The 1960s: Protest and Resistance
Happenings That Frame The 1960s
The civil rights movement, assassinations, Bob Dylan, the Vietnam War, hippies, America’s first real antiwar movement, organic food, the Beatles, massive riots in several cities, the first riots on college campuses, Woodstock, Black Power, bombings in the name of the peace movement, Hair (Broadway’s first naked musical about hippies), thousands of military funerals, birth control pills, free love, the collapse of dress codes in schools and universities, vegetarian restaurants, drug overdoses, 50,000 deserters from the US military, women’s lib, Muhammad Ali on trial for draft evasion, young men fleeing to Canada and Sweden to avoid the draft.
(This list is drawn from Playing With Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics by Lawrence O’Donnell )
A 1960s Timeline
November 1960: John F. Kennedy is elected President of the United States of America.
June 15, 1962: Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) complete their manifesto, the Port Huron Statement. SDS was a student activist movement in the United States, one of the main representations of the New Left. The organization developed and expanded rapidly in the mid-1960s before dissolving at its last convention in 1969.
July 1962: Algeria gains independence after an eight year war.
September 1963: Attorney General Bobby Kennedy speaks to the National Congress of American Indians in Bismarck, North Dakota. His opening line: “It is a tragic irony that the American Indian has for so long been denied a full share of freedom — full citizenship in the greatest free country in the world.”
November 22, 1963: President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas. Vice President Lyndon Johnson succeeds him.
May 1964: Twelve young men publicly burn their draft cards in New York City.
Summer 1964: Known as Freedom Summer, students go south to help fight for civil rights.
July 1964: The Civil Rights Act is passed.
August 4, 1964: President Johnson goes on live primetime TV. He announces an unprovoked communist attack on two US ships off Vietnam. You can read more about the Gulf of Tonkin incident here.
September 1964: The Free Speech Movement begins at Berkeley.
September 1, 1964: Bobby Kennedy resigns as US attorney general, nine months after the assassination of his brother. (You can read his resignation letter here.) He moves to New York and announces his candidacy for the Senate.
November 1964: Lyndon Baines Johnson is elected US president in a landslide, a year after the JFK assassination.
End of 1964: Race and civil rights are the most explosive issues of the day. Johnson is launching federal antipoverty programs he calls the Great Society.
1965: Johnson sends the first American ground troops — 210,000 of them to Vietnam.
January 1965: Bobby Kennedy is sworn in as senator (NY). His focus becomes the amelioration of poverty.
February 1965: America begins bombing North Vietnam; Malcolm X is assassinated.
April 1965: Protesters demonstrate in Washington against the Vietnam War.
June 1965: Algerian President Ben Bella is overthrown by a coup.
August 1965: Watts Riots erupt in Los Angeles.
August 6, 1965: President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965, ensuring that the Democratic Party is seen as the leader on racial equality.
December 1965: Johnson suspends the bombing of North Vietnam for the 1965 Christmas holidays.
January 1966: US casualties in Vietnam near 2,000. Protests by antiwar students are gaining traction.
January 27, 1966: Eugene McCarthy and 14 other senators send the president an open letter urging him to continue the North Vietnamese bombing suspension. However, the letter did not push for US withdrawal from Vietnam.
March 1966: Stokely Carmichael is elected chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
May 1966: The British government declares a state of emergency in response to a seaman’s strike. The Cultural Revolution begins in China.
July 1966: Stokely Carmichael uses the phrase Black Power.
September 1966: French President Charles de Gaulle gives a speech in Phnom Penh calling for peace in Vietnam.
October 1966: The Black Panther Party is founded in California; the Radical Student Alliance is created in the United Kingdom.
1967: Ground troops in Vietnam grow to 485,000.
1967: Vietnam Veterans Against the War is founded when 6 Vietnam veterans march together in a peace demonstration.
1967: Opposition to the war sparks opposition to the establishment in all things from neckties to draft cards. Yale drops its dress code.
Liberal movements come together to oppose the Vietnam War. A focus: hatred of Lyndon Johnson.
Dr. Martin Luther King, America’s greatest civil rights leader, speaks against the war in Vietnam.
Organizer Tom Hayden and the New Left organization Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) make opposition to the war in Vietnam their centerpiece.
January 31, 1967: A group called the National Emergency Committee of Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV) gathers in Washington DC for two days of lobbying and prayer. This is the first large scale action in DC to protest Johnson’s Vietnam policy and propose quick ways to peace. 2400 people attend.
March 2, 1967: Bobby Kennedy gives a speech on the Senate floor openly questioning Johnson’s Vietnam policy and offering a 3-point plan for bringing the war against communism to a favorable conclusion. He calls for a bombing halt; oversight by an international agency with multi-national troops eventually replacing US troops; and then free elections in South Vietnam.
April 1967: Large demonstrations are mounted in New York and San Francisco against the Vietnam War.
Summer 1967: US casualties in Vietnam now number 11,000.
July 1967: Race riots erupt in Newark and Detroit.
August 1967: Al Lowenstein, a Democratic politician, approaches Bobby Kennedy about running as the Dump Johnson candidate.
August 17, 1967: Nicholas Katzenbach (US Under Secretary of State) testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under the chairmanship of William Fulbright. Chairman Fulbright presses Katzenbach on the Johnson administration’s legal authority to wage war in Southeast Asia without a congressional declaration of war. Katzenbach replies: a declaration of war “would not, I think, correctly reflect the very limited objectives of the United States.” Senator Eugene McCarthy, a member of the committee, is infuriated. He blurts out that he will run against Johnson if he has to. (Read more about the Gulf of Tonkin incident here.)
Fall 1967: The counterculture explosion of protest, irreverence, generational mistrust, rebellion, and all sorts of radical experimentation — is polarizing the nation on questions of basic American values. The explosion’s flashpoint is Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam.
A Dump Johnson movement catches fire.
October 1967: Che Guevara is killed in Bolivia.
October 21, 1967: Antiwar protestors converge on Washington for the first truly mass antiwar demonstration in the nation’s capital. “Confront the War Makers” is the demonstrators’ slogan. The group is known as the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam – MOBE for short. The key words were mobilization and end. The group wants a definitive and absolute end to the war. Kennedy’s 3-point plan is not acceptable. More than 500 are arrested and jailed overnight.
The antiwar movement is shifting from protest to resistance.
Late Summer 1967: With reelection approaching, Johnson’s war strategy is changing. Previously, his single most important guiding principle is that he will not be the first American president to lose a war. Now he starts using the word withdrawal. This is only a label. He does not intend to withdraw. Instead, he intends to end the war on his own terms by bombing and burning North Vietnam into submission. He also intends to gear up the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) so that it can defend itself without US support. This means sending more US troops to Vietnam to train and support.
Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara is concluding that the war is unwinnable. And, if the war is unwinnable, it’s also immoral because the US is sending American troops into harm’s way to be wounded and killed for nothing.
Late August 1967: Secretary McNamara admits to a Senate subcommitte that LBJ’s strategy of bombing will not work. He says: North Vietnam “cannot be bombed to the negotiating table.”
November 1967: Senator McCarthy announces that he will enter the Democratic primaries in four states; Wisconsin, Oregon, California, and Nebraska. He does not say “I intend to run for the Democratic nomination. Just, I intend to run in four, maybe six states.” Poll numbers show President Johnson trouncing McCarthy.
November 21, 1967: General William Westmoreland tells the National Press Club that he is certain the enemy is losing.
December 1967: Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign starts up. He is not fully embraced by the left.
December 20, 1967: General Westmoreland cables Washington to say that the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese were soon “to undertake an intensified countrywide effort” that would bring the enemy into the kind of conventional battle that he and LBJ believe is winnable.
Westmoreland reports that 68% of South Vietnamese people are under the control of the Saigon government; only 17% are Vietcong. He concludes: “The Viet-cong has been defeated.”