After Kennedy's murder, a time of innocence and hope began to look like a
time of anger and violence.
This is Rich Kleinfeldt.
And this is Stan Busby with THE MAKING OF A NATION -- a VOA Special English
program about the history of the United States.
Today, we tell about life in the United States during the nineteen sixties.
The nineteen sixties began with the election of the first president born in
the twentieth century -- John Kennedy. For many Americans, the young president
was the symbol of a spirit of hope for the nation. When Kennedy was murdered in
nineteen sixty-three, many felt that their hopes died, too. This was especially
true of young people, and members and supporters of minority groups.
A time of innocence and hope soon began to look like a time of anger and
violence. More Americans protested to demand an end to the unfair treatment of
black citizens. More protested to demand an end to the war in Vietnam. And more
protested to demand full equality for women.
By the middle of the nineteen sixties, it had become almost impossible for
President Lyndon Johnson to leave the White House without facing protesters
against the war in Vietnam. In March of nineteen sixty-eight, he announced that
he would not run for another term.
In addition to President John Kennedy, two other influential leaders were
murdered during the nineteen sixties. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King
Junior was shot in Memphis, Tennessee in nineteen sixty-eight. Several weeks
later, Robert Kennedy--John Kennedy's brother--was shot in Los Angeles,
California. He was campaigning to win his party's nomination for president.
Their deaths resulted in riots in cities across the country.
The unrest and violence affected many young Americans. The effect seemed
especially bad because of the time in which they had grown up. By the middle
nineteen fifties, most of their parents had jobs that paid well. They expressed
satisfaction with their lives. They taught their children what were called
"middle class" values. These included a belief in God, hard work, and service to
Later, many young Americans began to question these beliefs. They felt that
their parents' values were not enough to help them deal with the social and
racial difficulties of the nineteen sixties. They rebelled by letting their hair
grow long and by wearing strange clothes. Their dissatisfaction was strongly
expressed in music.
Rock-and-roll music had become very popular in America in the nineteen
fifties. Some people, however, did not approve of it. They thought it was too
sexual. These people disliked the rock-and-roll of the nineteen sixties even
more. They found the words especially unpleasant.
The musicians themselves thought the words were extremely important. As
singer and song writer Bob Dylan said, "There would be no music without the
words." Bob Dylan produced many songs of social protest. He wrote anti-war songs
before the war in Vietnam became a violent issue. One was called Blowin' in
In addition to songs of social protest, rock-and-roll music continued to be
popular in America during the nineteen sixties. The most popular group, however,
was not American. It was British -- the Beatles -- four rock-and-roll musicians
That was the Beatles' song I Want to Hold Your Hand. It went on sale
in the United States at the end of nineteen sixty-three. Within five weeks, it
was the biggest-selling record in America.
Other songs, including some by the Beatles, sounded more revolutionary. They
spoke about drugs and sex, although not always openly. "Do your own thing"
became a common expression. It meant to do whatever you wanted, without feeling
Five hundred thousand young Americans "did their own thing" at the Woodstock
music festival in nineteen sixty-nine. They gathered at a farm in New York
State. They listened to musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Joan Baez, and to
groups such as The Who and Jefferson Airplane. Woodstock became a symbol of the
young peoples' rebellion against traditional values. The young people themselves
were called "hippies." Hippies believed there should be more love and personal
freedom in America.
In nineteen sixty-seven, poet Allen Ginsberg helped lead a gathering of
hippies in San Francisco. No one knows exactly how many people considered
themselves hippies. But twenty thousand attended the gathering.
Another leader of the event was Timothy Leary. He was a former university
professor and researcher. Leary urged the crowd in San Francisco to "tune in and
drop out". This meant they should use drugs and leave school or their job. One
drug that was used in the nineteen sixties was lysergic acid diethylamide, or
L-S-D. L-S-D causes the brain to see strange, colorful images. It also can cause
brain damage. Some people say the Beatles' song Lucy in the Sky with
Diamonds was about L-S-D.
As many Americans were listening to songs about drugs and sex, many others
were watching television programs with traditional family values. These included
The Andy Griffith Show and The Beverly Hillbillies. At the
movies, some films captured the rebellious spirit of the times. These included
Doctor Strangelove and The Graduate. Others offered escape
through spy adventures, like the James Bond films.
Many Americans refused to tune in and drop out in the nineteen sixties. They
took no part in the social revolution. Instead, they continued leading normal
lives of work, family, and home. Others, the activists of American society, were
busy fighting for peace, and racial and social justice. Women's groups, for
example, were seeking equality with men. They wanted the same chances as men to
get a good education and a good job. They also demanded equal pay for equal
A widely popular book on women in modern America was called The Feminine
Mystique. It was written by Betty Friedan and published in nineteen
sixty-three. The idea known as the feminine mystique was the traditional idea
that women have only one part to play in society. They are to have children and
stay at home to raise them. In her book, Mizz Friedan urged women to establish
professional lives of their own.
That same year, a committee was appointed to investigate the condition of
women. It was led by Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a former first lady. The
committee's findings helped lead to new rules and laws. The nineteen sixty-four
civil rights act guaranteed equal treatment for all groups. This included women.
After the law went into effect, however, many activists said it was not being
enforced. The National Organization for Women -- NOW -- was started in an effort
to correct the problem.
The movement for women's equality was known as the women's liberation
movement. Activists were called "women's libbers." They called each other
"sisters." Early activists were usually rich, liberal, white women. Later
activists included women of all ages, women of color, rich and poor, educated
and uneducated. They acted together to win recognition for the work done by all
women in America.
This program of THE MAKING OF A NATION was written by Jeri Watson and
produced by Paul Thompson. This is Rich Kleinfeldt.
And this is Stan Busby. Join us again next week for another VOA Special
English program about the history of the United States.