For a lot of people — even those who weren’t alive at the time — the 1960s in America represent a time of immense promise and purpose. The children of World War II veterans were coming of age and fighting to have their voices heard on the world stage. American politicians were in mortal fear of a worldwide communist menace. It was the birth of the flower child movement, the highest point of tension in the Space Race, and the beginning of a conflict that would mark an entire generation – the Vietnam War.
There were endless crazy things that happened in the 1960s, large and small, amazing and horrible. It seemed that every day of that wondrous decade the world changed just a little. There’s a reason that so many facets of 1960s culture have endured into modern times.
More than four decades later, the world is still fascinated by a 10-year stretch in the middle of a turbulent, transformative century. And here’s why.
1960 – The Beginning Of Something Different
The first year of a new decade marked a beginning of a new hope and an air of change in the United States. John F. Kennedy – a handsome Irish Catholic Democrat from New England – won the presidency, and in February, four young African Americans staged a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s counter in Greensboro, NC, initiating the Civil Rights Movement that would span across the decade. Though a hard road lay ahead, an air of change permeated the nation.
What Happened: In November, JFK is elected, the youngest President of the United States to date; Sit-ins begin across the country in support of Civil Rights; 3,500 troops are sent to Vietnam; President Eisenhower signs the Civil Rights Act of 1960 into law; Theodore Maiman fires the first laser; Psycho is released; Cassius Clay wins an American Gold Medal in boxing
1961 – The Battle Lines Are Drawn
In 1961, a new generation would find its mouthpiece in several wildly different locations: the burgeoning music scene of Greenwich Village, interstate bus trips that challenged segregation, the Moon, and 1,000 other front lines that get drawn across generational lines.
What Happened: Eisenhower officially severs ties with Cuba; The phrase “military-industrial complex” is first uttered by Dwight D. Eisenhower in his Farewell Address; Roger Maris hits 61 homers against all odds; John F. Kennedy takes the Oath of Office and botches the Bay of Pigs; The Fantastic Four is released, launching the Marvel Universe; Bob Dylan arrives in New York City; The US Freedom Riders take to the bus in interstate trips; The race to the Moon begins in earnest
1962 – A Year For Dramatic Change
The poets, musicians, TV stars, and movie makers all had their say in 1962, as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? opened on Broadway, Johnny Carson made his debut, the Golden Age of Radio ended, and a luminous star took her last, tragic bow.
What Happened: The first MLB game gets played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA; James Meredith becomes the first African American student to register at the University of Mississippi; the first Wal-Mart opens in Rogers, Arkansas; Marilyn Monroe is found dead in her home; the Navy SEALs are formed; the NBC Peacock is first used; Wilt Chamberlain scores 100 points in a single game; Johnny Carson takes over on The Tonight Show
1963 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Begins His Crusade
After working for several years to achieve peaceful social change in the United States, Martin Luther King, Jr. gains national attention for a series of daring protests and profound public statements.
What Happened: George Wallace is elected Governor of Alabama (and attempts to bar the entry of the University of Alabama’s first black students); The CIA begins domestic operation; Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique is published, and the Women's Movement is awakened; Iron Man debuts in Marvel Comics's Tales of Suspense; Alcatraz closes; Martin Luther King, Jr. is arrested during a Birmingham protest and subsequently issues his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail"; MLK delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech; ZIP codes are introduced; John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, TX; Four little girls are killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, AL