- AMERICA./At the beginning of the 1960s, many Americans believed they were standing at the dawn of a golden age. On January 20, 1961, charismatic John F. Kennedy became president of the United States. His most ambitious domestic agenda since the New Deal: the “New Frontier,” a package of laws and reforms that sought to eliminate injustice and inequality in the United States.
- The War in Vietnam./Conflict in Southeast Asia had been going on since the 1950s, and President Johnson had inherited a substantial American commitment to anti-communist South Vietnam. Soon after he took office, he escalated that commitment into a full-scale war. In 1964, Congress authorized the president to take “all necessary measures” to protect American soldiers and their allies from the communist Viet Cong. Within days, the draft began.
- The Fight for Civil Rights./ In general, the federal government stayed out of the civil rights struggle until 1964, when President Johnson pushed a Civil Rights Act through Congress that prohibited discrimination in public places, gave the Justice Department permission to sue states that discriminated against women and minorities and promised equal opportunities in the workplace to all. The next year, the Voting Rights Act eliminated poll taxes, literacy requirements and other tools that southern whites had traditionally used to keep blacks from voting.
- The Radical ’60s./ Just as black power became the new focus of the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, other groups were growing similarly impatient with incremental reforms. Student activists grew more radical. They took over college campuses, organized massive antiwar demonstrations and occupied parks and other public places. Some even made bombs and set campus buildings on fire. At the same time, young women who had read The Feminine Mystique, celebrated the passage of the 1963 Equal Pay Act and joined the moderate National Organization for Women were also increasingly annoyed with the slow progress of reform.
- The Hippies./ The counterculture also seemed to grow more outlandish as the decade wore on. Some young people “dropped out” of political life altogether. These “hippies” grew their hair long and practiced “free love.” Some moved to communes, away from the turbulence that had come to define everyday life in the 1960s.