stance in the thirty-year-long Cold War a power stalemate with the Soviet Union that pitted the implied threat of each country’s nuclear arsenal against the other (the term ‘‘Cold War’’ originated from the fact that while war-like conditions existed between the two countries, the fear of nuclear devastation prevented any actual fighting or significant escalation of hostilities).
For many Americans, the world was becoming a much smaller place; improved and increasingly affordable modes of transportation made travel easier both within the North American continent and abroad. Where people could not travel, television expanded knowledge of the world at large, offering a vicarious means of global expedition. Television also opened people’s eyes to the burgeoning social problems in America. This increased awareness of inequalities and injustice within their own borders motivated many people to become actively involved in the correction of such problems: activists took stands throughout the decade on such issues as civil rights, poverty, and war.
Though courts had affirmed many of the tenets of American civil rights in the 1950s, it was in the 1960s that activists fought, both passively and aggressively, for their implementation in a meaningful way; fights for equality in the workplace, in public institutions such as schools, and in other public places became widespread. In 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which banned racial discrimination in public places and employment. President Johnson also lead a national war on poverty. To that end, he signed the Equal Opportunity Act of 1964 which funded youth programs, community-based anti-poverty measures, small business loans, and the creation of the Jobs Corps.
Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, women began demanding equal rights, especially as more women entered the workplace. The feminist movement also found inspiration in such books as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. One reason the women’s movement gained power was the introduction of the birth control pill in the early- 1960s. This medication sparked the ‘‘sexual revolution’’ of the 1960s, enabling women (and men) to pursue sexual relationships without the risk of pregnancy.
Other social groups challenged traditional roles. Young people ‘‘revolted’’ in the 1960s, not just by participating in the rights movements. They protested against their parents and society’s values, especially the middle- and upper-class fixation with material wealth. When the United States became more deeply involved in Vietnam, college campuses were the frequent settings for powerful antiwar demonstrations. Some young men refused to fight in a war in which they did not believe and which they felt posed no threat to the American way of life.
Despite such momentous changes in society, Broadway theater, especially the musicals of the early-1960s, targeted an older, more conservative audience. Musicals were nostalgic for the great examples of the form from the past. The year...
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