The Decade of Fury and Fascination, those incredible 1960s
The Changing of the World with a Then and Now comparison
By: J. Marlando
In this world of constant conflict, massive human hunger, self-serving governments and Darwinistic business practices; of noise and chaos there arrived a primal howl from the country’s youth for a more peaceful, loving world. That youth would be called the flower children but would evolve into the more politicalized hippies. It would be the hippies of those ragged years of outrage and outcries who were destined to change the world.
In the U.S. there had never been such a massive movement of protest. Not even the roaring 20s compared to the social defiance of the 60s; when nearly all the traditional values of the nation were denied and the fundamental call to freedom became, “If it feels good…do it.” Yes, this included sex, drugs and anything else with the only taboos being anything coercive or harmful to people. The movement was actually grounded in the teachings of Jesus—Love they neighbor as yourself and the Buddha teachings of nonviolence and love for all living things. Organized religion, with all its hypocrisies (racism and sexism included) was out, however. According to the 1960’s youth movement, the path to God was turning inward and not to some bureaucratic organization; the path to spiritualism was to reconnect with nature as a conscious, loving manifestation of god-ness. In this way there was a returning to the indigenous world view where trees, bush, animals and the very grass beneath one’s feet were called brothers and sisters; the new physics of the world as being in a “web of relationships” permeated hippy consciousness.
There were five major historical events that widen the path toward the 1960 rebellions. The first was indeed the roaring twenties when especially younger women began defying and so breaking away from the nonsense of traditional Victorianism—they raised the hems of their skirts to a shocking knee length, brazenly danced the Charleston, an obvious demonstration of male/female sexuality in 4/4 time; smoked and drank (both taboo for ladies at the time) and turned their backs on most of all the other rigid/Puritanistic rules they had been raised to obey. This was a time that women made their first aggressive demand for equality in the sense of taking it opposed to asking for it. It was nothing that came near to the independence and human action of the women of the 60s but those women of the 1920s nevertheless had set the wheels turning on the road toward absolute liberation from a traditional and historic male-dominated world.
The second event was the beat generation of post war America. Between 1945 and the early 1950s a rather small population of young men formed the “beatniks.” The founders were basically intellectual artists and writers who, like the hippies of the future, formed the movement on the rejecting of the establishment as being hypocritical, moralistically and socially. The most famous was the poet *Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac amidst the early founders but there were a great many others who made up the subculture of the Beats.
That subculture became most known for its literature but also for its love for jazz and coffee house conversations. In the beginning the “members” were mostly made up of middle-class and well educated persons but this changed when a great many returning soldiers from the Second World War began “hanging out” with the **Beats in search of a faith that they had lost in the horrors of warring. This is where ***Alan Watts became an importance influence by teaching the aspects of Eastern religious thought and especially Zen Buddhism. The ex-soldiers felt that Christianity had become too worldly and materialistic to fulfill their spiritual needs; their search for meaning and purpose in their lives. Both these factors of the Beat Generation were destined to evolve into the youth movement of the 1960s. That is, the anti-establishment stance and the turning toward Eastern thought of the Beats becoming the very cornerstones of the hippy reality.
Then there was the out-and-out rebellion against social and parental structure that occurred in 1955 after the movie “Rebel without a Cause” was released. And, fundamentally, that actually described the kids of those times—they knew that they didn’t trust or respect their parent’s world but they weren’t quite sure exactly what they were protesting; they had no real causes to bandstand and so rebellion for the sake of rebellion became vogue. This devotion to the rebellious, however, unfounded or not was to be in the bloodstream of the 60’s hippy.
There are two other major events that would lead into the pathways of hippy-ism and other radicalisms of the 1960s but we will leave them for the next section. For now, it is hoped that this much information will suffice to give the person who did not live through those incredible, complex but often inspirational times enough information to read forward. The decade truly was a time of fury and fascination!
*Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) perhaps the most revolutionary American poet in history and Beat Generation philosopher.
**To get at least a glimpse of the mood of the ex-soldier of W.W.II see the 1946 feature film, The Razor’s Edge starring Tyrone Power. While the story unfolds after the First World War is certainly captures the spiritual seeking of both post war years of young men who returned home more lost than found.
***Alan Watts1915-1973 was a teacher, lecturer and writer on Asian Studies and gave radio talks on KPFA, the Berkeley free radio station. His best-selling book is. “Ways of Zen” which is still on the market. His big influences are the philosophies of Vedanta and Buddhism and Taoist thought.
Crises of the Early Years
The 1960, as all decades do, began as an extension of the previous decade, those golden years of the 50s. While the 1950s had its youth caught up in the emotionalism of Rock ‘N Roll and causeless rebellion—more defiance than actual rebellion, they were times of innocence and, for most people contentment. Purchasing power at least for most people was ample if not abundant and there was a feeling of well-being even in spite of the Cold War. God, Home and Country remained in the heart of the nation, by and large even by the poor and downcast. There was simply a lot of faith in the country and its leadership. While there were the common debates between the right and left and the typical political disputes, there was a certain cohesiveness of all Americans when it came to the bottom lines of patriotism and national pride.
Especially younger blacks began taking greater risks in their desire for acknowledged equality. The 1960s began with what were called, “Sit-ins”. Sit-ins were primarily to combat discrimination at lunch counters. Merely taking seats at a public lunch counter doesn’t sound like much today but back then—in the south—the black youth that dared to defy the law not only risked being arrested but much worse by white supremacists. And the South in those days were populated by white supremacists with many being members of the Ku Klux Klan.
In the meantime things seemed to be heating up between the U.S. and Russia in that first year of 60s. Russia warned President Eisenhower that if the U.S, raided Cuba, such an invasion would be met by Russian missiles. Cuba was under communistic controls, however, and Eisenhower was refusing to permit communism to rule that close to our shorelines.
Incidentally, in1960 there was also a fear of computers reducing the human work force. There were all of 2,000 computers in use in American industries and banking at the time. This is long before the advent of home computers. Most Americans had no idea what a computer was much less worrying about its future. The other major advent of 1960 was the introduction of “the pill.”
The Food and Drug Administration approve the contraceptive pill on May 9th, of 1960 and for the first time in history women were at long last in charge of their own bodies; the other truth was that they could then enjoy sex as men had been enjoying it for millenniums. The diaphragm that had been introduced in the 1920s was not as safe as the pill that the government was saying was almost 100% safe.
Also in 1960 a young Jack Kennedy, a democratic Senator won the presidency from republican Vice President Richard Nixon in November of that year. Unlike most presidents before him Jack Kennedy had youth, vigor, good looks and enthusiasm and so youth identified with him, loved him! And youth, as seemingly is always the case, is left-wing orientated. Certainly the majority of the youth of the 60s were.
During Kennedy’s inaugural address in January of 1961, he made a comment that would vibrate through the right wing folks like an electric shock: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” There were overtones of collectivism in the statement that the rightwing resented; remembrances of Roosevelt’s New Deal-ism that the rightwing condemned as harmful to American freedom and progress. Then, in addition to this, the new President almost immediately, calling his term the new frontier, established the Peace Corps; a program to aid the poor in poor lands. While the bureaucracy of the Peace Corps has failed in organization, the idea was truly valid and humanistic; something that needs expanded in our own times.
Anyway, in Kennedy’s second year there was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion; an attack on Cuba’s shoreline. It is said that Eisenhower had long before started the planning of the attack. And, adding to this national embarrassment, people around the world condemned the attack. It had connotations of a David and Goliath bout and, in this case, David won again.
Jack Kennedy had told a press conference. “There will not be, under any conditions, any intervention in Cuba by the United States Armed forces” This statement was virtually followed but, in actuality the U.S. orchestrated an all Cuban fighting force, backed by unmarked navy jets in the invasion. According to the historian Howard Zinn, four American pilots were killed, and “their families were not told the truth about how the men died.
At the same time high tech was quickly advancing after the 1950s. John Glenn became the first American to go into orbit around the world but, at the time, we had fallen behind Russia in space exploration. The Russians—in the 60s were the U.S.’s bitter enemy—and had already launched the first space satellite (The Spudnik) in 1957. It was four years later, 1961, that NASA launched Alan B. Shepard, Jr. into space as competitive statement to the world. Glenn’s orbit would follow in the following year.
All seemed well for Americans and even though the same old rightwing complaints and suspicions of the left were plentiful, and in spite of the Bay of Pigs failure, John Kennedy was an extremely popular president. Then disaster hit of an unexpected kind: Marilyn Monroe, the beautiful movie star who began as a pinup girl for the U.S. Army, died an unexpected death at age 36. It was a well substantiated rumor that the President—John Kennedy—had been having an affair with her and was suspected of having her murdered to keep her quiet about it. In those early years of the 1960s most Americans were still raising their eyebrows at extramarital relationships but the idea that a president would be involved in such “immorality” was shocking but, by and large, dismissed as hearsay by most. Nevertheless, the star’s death had shocked the nation.
That shock faded into a forbidden past, However, because two months later there arrived the October, 1962 missile crises and the entire world was suddenly at real risk of annihilation.
The President had been aware for weeks that the Soviets might be supplying Cuba with sophisticated missiles—middle-range nuclear weapons. Then on October 16, he had proof. Aerial reconnaissance pictures showing a Cuban missile was shown him, even before he was out of bed that morning. He would later tell his advisors that, “The greatest danger of all was to do nothing.”
On the 22nd of October he addressed the nation on television. He said that Khrushchev (the Soviet Premier at the time) was lying when he said the missiles were only defensive; that they could be launched against a number of American cities.
President Kennedy then ordered an air and naval blockade of the island and ordered Khrushchev to remove the missiles and turn his ships around that were headed into Cuban waters. If he didn’t, there would be devastating consequences. Then on October 22, 1962, all Am3erican missile crews were put on alert. Planes armed with nuclear weapons were made ready for takeoff. Nuclear subs were at the ready to fire, indeed all commands were placed on Defcon-2, a state of readiness just a hair short of a declaration of war.
The whole world waited in suspense. If the two Superpowers began firing it was estimated that 500 million human beings would die. The earth itself would have been virtually destroyed, if you will, there would have been an Armageddon. At the last second Khrushchev backed down, the crises had ended but the world had actually been on the brink of self-destruction.
This had been the forth historic event in the unfolding of national rebellions that were just around the corner.
A Shock to the Nation
The Cuban crises had tremendous impact on the world psyche. While the 1950s lived with the threat of Nuclear War, that threat was really buried by most people who carried on normal life styles. It was fairly easy to convince the self that no human beings would actually destroy the planet. Then October 1962 unfolded and the planet came within virtual seconds of being destroyed. Younger people were especially bothered by those days of crises because they took away the great hope of the unforeseeable future. Why work, save and attempt to live a traditional life when that life could be blown away by the turning of a couple of keys and the decision of powerful men; why be educated, why marry…all kinds of “whys” began weaving about in the mind of especially younger people.
During these same times rumors were building about a war in Vietnam—another war? Why didn’t people learn from history?
Actually Jack Kennedy was not the instigator. When he took office in 1961 he inherited the Asian policies of Truman and Eisenhower. As a result one of his earliest acts as Commander and Chief was to approve a secret plan for military actions in Vietnam and Laos. As the historian Howard Zinn tells us, “Under the Geneva Accords, the United States was permitted to have 685 advisers in southern Vietnam. Eisenhower secretly sent several thousand. Under Kennedy, the figure rose to sixteen thousand, and some of them began taking part in combat operations.”
Actually in 1946, the year following the Second World War, the French bombarded Haiphong a North Vietnamese seaport. This began an eight year war between the Vietnamese and French who desired to rule. The United States began financing the French and ended up paying for around 80% of their war effort. When the French lost, America felt that it had too big of an investment just to let loose and anyway, Eisenhower feared if the communist won in Vietnam there would be a domino effect in Asia with others falling into to communistic hands. There was also the consideration that Japan depended heavily on Asian rice and if Asian rice fell into the hands of the commies this could create a major problem. In any case, the French president de Gaulle urged Kennedy to simply disengage, that the “U.S. would sink into a military and political quagmire. Well, the U.S. already had a billion dollars plus invested, there was no economic way to, well, simply disengage.
While that war was heating up, the peace marches for Civil Rights had also been escalating. Indeed, on August 28 of 1963 the Reverend Martin Luther King gave his famous, “I have a Dream” speech delivered to an audience of 200,000 in front of the Lincoln Memorial. One of the of the most vital parts of his speech said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold that these truths are self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
On November 22, 1963 of the following month President, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas. Republican and Democrat alike grieved as did nearly every single person in America and a great many people around the world. (There still remains the mystery of who actually shot the president or who ordered the “hit” to be made). Lee Harvey Oswald was quickly arrested for the crime but just as quickly shot by a known mob member. Both shootings had taken place on national T.V. The killer, Jack Ruby, then died in jail not long afterwards. The entire coincidences of the assassination inspire a conspiracy theory that is difficult to deny. Yet, even today, some fifty years later, it is still claimed that Oswald had acted alone and…on his own.
A new fear shot through the American population. If a beloved, modern president was vulnerable to being murdered, what kind of a world were we living in? And this was the 5th history even that influenced…that was in the bloodstream of the social upheaval of the 60s. That upheaval was just around the corner from the death of the president.
A Sudden Wave of Enchanting Disenchantment
In February of 1964 a new musical group stepped off an airplane in New York who was to be featured on the Ed Sullivan Show. Their latest record, “I want to Hold Your Hand” was number one on the U.S. charts. We are of course speaking of the Beatles. They created a record audience of 73 million viewers for their performance on the show. (John Lennon and Ringo Starr were 23 years old. Paul McCarthy and George Harrison were 21).
Upon Kennedy’s death, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in. Shortly afterwards something occurred that enraged the general American public. One of our ships, while on routine patrol was attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Americans do not take kindly to anyone attacking our ships and endangering “our boys” and so they were suddenly supportive of retaliation—just what Johnson and his crew of officials needed to escalate the war. The only problem was that the entire Gulf of Tonkin attack never took place, it was a lie concocted by American officials to get the American people’s approval to start escalating a full scale war. This approval won Johnson the Senate’s approval to simply take any action he desired to take in Southeast Asia. The Vietnam War was on!
In the meanwhile the Poet, Allen Ginsburg at a reading on the Berkeley campus had coined a new term: Flower Power. The early hippies began as Flower Children with a philosophy of love and peace.
Young people (mostly teens) were suddenly flooding into the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, the early center for Flower Child/hippies; they had arrived from all over the U.S. many runaways from middle class homes, nearly all caressing the “love” philosophy forming youth culture that was not only destined to spread but make changes in the world. It is impossible to cover the details in the length of an article but in overview the young hippies changed fashion, changed the fear and repulsion that most Americans felt about homosexuals—the homosexual was simply accepted as a third sex really and anyway, the subculture’s rule of thumb was not to judge anyone with a basic attitude that sang, let it be…let it be!
The flower children/hippies also broke most of the chains that bond males and females to roles and so role playing. In psychological terms they unified the anima and animus personalities which applauded females becoming more aggressive and, at the same time, males less aggressive. Quite suddenly it was okay for boys to admit liking flowers, to wear bright colors, to cry or, in other words, stop burying their feminine natures and being forced to be “macho” all the time. A popular slogan was “Make Love, Not War” and young ladies became extremely sexually free and open for the first time in history with males often taking the passive role. And so, quite suddenly the old Puritan Morality had given way to a new view of our very humanism. The problem was that just like the Beats of the late 40s and early 50s, the hippie movement was dope infested. For hippies the mellowing Marijuana trip was the major “drug” experience of choice but then Timothy Leary, who had been tossed out of Harvard for getting students involved in the mind-blowing chemical LSD was a perfect candidate to be embraced by the flower child/hipsters. Indeed, he gave them a slogan that would become more of the youth culture’s creed than any other: Tune in, turn on, drop out.
Most flower children/hippies wanted to do exactly that; they wanted to find their way back into the bosom of nature, reject the hypocrisies and selfishness, the very unloving ways, of the social-Darwinism that permeated throughout the American culture itself. Those hippies were innocent in that they only yearned for freedom from the materialism of the world. Indeed, a large population of the flower child/hippie generation became spiritual seekers and LSD supported this by becoming spiritual experiences.
In the earlier days of the movement LSD was still legal so virtual tons of young people clad in their gypsy-type clothing and mostly barefooted actually had LSD gatherings in public parks but that yellow submarine bubble was soon enough popped.
Now all the flower child/hippies, however, wanted only peace, freedom and love. The subculture’s major drive became political and driven toward protesting the Vietnam War that just kept escalating. Suddenly a modern chant was heard all the way to Washington D.C., “Hell No, I won’t go” protesting the draft and then flag and draft card burning followed. The political minded hippie broke from the original goals of peace and love of the movement and began a bitter confrontation campaign that demanded change. There were some hippies who actually took off their sandals and beads, put on a more conventional suit in order to run for legitimate office. Tom Hayden is a poster child for this scenario. He was a student (radical) leader of the 1960s, the President of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and co-founder of the Economic Research and Action Project, was extremely active in the antiwar and civil rights movements, was married to Jane Fonda (actress and activist) and eventually was elected to the California State Assembly in 1982.
Other leftwing hippies simply began aggressively attacking the system, physically interfering with elections and demanding a stop to the Vietnam War. The truth is that as well motivated as the flower children/hippies were in the beginning of the movement, only a handful remained faithful to their love and peace motivations—now the hippies in general were challenging and often belligerent in their anti-social behaviors. That was disappointing because the sincere love and peace promoters had actually touched the minds and hearts of both the press and ordinary citizens; actually the entire world because their changes had caused change in faraway places such as traditional Japan and yes, even Russia. Russian youth was responding to the American kids’ call for peace, love and freedom.
By 1965/66 Martin Luther King had become a revered peace and freedom lover for a majority of the country’s youth—and a living icon for most flower child/hippies. He led marches in the face of grave dangers to himself and others in radical white arenas such as Montgomery Alabama. Yet he told his followers:
“If we are arrested every day, if we are exploited every day, if we are trampled over every day, don’t ever let anyone pull you down so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love. We must have compassion and understanding of those who hate us. We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that they are not totally responsible for their hate. But we stand in life at midnight. We are always on the threshold of a new dawn.”
Had a white person have said those beautiful words the general white population would have named him a “good Christian.” But since he was black, countless whites called min a communist instead. It didn’t matter much since the day of the Black Panthers were soon to arrive.
Days of Power and Glory
Racial tensions had been bubbling up for months across the country as the war protests continued growing and now there was a racial uprising in the political air. Actually there was a rather wonderful movement among the blacks around this same time, a “Black is Beautiful” slogan that gave the black person a long needed pride as just the words were uplifting and meaningful. Then in August of 1965 a 21 year old Negro was stopped for drunk driving in Watts a predominately black part of southern Los Angeles. The arrest was followed with allegations of police brutality. That, as is said, became the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Watts riot broke loose and the result was devastation: 34 dead, 1,000 injures, 4,000 arrests and 200 business destroyed. A radical group calling themselves black Muslims was blamed for inciting the riot but there was never any actual proof that this was so. And anyway, there were a number of black groups wanting to take credit for the five days of chaos and fires.
As a quick aside, back then I was stringing for the Harold Examiner a L.A. newspaper and interviewed two leaders of such a group. They told me that if I think, “this summer was hot, wait until next summer”. They told me the plan was first to kill all the blacks still acting like Negroes, then to kill all the Jews and then start on the whites and keep killing them until they got what they wanted. As a reported I asked them what they wanted. They told me they weren’t saying until they got it. An interview that I will never forget!
Killing, however, were rampant in ’65. Indeed, even a black hero, an articulate, aggressive spokesman Malcolm X was gunned down by, what most agreed was a hit ordered by a rival group, the (black) Nation of Islam.
Anyway, another riot occurred in Atlanta in September of 1966. The police there had shot a black suspect they said “was fleeing.” That night after the shooting a group of young, militant blacks, shouting “Black Power,” began attacking cars including police cars with pieces of cement. The riot quickly escalated but did not last as long the L.A. riot. When the smoke finally cleared, Stokely Carmichael, chairman of the Student Non-violent Coordination committee, who had coined the term “Black Power,” was blamed for the outbreak of the Atlanta violence.
Then the Detroit race riot of 1967 erupted, called “the worse in U.S. history.” After the riot was over the Mayor, Jerome Cavanaugh said that Detroit looked like Berlin in 1945—there had been $500 million damages after multiple fire bombings. Then the new president of the H. Rap Brown of the Student Non-violent Coordination committee, called on Negros to, “Wage guerrilla war on the honkie white man.” Brown was later arrested after fires broke out in Cambridge, Maryland after he had urged a crowd of 400 young blacks, “to burn the town down.”
At the same time of all these serious domestic challenges, The Vietnam War was kept escalating and the flower child/hippy movement kept growing. Middle Class America needed uplift so the first Apollo space flight was planned. The launching was disaster as three U.S. astronauts were burned to death when a fire swept through their capsule. Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger B. Chafee were the first astronauts to die in a space craft. The U.S. grieved but it seemed this tragedy was merely one among the many of the times. The U.S. death count in Vietnam was rising every month and there was no end in sight. As a result, average citizens were beginning to howl with the question, what are we doing over there anyway?
Ironically, after the “worse riot in U.S’ history” the flower children/hippies poured into San Francisco for an event that was named “Summer of Love.” About 50,000 “kids” first began pouring into the Monterey Pop Festival—drugs were virtually everywhere and just about everyone was getting high on something—the music, the grass, the LSD, the vibes of love being passed around. By then the mini skirt was common place but still they served for girls flaunting their sexuality in protest of what they called a nation of “hang-ups.” It was as I believe Jerry Rubin once uttered, “Our smiles are our political banners and our nakedness is our picket signs.”
Not all was love, fun and spiritual tripping, however. Tragedy was also everywhere—bad trips, deaths from over dosing, too much fun—One of the most beloved super stars Janis Joplin died of shooting too much heroin and cocaine had entered the drug scene which often energized the more violent of the times.
Then in 1968 a shock permeated the American mind when the most respected news caster, Walter Cronkite joined the cry against the war effort. He publicly announced that after a trip to Vietnam he found the war to be futile and immoral. This was on March 6 of 1968. On March 11, President Lyndon Johnson actually stunned the nation when he announced that he would not be running for reelection. At that time a Gallup poll revealed that only 29% of the people favored his handling of the Vietnam War. This in addition to the conflicts on the home front including a possibility of the U.S. being divided between black and white, the future simply looked devastating for Johnson and one suspects that perhaps his health had suffered the consequences of America’s tragic years. And, no official was giving even an ample answer to that common question, “What are we doing over there anyway?”
In that same year Martin Luther King was assassinated as he stood next to Jesse Jackson on a Memphis motel balcony talking. As the two reverends and activists shared their ideas a rifle shot was heard and in the next moment Martin Luther lay dead. An escaped convict, James Earl Ray was finally arrested for the crime but just as mystery surrounded President Jack Kennedy’s death and even King’s relatives didn’t believe that Earl was behind his murder. Indeed, for years the FBI had been harassing King, recording his telephone calls even monitoring his sex life by setting up bugging devises in motel rooms. It was no secret then that the FBI head, J. Edgar Hoover hated King and wanted to ruin him publicly.
As a quick aside, Hoover mirrored himself as perhaps the most powerful man in America and he did carry a lot of weight…legally and other wise. For example, the FBI kept 6.8 million files and 55 million index cards on American citizens. There were also files kept on national leaders that it is said Hoover would use as “leverage” from time to time.
More riots immediately broke out as news of Martin Luther King’s death was made public. They broke out in Memphis and 24 other cities across the nation—40 blacks and 5 whites lost their lives, and there was $45 million in property damage. 60,000 soldiers were called out to stop the violence where some of the worst was centered in Baltimore, Chicago and Pittsburg.
Two months later, Robert Kennedy, Jack Kennedy’s brother was shot down in California. The senator had just given his California primary victory speech—most of the country believed he was a sure bet for winning the national election, when a Jerusalem born Siran Siran, pulled a 22 pistol from his pocket shooting the candidate dead. Later in that year Richard Nixon was elected to the presidency. His destiny was to end the Vietnam War in the 1970s but leave the White House in disgrace. Many still stay faithful to him as being one of the most effective presidents in foreign policy of the century. The general consensus is that he merely got caught doing what other presidents have done and gotten away with it. In any case, he resigned in 1974.
In 1969, the country finally had an uplifting in faith and spirit when Neil Armstrong became the first human being to step on the moon. Jack Kennedy’s dream had come true six years after his assassination. Then, in the last year of the 60s there was Woodstock.
Woodstock was an outdoor concert that attracted 400,000 hippies of all ages coming together, as one report said, for rock, drugs, sex and peace at a farmland just outside Bethel, New York. Performers included Jefferson Airplane, Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin. It was by far the most spectacular event of the decade becoming a kind of final statement by the flower children/hippies that were mostly destined to abandon the movement as soon as the war ended in 1973. A great many of them returning to the very society that they had protested against for years; a certain unfolding of the very hypocrisy they had accused most middleclass Americans of having. There were also those few who stayed on the course for the rest of their lives in the name of peace, love and freedom.
Summary and a Then and Now Comparison
The 1960s were incredible years of social upheaval but also positive social change: Civil Rights won nearly all of its battles, black equal rights made gigantic progress; there was gay liberation from centuries of closet existences and women’s equal rights evolved after centuries of being subordinated and sexually inhibited by male authority. The world, mostly thanks to a large population of children abandoning the national status quo, became a slightly better place to live in; a freer and in many instances, a more spiritual minded place.
It is impossible to cover all the important issues of a decade so packed with unusual history as the 60s were in the space of an article. Issues such as the wonderful music: the works of Bob Dylan, Jane Baez, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones that came out of those years, just too much of an abundance of great music to cover in the space here. There were also the Kent State killings, the disgrace of My Lai and the real grief of the Vietnam War; so many events that belong to those years of discontent and disillusionment yet to be covered.
In spite of it all, however, the economy held up better than one might suspect. The cost of a new home was still under $17,000, a gallon of regular gas was 31 cents and a fast food hamburger was 20 cents.
Here’s a short list of other comparisons: (Prices varied a little coast to coast)
Watermelon 2 ½ cents per pound…………………...TODAY ……..29 cents per pound
Iceberg Lettuce 25 cents per head…………………. .TODAY………99 cents per head
Bacon 29 cents per pound…………………...………TODAY……$3.99-$4.99 per pound
Skippy Peanut Butter 79 cents………………………TODAY……$2.79 sm. 6.49 lg.
Eggs 55 cents per dozen……………………………..TODAY……$2.79—3.49 PER doz.
Cheerios 25 cents per package………………………TODAY……$4.99 per package
Back in the 1960 a new Mustang cost $2,368. Today the Mustang costs $22,000--$42,000. Men’s shoes back then were $12.95 for a good pair. Today they are at least $79.99--$150.00 + in most stores.
Popular TV shows included:
77 Sunset Strip and
The 1960s were perhaps the decade of the nation’s greatest ironies—an older generation doing their best to hang on to the old ways and a younger generation demanding change. Black people, at long last, demanding equality and mutual respect in a white dominated society has led to having a black president of the United States. President Obama, when we think of it is a phenomenal statement of progress in the hearts and minds of all.
Sources and suggested further reading:
Brinkley, Alan * The Unfinshed Nation
Gitlan, Todd * The Sixties Years of Hope, days of Rage
The Sixites *Edited by David Farber
Zinn, Howard * A Peoples History of the United States
Demaris, Ovid * J. Edgar Hoover
Gingeberg, Allen * Selected Poems 1947-1995