I’m reading Charles Murray’s latest book now. It’s titled Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1060-2010 and you can buy it on Amazon right here.
The book argues that President Kennedy’s assassination on November, 21, 1963, marked the end of an era. The next day, November 22, was symbolic, the first day
of what would be known as the Sixties and of the cultural transformation that wound its course through the subsequent decades.
There’s a lot of focus on The Sixties now because of the turmoil that we Americans are experiencing in our cities. Racial animosity and eroding respect for the police, especially, are spurring many to make comparisons to the agitation and protests that took place five decades ago.
Others are more concerned about economic inequality across races and ethnicities. But I guess I picked up the book because I wanted to figure out what was behind the Trump phenomenon. Do white middle and lower class voters have a reason for feeling increasingly marginalized, hopeless, and disenchanted? Well, I haven’t gotten there yet, but some of the tidbits I’ve read about 1963 are fun — and, yes, even fascinating.
Here are just a few of Murray’s factoids from 1963:
- There were limited choices in TV viewing and some of the shows seem really hokey. On Thursday, November 21, TV’s primetime lineup included The Flintstones, The Donna Reed Show, My Three Sons, Perry Mason, The Perry Como Show, and Doctor Kildare.
- Popular music consisted of a single top 40 list. Country, rock, folk and doo wop were all lumped together. There were no separate radio stations for the different genres, except for a few country stations in a few parts of the nation.
- Bookstores were small and scarce except in university towns and the very largest cities. Most carried only a few hundred titles.
- There were no DVDs. If you didn’t see a movie when it was playing in your town, you probably would never see it.
- You saw TV shows the night they played or waited for a summer repeat. No TiVo.
- People drove cars made in the United States. Foreign cars from Europe were expensive and rare. Cars from Japan had just been introduced, but they hadn’t yet caught on. In fact, they were thought to be cheap and shoddy.
- If you were a foodie, you were out of luck. In a large city, you would be able to find an Americanized Chinese restaurant or two. You would also come across a few Italian (primarily pizza) restaurants, and maybe a restaurant or two with a French name. Onion soup anyone? That was it. No Sushi or Thai.
On a more serious note:
- The percentage of births to single women — the “illegitimacy ratio” — was only 3% among whites, but was rising rapidly among blacks.
- Marriage was universal and divorce was rare across all races. A divorced person headed just 3.5% of American households; another 1.6% were headed by a separated person. Interestingly, the marriage percentages for college grads and high school dropouts were about the same.
- More than 80% of married women with young children weren’t working outside the home.
- It wasn’t socially acceptable to be adult, male, and idle; 98% of civilian men in their 30s and 40s reported to government interviewers that they were in the labor force. There were either working or seeking work.
- A Gallup Poll taken in October 1963 focused on religious preference. Only 1% said they didn’t have a religious preference. Half said they had attended a worship service in the last 7 days. These answers had almost no variation across classes.
- Crime was low and few people had ever been in prison, even in low income neighborhoods. Still, most of the people who committed crimes in those neighborhoods ended up in jail. CRIME DIDN’T PAY!!
Sounds OK, doesn’t it? What do you think? Do we want to “Make America Great Again?” Before you jump on the bandwagon they’re a couple of other factoids you should know.
There were a few problems too.
- First and foremost was the status of African-Americans. The South was still thoroughly segregated. In the North, neighborhoods and schools in urban areas were segregated in practice. Racial differences in income, education, and occupation were all huge. Not surprisingly, the Civil Rights Movement was the biggest domestic issue of the early 1960s.
- Women weren’t doing so well either.There were 1.4 male college graduates for every female. Two master’s degrees were awarded to males for every one that went to a female. Eight PhDs went to males for every one that went to a female.
- Teaching and nursing were still two of the only occupations in which women received equal treatment and opportunity.
- Women who entered male dominated professions were expected to put up with a fair amount of sexual harassment.
- Pollution was a serious problem in most urban communities.
- The official poverty line didn’t exist yet, but it’s been retrospectively calculated for 1963. Almost 20% of the American people were living below the poverty line. Even so. poverty was not at the forefront of the domestic policy agenda.
Gallup Poll: Fall 1963
You might be astonished to learn that, according to a second Gallup poll, America didn’t have a lower class or an upper class in 1963. Hard to believe, isn’t it?
- Ninety-five percent of the respondents said they were working class (50%) or middle class (45%).
- A great many poor people refused to identify themselves as lower class.
- A great many affluent people refused to identify themselves as upper class.
The data Murray presents just about sums the year up. But America was about to change dramatically in every aspect: politics, the economy, technology, high culture, popular culture, and civic culture. Fast forward five years and you won’t believe you’re looking at the same country. And it’s the turmoil of the Democratic Convention in that year, 1968, that people are afraid of at this year’s Republican Convention. What do you think? Is the stage set?
If you want to take a more in-depth look at one of major drivers of public opinion in the Sixties, take a look at our Vietnam Time here.
If you’d like to listen to Vietnam Protest Songs from the Sixties, listen to our YouTube Channel.