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Author: R. L.
Editors: Judith S. Baughman , Victor Bondi , Richard Layman , Tandy McConnell , and Vincent Tompkins
Date: 2001
From: American Decades(Vol. 7: 1960-1969. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Article
Content Level: (Level 4)

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A New World to be Won

The early 1960s in America were a time of hope, energy, and prosperity, a time when the United States settled confidently into its role as a superpower possessed of military might and financial clout. "It is a time for a new generation of leadership, to cope with new problems and new opportunities," the new president John F. Kennedy told the nation in 1960. "For there is a new world to be won."


Unemployment was between five and six percent in the first half of the decade, and inflation hovered between 1 and 2 percent. The gross national product, the value of goods produced by the national work-force, increased almost 36 percent between 1960 and 1965, and salaries increased about 20 percent during the same period. Generally, people had more money than ever before and more goods available to spend it on.

The Global Village

The world seemed to have shrunk in the 1960s. Transcontinental and even intercontinental travel became easy and efficient for the first time. Delta Airlines ran eleven flights a day from Chicago to Miami in 1966 carrying passengers to vacationland for $74.40 each, and those who did not travel were able routinely to see and hear people from other parts of the country and the world on television. In 1969 fifty-eight million of the nation's sixty-two million households had television sets. Advances in transportation and in communication, the two pillars of commerce, had turned the world into what Marshall McLuhan called a global village.

New Awareness

People's universes expanded as they were exposed daily to television newscasts that informed them about the day's events and confronted them with current issues. A significant portion of the populace, newly empowered with information and the freedom that affluence brings, focused their attentions on matters that extended beyond their homes and neighborhoods. Civil rights, equal rights for women, and the war on poverty were the domestic issues that mobilized activists and stimulated debate during the 1960s. Interest in foreign affairs was dominated by the increasing tensions of the cold war and, in the last half of the decade, the war in Vietnam.


The 1960s were an activist decade. Frustrated by the delays in enforcing civil rights affirmed during the 1950s by Congress, blacks and supportive whites took to the streets first in peaceful, and then in violent, protest. When they gathered together to demand equitable treatment in school, in the workplace, and in the administration of public benefits, they were met with force by guardians of the old order. At public school-house doors in Mississippi and Alabama black students were turned away by state officials, and federal authorities mobilized troops to enforce laws that promised equality and liberty. When federal power was unable to ensure the rights the government granted and the deliberate action of the legislature and the judiciary seemed unresponsive to the demands of the disenfranchised, radicals took matters into their own hands, rioting and terrorizing in the name of social justice.

Individual Rights

People in the 1960s paid careful attention to individual rights. Women began to discover parallels between racial and sexual discrimination. Feminists initiated their own assault on the old order, demanding that their dignity be recognized, that their achievements be given equal consideration with those of men, and that they be allowed to assume control over their own destinies without the interference of domineering males. The ethical implications of abortion and the question of who had authority to regulate it were issues of fundamental importance. The birth-control pill, first distributed for the purpose of contraception in the early 1960s, sparked what was called the sexual revolution, as the primary burden of risk for women was removed from sexual activity. Media commentators imagined a generation without morals, and feminist theorists imagined a generation of women freed from their sexual masters; neither prognostication was entirely accurate. The female workforce increased by about 50 percent during the 1960s, and as women began to forsake domestic labor for paying jobs, they came to have an increasing voice in the nation's affairs that grew more insistent with the passage of time.

The Youth Revolt

The most disturbing protest of the 1960s was that of youth against the values of their parents and what President Johnson called the Great Society of their political leaders. The focus of youth protest was civil rights and feminism early in the decade, but with the increasing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and the accompanying threat of military draft students lost tolerance of their elders' attempts to maintain order in the nation and in the world. Though it was encouraged and to some extent influenced by a highly organized, even authoritarian student protest movement, the youth revolution was basically anarchic; its purpose was to question and subvert authority, and it proceeded on moral or, some would say, pseudomoral grounds. The basic assumption of the youth protest movements of the decade was that society had become corrupted by materialism. Social inequities that had deprived blacks, women, and the poor of their rights and an imperialistic foreign policy that had led to the war in Vietnam and the escalation of the cold war were equally attributable to powerlust and greed. The best remedy was a return to basic values that would disarm the forces of perversity by robbing them of their purpose. The result would be a world of love and peace, beauty, and serenity. While the most radical acted on their beliefs, paradoxically, by employing terrorist tactics, the philosophy infused a generation with the energy of righteousness and the confusion of reform.

Fading Optimism

Much of the optimism had gone out of American life by the end of the 1960s; it was replaced by grief, cynicism, and fear. John F. Kennedy, the president who had for many symbolized the hope of America; Martin Luther King, Jr., the Nobel Prize-winning leader who had promoted nonviolence to redress social injustice; Malcolm X, the forceful advocate of black pride; and Robert Kennedy, the presidential candidate who promised peace and order, were all assassinated, American military power, or the threat of it, was frustrated by poorly armed guerrilla soldiers in third-world countries on at least three continents. The social pro-grams of the progressive Democratic presidents combined with the war debt had set the stage for a volatile economy plagued by inflation and tax increases. The idealism of the early 1960s had hardened into hostility as nonviolent protest evolved into displays of black power and "turn on, tune in, and drop out" replaced "make love not war" as the slogan of disaffected youth. By the end of the decade women may have held nearly half the jobs in the United States, but they only made 60 percent as much as their male coworkers. The race to the moon that had provided so much nationalistic spirit during the decade was finally ended successfully, and then the manned space program was scaled back in acknowledgement of the criticism that unmanned flights were more productive and cheaper.

The Burdens

The United States suffered the burden of power during the 1960s, which included the commitment to react responsibly even when others do not. That burden included the struggle for dominance with the Soviet Union in a global war of tactics; challenges of other nations who did not wish to subordinate themselves to American interests; and rude scrutiny from its own citizens as they struggled to comprehend the obligations of wealth and the responsibilities of dominion.

The Benefits. The United States also enjoyed the benefits of power during the 1960s, which supplied the re-sources to accomplish grand achievements. Those benefits included the ability to penetrate outer space and to find practical application for the scientific knowledge gathered there; to understand physiological processes so precisely that medical researchers could transplant organs, eradicate diseases, and increase longevity; to develop commerce so that goods to enrich people's lives could be delivered throughout the world. It was a time when American maturity was tested and American capacity was demonstrated.

—R. L.


This is one of nine volumes in the American Decades series. Each volume will chronicle a single twentieth-century decade from thirteen separate perspectives, broadly covering American life. The volumes begin with a chronology of world events outside of America, which provides a context for American experience. Following are chapters, arranged in alphabetical order, on thirteen categories of American endeavor ranging from business to medicine, from the arts to sports. Each of these chapters contains the following elements: first, a table of contents for the chapter; second, a chronology of significant events in the field; third, Topics in the News, a series, beginning with an overview, of short essays describing current events; fourth, anecdotal sidebars of interesting and entertaining, though not necessarily important, information; fifth, Headline Makers, short biographical accounts of key people during the decade; sixth, People in the News, brief notices of significant accomplishments by people who mattered; seventh, Awards of note in the field (where applicable); eighth, Deaths during the decade of people in the field; and ninth, a list of Publications during or specifically about the decade in the field. In addition, there is a general bibliography at the end of this volume, followed by an index of photographs and an index of subjects.

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3468302159