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Important Cultural and Political Movements of the 1960s

Updated on December 9, 2013

Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King

Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King
Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King | Source

The United States assumed a role as a world power in the 1950s. Increased international visibility came with this leadership position. People around the world began paying closer attention to inequality in American society. Consequently, Americans and their government addressed various political and cultural issues during the 1960s, with a goal of creating a more just society.

Civil Rights

The push for African American civil rights that began in the 1940s and 1950s gained momentum in the 1960s. Various organizations and individuals participated in mass demonstrations throughout the South to call attention to the problems of racial segregation and voter intimidation. As a result, Congress passed legislation to address the issue. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended the practice of the separation of African Americans and whites by state governments. Racial minorities in the South and certain areas of the West received federal protection during elections through the 1965 Voting Rights Act. These laws ended almost a century of legalized racism in America

Mario Savio at the University of California, Berkeley

Mario Savio at the University of California, Berkeley
Mario Savio at the University of California, Berkeley | Source

Free Speech and War Protests

Mario Savio and members of the Free Speech Movement, mostly middle-class, white students, felt a real education should be connected to events in the outside world. The Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, began the Free Speech Movement in 1964 to challenge the authority of University of California, Berkeley administrators. The cause of their campus-wide demonstrations was the administration’s decision to ban all political activity at the school. When the military began bombing North Vietnam in 1965, SDS joined the Anti-War Movement, bringing almost instant media attention to that cause. In March, the students organized a March on Washington that brought an estimated 25,000 protestors to the capital.


LBJ | Source

War on Poverty

Though the United States reached a level of unprecedented economic success in the 1950s, there remained pockets of extreme poverty in the 1960s. Furthermore, this poverty affected certain racial, ethnic and gender groups more than others. Michael Harrington described this economic stratification in The Other America (1962). This book, read by President John F. Kennedy became the impetus for the War on Poverty, led by his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson. The objective was to eradicate poverty from American society within a generation. The War on Poverty created permanent assistance programs such as Head Start, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps.

Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan | Source


Betty Friedan announced in The Feminine Mystique (1963) that middle-class women had a problem with no name. This nameless problem resulted from the lack of a vocabulary to deal with the unhappiness of women who seemingly were successful. Friedan argued that women needed their own lives and careers outside marriage to really be happy in America. This book helped spark the Feminist Movement among women who, influenced heavily by the successes of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, began to demand equality. In 1968, the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey was the site of one of the incidents signaling the desire of women to be quiet no longer. Over four hundred women held protests during the Pageant, at times tossing in trashcans articles, including brassieres, they saw symbolic of their oppression .


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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I remember them all as if it were yesterday. I entered college in 1966 and I was blown away by the electricity of those times. Every single day seemed to bring with it a monumental change of some sort. Interesting hub of course. Thanks for the memories.