The 1960’s was a decade that forever changed the culture and society of America. The 1960’s were widely known as the decade of peace
and love, not because the world had become a utopia but, in my opinion,
because of the heavy use of the popular hallucinogenic drugs by the
American youth. In reality minorities were struggling to gain freedom
from segregation and thousands of American soldiers and Vietnamese
civilians were being killed in the highly disputed war in Vietnam.
On February 20, 1960 four black college freshmen from the Negro
Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, North Carolina quietly
walked into a restaurant and sat down at the lunch counter. They were
protesting the Jim Crow custom that blacks could be served while
standing up but not while they were sitting at the lunch counter. The
students quietly sat there politely asking for service until closing time.
The next morning they showed up again accompanied by twenty five fellow
students. By the next week their sit down had been repeated in fourteen
cities in five deep south states. In the weeks to follow many new
protests arose. After a black woman was beaten with a baseball bat in
Montgomery, Alabama, 1,000 blacks silently marched into the first capital
of the Confederate states to sing and pray. Six hundred students from two
colleges walked through the streets of Orangeburg, South Carolina with
placards that exhibited phrases like "We Want Liberty" and "Segregation
is Dead." By late June some kind of public place in over one hundred and
fifty different cities across America had been desegregated.
John F. Kennedy was never able to gain enough support to pass a civil
rights bill during his short time in office, but Lyndon Johnson drawing on
the Kennedy legacy and the support of the nation succeeded in passing the
bill. The bill passed 71 to 19, four more votes than required.
By early 1965 a new black leader had arose, whose name was
Malcolm X. His gospel was hatred and his motto was; "If ballots won’t
work, bullets will." Malcolm X was a former pimp, cocaine addict, and
thief. He started a militant, all black group called the Black Panthers. On
a bright Sunday in a ballroom in Manhattan in full view of 400 blacks
Malcolm was murdered. Three men casually walked down the aisle; and
from eight feet opened fire with sawed-off double barreled shotguns.
Malcolm was killed by a pair of point blank range shots to the chest.
On March 12, 1965, U.S. Highway 80 was blocked by sixty state
troopers who stood in a wall three deep 400 yards past the Edmund Pettus
Bridge, which crosses the Alabama river. When black marchers came
within 100 yards the troopers were ordered to put on their gas masks. At
twenty five yards the marchers stopped. Seconds later the command"troopers forward" was barked. The troopers moved in a solid wall
pushing back the front marchers. At 75 yards the troopers were joined by
posse men and deputies with tear gas canisters, in seconds the road was
swirling with clouds of smoke. The mounted men brought out bull whips
and began beating the marchers. Never in history had the American public
responded with such fury. Over 15,000 thousand people marched in five
different cities across the country.
On Sunday, March 21, 1965 a crowd of 3,400 marchers lead by two
Nobel Peace Prize winners, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Bunche,
departed from Selma on their four day march to Montgomery. They were
accompanied by 2,900 military police, U.S. Marshals, and FBI agents. The
goal of the march was to serve the governor with a petition protesting
voter discrimination. When the crowd reached the capital the governor
reneged and blandly told them "the capitol is closed today."
By August of 1965 riots began to erupt in Los Angeles. At the end
of one week there were 27 dead, almost 600 injured, 1,700 arrested, and
over $100 million dollars worth of property damage. The riots were
finally stopped when 5,000 national guardsmen were called in from around
the country. No one actually knows what started the riots, but some
blame it on the heat wave that was hitting Los Angels and others blame it
on the irritation of the urban blacks because of their isolation and
By the end of 1966 the federal government was getting fed up with
the lack of obedience by some school districts in the deep south that were
refusing to desegregate schools. They decided to take action and cut off
all federal funding to six more districts bringing the total to 37 southern
schools without funding. Though losing funding many schools were still
segregating students. In Louisiana only 1 in 28 black students attended
school with whites, 1 in 31 in Mississippi, and only 1 in 42 in Alabama.
The Los Angeles ghetto of Watts plunged into anarchy in 1965 after
a black man named Marquette Frye was arrested for drunk driving. After
six days of rioting ended a total of 35 were dead, 900 were injured, and
there was millions of dollars worth of property damage. A Cleveland
ghetto broke into rioting after a white bartender denied a glass of ice
water to a black man. In Newark, New Jersey some of the most violent
race riots broke out after a black cab driver was killed by white
policemen. At the end of the week there were 21 dead, over 1,000 injured,
and at least 1,600 arrested. Property damage was once again in the high
millions. By 1967 forty five were dead and property damage was up to
almost one billion dollars. During the summer of 1967 riots intensified in
Detroit. By the end of one week 41 were dead, 350 injured, 3,800
arrested, 5,000 homeless (mostly blacks), 1,300 buildings completely
destroyed, and 2,700 businesses ransacked. Property damage reached an
astonishing $500 million dollars.
It was a brisk spring night in Memphis as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
stood on a second story balcony discussing the next week’s march on
Washington with his colleagues. Suddenly a single shot broke the silence
of the night air. King’s co-workers thought it was some kind of bad joke
until they saw him lying on the ground in a pool of blood with a bullet hole
torn through his neck. In response to the shot some thirty Memphis police
converged on the building. Somehow, possibly on purpose, all thirty
policemen missed the shooter. The weapon used to kill King was a scope-
sighted 30.06 cal. Remington pump rifle. The range from which the shot
was taken was a short 205 feet. After King’s murder rioting took place in
scores of cities around the country.
The United States had a simple yet bloody goal in Vietnam, to keep
the communists from acquiring South Vietnam. The U.S. had three main
avenues to help South Vietnam resist communist guerrilla attacks: 1) The
dispatch to South Vietnam of U.S. operational personnel; 2) Reconnaissance missions along the border of North and South Vietnam; 3)
Bomber strikes at Communist guerrilla bases. The U.S. expected to win
the war with the Viet Cong within three years with high but acceptable
causalities. In reality the U.S. lost the war and had a casualty count of a
devastating 58,148 dead.
In August of 1969 a historical music and arts fair in Bethel, New
York took place. It is commonly known as "Woodstock." Over 400,000
people showed up at Woodstock, most between the ages of 16 and 30.
Many were said to be attracted by the all-star cast of top rock artists
that included Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, the Jefferson Airplane,
and Bob Dylan. To many adults of the time Woodstock was simply a
freak out, a "monstrous Dionysian revel," where a group of drugies got
together to drop acid and groove to hours of "amplified cacophony."
In reality the impact Woodstock had on the youth culture can hardly be
In closing,the 60’s was in one perspective, a decade of peace and
love, but in another perspective a decade of war and struggle.