The Columbia Guide to America in the 1960s

The Columbia Guide to America in the 1960s

David Farber
Beth Bailey
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    The Columbia Guide to America in the 1960s
    Book Description:

    The 1960s continue to be the subject of passionate debate and political controversy, a touchstone in struggles over the meaning of the American past and the direction of the American future. Amid the polemics and the myths, making sense of the Sixties and its legacies presents a challenge. This book is for all those who want to take it on. Because there are so many facets to this unique and transformative era, this volume offers multiple approaches and perspectives.

    The first section gives a lively narrative overview of the decade's major policies, events, and cultural changes. The second presents ten original interpretative essays from prominent historians about significant and controversial issues from the Vietnam War to the sexual revolution, followed by a concise encyclopedia articles organized alphabetically. This section could stand as a reference work in itself and serves to supplement the narrative. Subsequent sections include short topical essays, special subjects, a brief chronology, and finally an extensive annotated bibliography with ample information on books, films, and electronic resources for further exploration.

    With interesting facts, statistics, and comparisons presented in almanac style as well as the expertise of prominent scholars, The Columbia Guide to America in the 1960s is the most complete guide to an enduringly fascinating era.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51807-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    The Sixties era was among the most colorful, complex, and eventful periods in American history. More than any other decade of the twentieth century, the 1960s continue to be the subject of passionate debate and political controversy in the United States, a touchstone in struggles over the meaning of the American past and the direction of the nation’s future. Amid all the polemics and the myths, making sense of the 1960s and its legacies is a real challenge. This book is for all those who want to try.

    Because there are so many “Sixties,” this volume offers multiple approaches to...

    • CHAPTER ONE John Kennedy and the Promise of Leadership
      (pp. 3-12)

      In the presidential election year of 1960, the United States was the richest and most powerful nation on earth. A country of some 180 million people, the United States had undergone immense changes in the 15 years since the end of World War II. Few would have guessed, in 1960, that even greater challenges still lay ahead for the American people.

      World War II had been a transition between two completely different eras in American life. Before the wartime mobilization, unemployment and poverty had torn at the fabric of tens of millions of American families. Up until December 7, 1941,...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Civil Rights Revolution
      (pp. 13-22)

      While most white Americans in 1960 probably thought the presidential election was the year’s most important political event, many black Americans expressed a very different kind of political perspective. Beginning on February 1, 1960, a sustained mass movement was started among young black men and women in the South when four students initiated a “sit-in” at a Woolworth lunch counter to protest racial discrimination. Over the next five years, civil-rights activists organized marches, demonstrations, boycotts, and rallies aimed at empowering black Americans, while converting or enlisting white supporters, and ending racially discriminatory laws and practices within the United States.


    • CHAPTER THREE The Great Society
      (pp. 23-33)

      During the mid-1960s, liberals, conservatives, and radicals offered competing visions for solving the nation’s basic domestic problems. Liberals, led by President Lyndon Johnson, called for an activist federal government that would right racial injustice and wage a “War on Poverty.” Conservatives, with Arizonan Barry Goldwater as their standardbearer in 1964, insisted that the federal government had no right to intervene in racial matters and little role to play in American domestic life. The only real problem Americans faced at home, said Goldwater, was an overreaching federal government that threatened core American values.

      Leftist radicals, both white and black, rejected the...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Vietnam War
      (pp. 34-43)

      The United States government became involved in Vietnam slowly. Each step of the way, for more than 20 years, policy-makers debated options, considered alternatives, and ultimately chose deeper involvement. By mid-1965, a series of incremental steps resulted in American ground troops facing combat in Vietnam. By 1968, the war had become a quagmire with no clear road to victory. Only in 1973, after suffering massive casualties and laying waste to much of Vietnam, would the United States ingloriously pull out the last of its troops. America’s longest war tore the nation apart.

      Before World War II, dating back to the...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Polarization
      (pp. 44-54)

      By 1968, President Johnson felt besieged. Everywhere he went in public, protesters shouted, “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” Johnson’s increasingly unpopular Vietnam policies were also tearing apart his own Democratic Party. The Democrats’ antiwar wing not only demanded a change in policy but also refused to support Johnson’s bid for a second term in office.

      Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy was the first challenger. Given little notice by national pundits, McCarthy shocked both Johnson and the political establishment by almost winning the first presidential primary in New Hampshire. His campaign attracted thousands of antiwar student volunteers,...

    • CHAPTER SIX Sixties Culture
      (pp. 55-63)

      During the Sixties era, racial justice and the Vietnam War were not the only sources of conflict in American society. People from all walks of life often heatedly debated how to lead a good life amid national prosperity. While the majority celebrated the material abundance that prosperity made possible, some young people scorned what they regarded as the soulless materialism of America’s consumer society. As one cultural radical commented: “Why should we work 12 or 16 hours a day now when we don’t have to? For a color TV? For wall-to-wall carpeting? An automatic ice-cube maker?”¹

      It was not just...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN New Directions
      (pp. 64-74)

      Despite the cultural and political turmoil at home, President Richard Nixon put his greatest energies into American foreign relations. For most of his first term, the focus was on Vietnam. Even before the war ended, however, the president and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, a crafty practitioner of realpolitik, had begun working on a fundamental reshaping of international relations.

      By July 1971, Nixon surprised much of the world by announcing that the United States was opening up diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. (The United States had refused to recognize the Chinese government since the 1949 communist...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Conclusion
      (pp. 75-76)

      The Sixties era was marked by a failed war abroad and turmoil at home. At the same time, it was a period of nearly unequaled economic prosperity and global leadership. The apparent contradictions—national affluence and massive discontent, global leadership and military defeat—explains much about American society in the 1960s.

      America’s very successes—international leadership and unprecedented national affluence—helped to make the changes and challenges of the era possible. The post–World War II prosperity helped to produce the Baby Boom, which in turn led to record numbers of college students in the 1960s.

      Many of these students...

    • The Upheaval of Jim Crow: African Americans and the Struggle for Civil Rights in the 1960s
      (pp. 79-90)
      Beth Tompkins Bates

      Several decades after the civil rights movement, debates over affirmative action, de facto residential segregation, and economic disparities between white Americans and African Americans have raised the question: Just what was achieved, and for whom, during one of the most important social movements in American history? These concerns, and others, have caused scholars to ask: What, if anything, was “overcome” during the heady days of sit-ins, nonviolent demonstrations, rallies, protest marches, and speeches that galvanized the nation? Different perspectives on the history of the civil rights movement reflect the various ways scholars have understood the purpose of the movement, and...

    • The New Left: Democratic Reformers or Left-Wing Revolutionaries?
      (pp. 91-97)
      Doug Rossinow

      The organized “new left” of the 1960s was primarily a movement of young, white, college-educated Americans committed to redressing social and political inequalities of power. Its main nationwide organization was the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, which grew during the decade from a small political-education group into a militant association that commanded the allegiance of hundreds of thousands of young Americans.

      SDS members emphasized two basic issues. First, they called for what they termed “participatory democracy” in the United States. Second, they opposed the cold war between the United States and the forces of communism around the world....

    • Losing Ground? The Great Society in Historical Perspective
      (pp. 98-108)
      Edward Berkowitz

      Ronald Reagan, one of the country’s most canny politicians, once explained that a key to his success was attacking the Great Society and defending the New Deal. When the press criticized him for dismantling many New Deal programs during the first years of his presidency, Reagan reminded reporters that he had voted for President Roosevelt four times. “I’m trying to undo the Great Society,” he said. “It was LBJ’s war on poverty that led us to our present mess.”¹

      In making this accusation, Reagan fed on a conservative critique of the Great Society that culminated in the publication of Charles...

    • Urban Uprisings: Riots or Rebellions?
      (pp. 109-117)
      Heather Ann Thompson

      Between 1965 and 1970 Americans were shocked to see social unrest surface repeatedly in inner cities across the United States. During this tumultuous period poor urbanites rocked major American cities to their foundation by taking to the streets and engaging in bitter clashes with law enforcement, both local and federal. It was the violence that gripped Los Angeles during the summer of 1965 that first called national attention to the severe conflicts tearing America’s urban centers asunder. On August 11 of that year, a relatively routine incident occurred, in which Los Angeles police officers stopped a black motorist for questioning....

    • Explaining the Tragedy of Vietnam
      (pp. 118-124)
      Richard H. Immerman

      There may be no historical debate more contentious than the one that continues to rage over why the United States lost the war in Vietnam. In part this is because the question cannot be divorced from questions about the origins and character of the war and the causes for U.S. intervention. But in larger part, what drives the debate are the war’s consequences and legacy. The Vietnam War cost America more than more than 58,000 of its young (and additional thousands who were physically or psychologically maimed), its economic vitality, its domestic consensus, even its faith in its government leaders...

    • The Women’s Movement: Liberation for Whom?
      (pp. 125-133)
      Beth Bailey

      In 1988, the wife of vice-presidential nominee Dan Quayle offered delegates to the Republican National Convention in Houston a resounding rejection of the women’s liberation movement. “Most women,” she claimed, “do not wish to be liberated from their essential natures as women.” Looking back to her own experience in the 1960s, she reminded them, “Not everyone concluded that American society was so bad that it had to be radically remade by social revolution. Not everyone believed that the family was so oppressive that women could only thrive apart from it.”¹

      On that point she is, of course, correct. If the...

    • The Sexual Revolution: Was It Revolutionary?
      (pp. 134-142)
      Beth Bailey

      Was “the sexual revolution” really revolutionary? It’s hard to argue otherwise.

      In 1950, less than four percent of babies were born to unmarried women. The figure topped 30 percent in the 1990s, with approximately two-thirds of African-American births to single women.

      In 1960, only 17,000 unmarried couples were living together “without benefit of matrimony,” as it was described at the time. The number rose 900 percent by the end of the decade, and climbed steadily thereafter.

      In 1963, a discussion on “The Sexual Revolution” was pulled from the schedule of a New York City TV station because the very topic...

    • Debating the Counterculture: Ecstasy and Anxiety Over the Hip Alternative
      (pp. 143-156)
      Michael Wm. Doyle

      This epigram, attributed to Plato, was ubiquitous in the United States by the late 1960s. One encountered it frequently in the pages of the underground press, where it bestowed a hoary sanction on those who styled themselves “new barbarians” in laying siege to the citadels of culture and tradition. They used no battering rams or catapults—their weapons of choice were primarily instruments of culture in both the artistic and the anthropological sense, rather than those of politics, as that term was then conventionally understood. The apparatus of this cultural assault, as well as those who enlisted in the campaign,...

    • Political Conservatism in the Sixties: Silent Majority or White Backlash?
      (pp. 157-166)
      Jeff Roche

      There are several reasons why historians have tended to ignore or dismiss 1960s conservatives and their movement. Few within the academy sympathize with the political ideologies of Barry Goldwater or George Wallace or Richard Nixon. Moreover, many Sixties scholars who came of age during that era have tended to study the movements they themselves participated in or at least cheered from their carrels. Memory, as historian David Farber has pointed out, still has a powerful hold on historical interpretations of the decade. The civil rights movement and other rights revolutions, second-wave feminism, the New Left, and demonstrations against the war...

    • The Sixties Legacy: “The Destructive Generation” or “Years of Hope”?
      (pp. 167-176)
      David Farber

      In the United States Postal Service’s millennial public balloting to choose stamps representing each decade of the last century, the “Super Bowl Kicks Off” (1967) easily out-polled Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in the “How Do You Picture the 60s?” category. “Americans Demonstrate” finished near the bottom of the 30 listed choices. These days, images of the Sixties are not easily recalled in terms of antiwar protest, countercultural dissent, or a rights revolution. Americans seem to be including the Sixties within the newly recuperated happy-days-are-here-again, spectacle-driven, celebrity-inundated, free-market extravaganza that extends from the end of World War...

  7. PART III The Sixties A to Z
    (pp. 177-260)
    • Cities and Suburbs
      (pp. 263-272)
      Amy Scott

      From 1945 to 1960, demographic movement, economic change, and federal government policy restructured urban America. Three trends during the postwar years are critically important to understanding the state of America’s cities on the eve of the Sixties: the Second Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to urban industrial centers in the North and West; the creation of a suburban car culture; and sustained economic and population growth in Sunbelt cities. The efforts of local and national leaders to deal with the repercussions of these societal transitions laid the groundwork for the urban crisis of the 1960s.


    • Environmentalism
      (pp. 273-280)
      Jeff Sanders

      Every episode of a popular PBS children’s show from the early 1970s began with this song and the famous photograph of planet Earth floating alone in the darkness of space. At the close of a divisive decade, this ubiquitous image, made possible by President Kennedy’s Apollo space program, appeared on signs and magazine covers, on flags at rallies, and on posters in elementary schools.

      Viewed from a distance, the image of Earth evoked a sense of calm. The big blue marble offered symbolic hope for reconciliation as well as for restrained and rational thinking; it reminded Americans of what was...

    • Law and Justice
      (pp. 281-287)
      Rusty L. Monhollon

      In a democratic society, according to the political philosopher John Rawls in his classic Theory of Justice, concepts of justice are based on the belief that all citizens should be free and equal. Justice, therefore, is the moral basis for a democratic society. Neither justice nor the law is static; each must evolve to meet society’s changing needs. However, when citizens in a democracy embrace divergent ideals of freedom and equality and thus of justice, struggles frequently occur in the nation’s legal and political systems over those ideals, over the state’s proper role in protecting and enforcing them, and over...

    • Popular Music
      (pp. 288-295)
      Durwood Ball

      Sixties popular music was a sonic bridge from the proscriptions of the cold war to personal transformation, spiritual ecstasy, and social freedom. Baby boomers invoked the secular trinity—sex, drugs, and rock and roll—to distinguish their counterculture from their parents’ “repressive” world. The soundtrack to upheaval, Sixties pop embraced cultural pluralism and sought to heal racial, social, and political divisions. Despite these ideals, the music industry still saw the baby boomers, whites especially, as a cash cow and categorized pop music by race and audience. Sixties pop included jazz, country, gospel, and other genres, but rock and roll—rockabilly,...

    • Religion
      (pp. 296-304)
      Beth Bailey

      Religion in the America of the Sixties, like so much else, was chaotic and fluid, animated by conflict and by new levels of commitment and possibility. It was a time of reformation and revival, as fundamental political realignments created new patterns in American life and religiously based activism changed American society in critically important ways.

      Religion affected most Americans in the 1960s not through the details of complex theological debate but through its very public role in American life. Many of the movements for social justice were, at least partially, grounded in religion or spirituality, and established churches became increasingly...

    • The End of Enthusiasm: Science and Technology
      (pp. 305-311)
      Timothy Moy

      Quarks. Quasars. Lasers. Apollo. Heart transplants. Computers. Nylon. Color TV. Pampers. The Pill. LSD. Napalm. DDT. Thalidomide. Mutual Assured Destruction. Star Trek. Dr. Strangelove. The Sixties had them all.

      For most of the twentieth century, Americans had enjoyed an enthusiastic and profitable relationship with science and technology. Much of the nation’s economic and military ascendancy during the American Century was largely due to its technical prowess. And while positive attitudes about science and its products had wavered during the Depression and after Hiroshima, the prosperity of the 1950s had helped make science and high technology seem as wholesome and American...

    • Sports
      (pp. 312-320)
      David Key

      Sports in the 1960s might be remembered for any number of dramatic on-field images televised into the national consciousness. From Bill Mazeroski’s World Series–winning home run in 1960 to the Miracle Mets in 1969; from the Green Bay Packers’ dominance of the early Super Bowls to the upstart Jets’ victory—even the Super Bowl itself; from the great duels between Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell indoors to the battles between Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus out of doors, the 1960s and early 1970s offered fans classic and memorable competition. Yet such athletic feats are not characteristic of only one...

    • Art: Expanding Conceptions, Sites, and Audiences
      (pp. 321-326)
      Suzaan Boettger

      The expansive sense of possibility that swept across America in the early 1960s fundamentally altered ideas about art and its relation to its consumers. As in so many other arenas in that period, but unlike any other phase of American art before or since, the decade produced an intense proliferation of new forms. And the innovations appeared with a rapidity that even in retrospect seems dizzying: in 1959, semiplanned group interactions with temporary sculptural installations called “Happenings”; in 1962, cartoon figuration and the monumentalization of grocery store merchandise in Pop Art; in 1965, the vertiginous geometric patterns of Op Art;...

  11. PART VII Annotated Bibliography
    (pp. 447-490)
  12. Index
    (pp. 491-508)