Dreaming In The 1960s


Dreaming In The 1960s Essay, Research Paper

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. 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"

(http://www.ksc.nasa.gov, 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.

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