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The Sixties Timeline

"1960's Timeline courtesy of"

It is early 1960... many of us have barely learned where Russia is on the map. We are taught that Russia has "the bomb"; they are the enemy. The Russians shoot down an American spy plane over the Soviet Union and capture pilot Captain Francis Powers, thus proving to the world that the U.S. was spying on its adversaries. This gave the Russian leader all the reason he needed to cancel disarmament talks with the U.S.... a precursor of tough times to come in the rest of the decade. The "cold war" is very hot. - 1960.

Just as we begin listening to rock n' roll music, the Twist becomes the newest dance craze. Starting with the Twist, our dances had much more movement, and a whole lot less direction. - 1960.

In the first presidential election that many of us remember, Vice-President Richard Nixon loses to John Kennedy, the youngest man ever to be elected president. Some people say that Kennedy's father, Joe Kennedy, bought or stole the election - and there is considerable evidence of that. But Nixon refused to contest the results, saying, "I would not want the presidency on those terms." This is the first national election in which television played a major role. The two candidates debated on television and radio. Those who listened on radio said Nixon won the debate; but many more watched on television; they thought Kennedy won. Two years later, in an attempt to make a political comeback, Nixon runs for governor of California... and loses again. In an angry statement to the press announcing his retirement from politics, he says, "Just look at all you're going to be missing. You don't have Nixon to kick around any more." (Wanna' bet?) - 1960/1962.

Communism was feared, and it had come to the western hemisphere in a small country 90 miles from Florida. Rebels backed by the U.S. attempt a coup to overthrow Fidel Castro in an event known as the Bay of Pigs. Although the plan was hatched during the Eisenhower administration, the failure is a horrible embarrassment to the young, new president who let it continue. The CIA made other attempts to get rid of Castro; but he has outlasted eight U.S. presidents.-1961.

Germany is divided into two separate and highly unequal countries. Under the direction of the Soviet Union, East Berlin is separated from West Berlin by a concrete wall, imprisoning its citizens. This stark symbol of oppression lasts for thirty years. Can you imagine being trapped in your own country, unable to leave for any reason? (Cubans still are.) while the wall stood, hundreds of East Germans escaped, but dozens were killed by East German guards while trying to make a desperate run. Such was the price people were willing to pay for freedom. That is why our parents never take it for granted. - 1961.

May, 5: Alan Shepard becomes the first American to fly into space aboard the "Freedom 7." The entire flight lasts about 15 minutes; nearly every radio in the country is tuned to the coverage. Buses, taxis, and schoolroom classes across the country come to a complete halt so that people can listen. (Most people cannot get to a television set at 9:30 in the morning to watch this on TV.) The Russians beat us into space (by a couple weeks), but the race had just begun. - 1961.

President Kennedy challenges his country to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. - 1961.

Baseball is "America's pastime"; the major sport in the country. The whole nation watches with excitement as Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris compete against each other in an effort to break Babe Ruth's home run record. Roger Maris (right) does it, with 61 home runs. - 1961.

John Glenn orbits the earth three times in the "Friendship 7." The first seven astronauts are scheduled to fly in the Mercury series of space flights. After that, the Gemini series. And then, the Apollo series... to the moon! - 1962.

Marilyn Monroe dies suddenly under a murky cloud of suspicion, although her death is officially ruled a suicide. Marilyn Monroe was one of the few, and certainly the biggest of the Hollywood "bombshells" of the time. Her connection to the Kennedy's (the extent of which was largely unknown at the time) added to her mystique and popularity, both before and since her death. - 1962.

The National Guard is called out to oversee the integration of the University of Mississippi as James Meredith becomes the first Black to enroll. - 1962.

The U.S. prepares for war against the Soviet Union because of the presence of Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba. Throughout the sixties the government conducts "civil defense drills," and some people bought air raid shelters to protect them in case of an attack. President Kennedy negotiates a deal with Chairman Khrushchev, who removes the missiles in exchange for a promise from Kennedy not to invade Cuba. This time, "We faced them eyeball to eyeball... and they blinked." - 1962.

Johnny Carson begins a 30-year reign as host of the "Tonight Show." The future of late night television seemed in doubt when network executives give a young comedian named Johnny Carson a shot at hosting the "Tonight Show." Five years later, nearly everyone was talking about whatever happened the night before on "the Carson show." Johnny remained the undisputed leader of late night television until he retired. - 1962.

Dr. Martin Luther King, preaching non-violence, offers his "I Have a Dream" speech before an audience of 200,000 in Washington, D.C. (The text of the speech is available here.) - 1963.

The women's liberation movement takes off with the publishing of "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan. - 1963.

President Kennedy is assassinated during a visit to Dallas, Texas. Two days later, in front of a national television audience, Jack Ruby shot and killed Kennedy's accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. - 1963.

But, as Paul Harvey likes to say, wash your ears out with this: Three months later, the Beatles led the "British invasion" by landing in New York, and proceeded to change rock music forever. - 1964.

Ted Kennedy nearly dies in a plane crash. He broke his back, but went on win election to the Senate, and continues to hold that position more than 30 years later. - 1964.

President Lyndon Johnson declares a war on poverty. That this war is indeed winnable is never questioned. Director Sargent Shriver says it will take about a billion taxpayer dollars to achieve this victory. Let the battle begin. - 1964.

The U.S. surgeon general declares that cigarette smoking, a habit "enjoyed" by 60% of the adult population, is a major health hazard. In the back of their minds, our parents had known this all along. But commercials for tobacco had claimed it was refreshing and even healthy. It took another thirty years for the government and the people to get serious about breaking this devastatingly destructive habit. - 1964.

Sam Sheppard, defended by unknown attorney F. Lee Bailey, is found not guilty of murdering his wife. This was perhaps the most grizzly and heinous murder ever thrust onto the national scene. Dr. Sheppard had been convicted of the crime a decade earlier. F. Lee Bailey became famous for getting the verdict overturned and his client acquitted. And yes, it is the crime that inspired "The Fugitive." - 1966.

With hardly anybody paying attention, the Green Bay Packers beat Kansas City in the first Super Bowl. - 1967.

Three U.S. astronauts (Grissom, Chaffee, White) die in a fire on the launch pad during a practice session. A faulty wire ignited a fire, and the absence of an effective hatch release trapped the astronauts in their capsule. This is the first serious accident associated with the U.S. space program; it is a devastating setback. But plans for a lunar landing this decade proceed. - 1967.

The state of Israel was less than twenty years old; its chances for long-term survival were still questionable. Bordering Arab neighbors took advantage of this uncertainty by attacking Israel, but the determined and skilled Israeli Army clobbered them all in what became known as the "Six Day War." - 1967.

Huge and horrible race riots in Detroit surpass those in the Watts section of Los Angeles two years earlier, in terms of both financial cost and lives lost. Forty-one people die; Detroit's mayor says, "It looks like Berlin in 1945." The face of America has serious blemishes. - 1967.

With hundreds of American soldiers dying every week, the "troop strength" in Vietnam increases to 475,000. - 1967.

In an televised address to the nation, President Lyndon Johnson suddenly and unexpectedly declares, "I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president." The Vietnam war claims another soldier. - 1968.

Dr. Martin Luther King is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. We begin to think that things are out of control. James Earl Ray is caught, confesses to the murder and spends the rest of his life in prison. But suspicions of conspiracy linger on. - 1968.

Two months later, Bobby Kennedy is assassinated in Los Angeles while running for president. The assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, is caught at the scene, and remains in jail nearly 30 years later. But the Kennedy "claim to the presidency" is pushed even further away. - 1968.

Protestors disrupt the Democratic nominating convention in Chicago, and hundreds are arrested as the youth try to make their voices heard. Now we know that things are out of control. - 1968.

The voting public looks for a change. In a political comeback unmatched in the twentieth century, Richard Nixon wins the presidential election in a close race against Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. - 1968.

President Kennedy's widow, Jackie, marries Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis. - 1968.

Senator Ted Kennedy drives his car off a bridge in Massachusetts, killing his young passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne. This major story was partially drowned out (sorry) by the moon landing that took place just days later. A week after the accident, Kennedy received a suspended sentence, and that was the end of it. But many Americans would never look at Kennedy the same way (and few would ever ride in a car with him at the wheel.) - 1969.

The U.S. wins the space race convincingly by landing a man on the moon. "Houston... Tranquility Base, here; the Eagle has landed." Neil Armstrong is the first man to step onto the surface of the moon. His crew member, Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin steps out soon afterwards while Michael Collins circles above in the command module. Event of the century? Possibly; we all thought so at the time. We met the late president's challenge and conquered outer space. This gave Americans confidence that we could beat the Russians in anything... if put to the test. - 1969.

Half a million party-goers sludge through the mud to experience four days of rock n' roll at an event called Woodstock. (For the full story, see our "Woodstock Remembered" page.) Heavy press coverage makes the event seem much larger than it was and shows the passing of baby boomers from young children to adult children. - 1969.

Charles Manson and other members of his cult murder actress Sharon Tate and six others in a horrible event that was referred to as "Helter Skelter." The death penalty is later overturned in California, so Charlie and his "family" can spend the rest of their lives in prison at the taxpayers' expense - 1969.

250,000 protestors (mostly students) march against the war in Washington, D.C. It is only fitting that the decade ends with just as much excitement and turmoil as it began. - 1969.

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