In 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said his most famous words: “I
have a dream.” He was not the only one who felt this way. For many, the
1960s was a decade in which their dreams about America might be fulfilled. For
Martin Luther King Jr., this was a dream of a truly equal America; for John F.

Kennedy, it was a dream of a young vigorous nation that would put a man on the
moon; and for the hippy movement, it was one of love, peace, and freedom. The
1960s was a tumultuous decade of social and political upheaval. We are still
confronting many social issues that were addressed in the 1960s today. In spite
of the turmoil, there were some positive results, such as the civil rights
revolution. However, many outcomes were negative: student antiwar protest
movements, political assassinations, and ghetto riots excited American people
and resulted in a lack of respect for authority and the law. The first president
during the 1960s was John F. Kennedy. He was young, appealing, and had a
carefully crafted public image that barely won him the election. Because former
President Eisenhower supported the Republican nominee, Richard Nixon, and
because many had doubts about Kennedy’s youth and Catholic religion, Kennedy
only received three-tenths of one percent more of the popular vote than Nixon.

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The first thing Kennedy did during his brief presidency was to try to restore
the nation’s economy. Economic growth was slow in 1961 when Kennedy entered the
White house. The President initiated a series of tariff negotiations to
stimulate exports and proposed a federal tax cut to help the economy internally.

John F. Kennedy was known as one of the few presidents in history who made his
own personality a significant part of his presidency and a focus of national
attention. Nothing illustrated this more clearly than the reaction to the
tragedy of November 22, 1963. Kennedy was driving through the streets of Dallas.

The streets were full of cheering people watching him drive by. The President
was surrounded by loud motorcycles driven by the Secret Service. One onlooker,
looking into a sixth floor window, noticed another man with a rifle. “Boy!
,” he said. “You sure can’t say the Secret Service isn’t on the ball.

Look at that guy up there in the window with a rifle” (Pett 12). That man
with the rifle was not a member of the Secret Service. A fraction of a second
before 12:30 p.m., John Fitzgerald Kennedy was smiling broadly. He would never
smile again. The Kennedy assassination touched everyone around the world. In
Canada, for example, Eaton’s Company put full-page advertisements in newspapers
such as The Hamilton Spectator saying, “With all Canada and the World, we
share the shock and grief inflicted by the tragic death of a great statesman and
a great hero” (see appendix A). Nevertheless, there was one good thing that
came out of it: Lyndon B. Johnson became president. Throughout Johnson’s
five-year career, sweeping reforms were made in every corner of the country.

First, Johnson created Medicare– a program to provide federal aid to the
elderly for medical expenses. Medicare had been debated for years in Congress,
but Johnson’s plan eliminated many objections. First, Medicare benefits were
available to all elderly Americans, regardless of need. Second, doctors serving
Medicare patients could practice privately and even charge their normal fees.

Later, the Johnson Administration issued Medicaid, which gave assistance to all
ages. Next, Johnson established a new cabinet agency in 1966: the Department of
Housing and Urban Development. This agency, together with the newly formed Model
Cities program, was invented in an effort to stop the decaying of cities and end
poverty. Also, the Omnibus Housing Act gave rent supplements to the poor.

Finally, Johnson created the Office for Economic Opportunity. This program led
to new educational, employment, housing, and health-care developments. However,
the Office for Economic Opportunity failed because there was inadequate funding
and the government was more concerned with the Vietnam War. Johnson also wanted
to strengthen the country’s schools. First, his administration implemented the
Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which extended aid to private
and parochial schools based on the needs of the students. Also, he created the
National Endowment of Arts and Humanities, and passed the Higher Education Act,
which gave federally financed scholarships. Another subject that concerned the
government under Lyndon B. Johnson Administration and the rest of America was
Civil Rights. In 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, and in 1965 they
passed the Voting Rights act. The Civil Rights Movement did not just affect
American minorities, but everyone who lived in the United States at the time.

The momentum of the previous decade’s civil rights gains led by Reverand Martin
Luther King carried over into the 1960s. But for most blacks, the tangible
results were minimal. Only a small percentage of black children actuall attended
integrated schools, and in the South, “Jim Crow” practices barred
blacks from jobs and public places. New groups and goals were formed to push for
full equality. As often as not, white resistance resulted in violence. In 1962,
during the first large-scale public protest against racial discrimination, Dr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a dramatic and inspirational speech in Washington,
D.C. during a march on the capital. “The Negro,” King said in his
speech, “lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean
of material prosperity and finds himself an exile in his own land” (Gitlin
77). Under leaders like Martin Luther King, blacks were trying attain all the
rights a white man would have. In 1965, King and other black leaders wanted to
push beyond social integration, now guaranteed under the previous year’s Civil
Rights Act, to political rights. Reverend King announced that as a “matter
of conscience and in an attempt to arouse the deepest concern of the
nation,” (Gitlin 84) he was coompelled to lead another march from Selma to
Montgomery, Alabama. When the marchers reached the capitol, they were to have
presented a petition to Governor George Wallace protesting voting
discrimination. However, when they arrived, the Governor’s aides came out and
said, “the capitol is closed today” (Gitlin 85). Unfortunatley, the
event that moved the Civil Rights Movement most significantly was the
assassination of Martin Luther King in 1965. Moments after the assassination,
terrible cruelty replaced the harmony. Rioting mobs in Watts, California
pillaged, killed, and burned, leading to the death or injury of hundreds and
millions of dollars in damage. Besides the Civil Rights movement, there was
another important movement during the 1960s: the Student Movement. Youthful
Americans were outraged by the intolerance of their universities, racial
inequality, social injustice, and the Vietnam War. The Student Movement led to
the hippy culture. This movemt marked another response to the decade as the
young experimented with ,usic, clothes, drugs, and a counter-culture lifestyle.

Hippies preached altruism, mysticism, honesty, joy, and nonviolence. In 1969,
they held the famous Woodstock Festival for peace in New York, a three day
concert that emphasized their beliefs. One of the chief movemtns that came from
the Student Movement were the antiwar protests during the Vietnam War. The
United States firsbecame directly involved in Vietnam when Harry Truman started
to underwrite the costs of France’s war against Viet Minh. Later, the
presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy increased America’s
political, economic, and military committments in the Indochina region. Starting
with teach-ins in 1965, the massive antiwar efforts centered on the colleges,
with the students playing the lead roles. The teach-in approach was at first a
gentle approach to the antiwar activity. But soon other types of protest grew to
replce it. These demonstrations were one form of attempting to go beyond mere
words and to “put direct pressure on those who were conducting policy in an
apparent disdain for the will expressed by the voters” (Spector 30). In
1965, the United States started strategic bombings of North Vietnam, catalyzing
the public opinion of what was happening in the region. These bombings helped
sustain the antiwar prostests and spawned new ones, “and the growing cost
of American lives coming home in body bags only intensified public opposition to
the war” (Gettleman 54). The antiwar movemtn spread directly among the
combat troops in Vietnam, who began to wear peace symbols and flash peace signs
in movement salutes. Some units even organized their own demonstrations to link
with the activity at home. Between 1965 and 1966, the American military effort
in Vietnam accelerated from President Johnson’s decisions. By 1967, America’s
military authority was breaking up. Not only was it the worst year of Johnson’s
term, but also one of the most turbulent years in the nation’s history. The war
in Southeast Asia and the war at home dominated newspaper headlines and the
attention of the White House. 1967 witnessed urban riots, like the deadly uproar
in Detroit. Only a quarter of Americans approved of his handling of the war in
1968. The antiwar movement that began as a small trickle became a giant flood.

Americans were soon shocked to learn about the communists’ massive Tet Offensive
on January 31, 1968. The offensivedemonstrated that Johnson had been making the
progress in the war seem greater than it really was; it appeared to have no end.

Johnson withdrew from the election in 1968, and the communists planned to do
battle with their new adversary, Richard Nixon. Besides the unsuccessful Vietnam
campaign, the United States was also involved in another unsuccessful battle:
the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1963. The story behind the invasion of Cuba
at the Bay of Pigs is one of mismanagemnt, overconfidence, and lack of security.

The blame for the failure of the operation falls directly on the lap of the
Central Intelligence Agency and a young president and his advisors. The fall out
from the invasion created a rise in tension between the two great superpowers,
and, ironically, 36 years later, the person that the invasion meant to topple,
Fidel castro, is still in power. However, not all events during the sixties
hindered the country’s progress. At the end of 1968, Americans became the first
human beings to reach the moon. Seven months later, they were the first to
actually walk on the moon. Their telecast gave earthbound viewers an
unforgettable site. The austronauts looking at the moon were even more amazed.

“The vast loneliness up here is awe-inspiring,” said austronaut
Lovell. “It makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth”
(, see appendix B). Advances were also made in medicine
and health. The medical introduction of the “pill” changed the
interaction between the sexes dramtically in 1964. Americans discovered that the
freedom from fear of unwanted pregnancy went hand in hand with other kinds of
sexual freedom. The sixties became an era in which pleasure was being considered
as a constitutional right rather than a privalege, inwhich self-denial became
increasingly seen as foolish rather than virtuous. Each pill contains one
thirty-thousandth of an ouce of chemical, but it changed the sex and family
lives of a large segment of the American population. Another type of chemical,
chemical pestisides, were also important in the 1960s. A book written by Rachel
Carson described for the first time the dangers of using pesticides. Carson
believed that the poisonous chemicals were taking a dreadful toll, and that the
only way to fix the situation was to “let the balance of nature take care
of the number of insects” (Carson 17). Another poisonous chemical was being
used on humans. Mistakes made in the past caused a great deal of health problems
to children around the world when it was discovered that using a tranquilizer
called thalidomide caused severe birth defects. Babies were born with hands and
feet like flippers, attached to the body with little or no arm or leg. Every
compound drug containing the sedative was taken off the market. The 1960s began
under the shadow of the Cold War and ended under the shado wo fthe Vietnam War.

What happened inbetween was a series of dreams, failures, and realities that
have made the sixties one of the most tumultuous decades in the history of the
United States. From assassinations to Woodstock, the 1960s was an era of
confusion in which every American tried to make his dream a reality.