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US History: The Great Society 1963 - 1968

Updated on June 18, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish offers 30 years successful experience in medicine, psychology, STEM courses, and aerospace education (CAP).

The White House on the back of the 20-dollar bill.
The White House on the back of the 20-dollar bill. | Source

A Disappointing Level of Greatness

Some feel that the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy near Thanksgiving in 1963 marked the imminent decline of the United States as a leading society in the world. Many feel that The Great Society of Kennedy's successor did not meet the needs of the people.

Social Engineering and Problems of Democracy

President Lyndon Baines Johnson called for a country free of racial tensions, class and race segregation, poverty, and prejudice.

He continued some of John F. Kennedy's work, but historians wonder how the former president would have proceeded had he not been assassinated in 1963 after approximately 1,000 days in office.

Evidence of Johnson's programs are seen in some of today's events and legislation, but all such social ills were not cured under his administration. In the 2010s, we still have poverty, homelessness, hunger, and some problems with healthcare.

Did We Lose the War on Poverty and Racism?

The Great Society was a net of US domestic programs initiated by President Lyndon B. Johnson (D - Texas) beginning in 1964 to erase poverty and racial injustice from our nation.

Announcement Made in the Midwest

We declared a War on Poverty that we could not win. Johnson proclaimed the Great Society to replace John Kennedy's Camelot and New Frontier, and to further the work of Civil Rights legislation.LBJ gave a speech of such declaration at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio in 1965 and went on to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to delineate the details of his programs for the public.

This great society plan was a continuation of former President Woodrow Wilson’s Progressivism and former President Franklin Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights

Legislation of the Great Society included many laws, among them:

  • Congressional Civil-Rights Act, 1964,
  • The Economic Opportunity Act, 1964,
  • Two education acts in 1965,
  • Voting Rights Act, 1965,
  • The Job Corps,
  • Operation Head Start,
  • Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA),
  • Medicaid, and
  • Medicare.

All of these programs have continued to have both positive results and problems in America.

In fact, the high school class known as Civics until the 1950s - 1960s, became Problems of Democracy under Johnson and then experienced another name change. During these same LBJ years, the class became Principles of Democracy - because "Democracy has no problems," stated school boards across the nation.

Democracy has no problems.

— The White House, 1964 - 1968

President Lyndon Baines Johnson

Lyndon Johnson Bust
Lyndon Johnson Bust | Source

An LBJ Timeline


January 8, 1964. President Johnson declares America's War on Poverty.

February. Supreme Court rules that congressional districts will be approximately equal in population.

January through December. Leonid Brezhnev helps engineer Khrushchev's fall from power, becomes first secretary of Communist Party.

92 federal programs designed to help lower-income Americans have not provided the relief intended.

— Paul Ryan in US Budget Committee's: ""The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later (March 2014)

Watts Riots of 1965 - Urban War

The 6 Day War


February 1. Martin Luther King, Jr. and 2,500 protesters against voter's registration problems were arrested in Selma, Alabama. This event was documented by the dramatic films Selma in 2014, which won the Oscar for best song, GLORY, written by John Legend and Common.

July 1. Los Angeles Riots in Watts.

October 22. The Highway Beautification Act, was signed by the President in order to control unwanted advertising billboards on America's Interstates. New land-sculpting and landscaping began to occur at roadway interchanges and on-off ramps as well.


March 15. US Supreme Court reaches a decision on Miranda vs. Arizona. This leads to all arrested persons having the right to be informed of their rights immediately.


June 5. Israel's 6 Day War ends.

June 17. Communist China reports using its first hydrogen bomb.

July 23. Racially motivated Riots in Detroit, NYC, and areas of Connecticut.

October 2. First Black Supreme Court Justice was appointed and confirmed: Thurgood Marshall.

Science In the Great Society: The Double Helix, Published 1967

Crick-Watson Model (public domain)
Crick-Watson Model (public domain)


Jan/Feb. The Tet Offensive is the turning point in the Vietnam Conflict, an undeclared war dating back to the 1940s and conflict between Viet Nam and France.

Jan-Dec. Constant protest marches in America. Tariq Ali & Susan Watkins published 1968: Marching in the Streets.

April 4. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated in Memphis TN. James Earl Ray is sentenced to 99 years in 1969.

June 5-6. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy is killed in a Los Angeles hotel after winning the California Primary. Sirhan B. Sirhan was convicted for this in 1969.

June 18. The US Supreme Court banned racial discrimination in housing sales and rentals.

July 1. USA, UK, USSR, and 58 other nations signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. India refused to sign.

July 27. A race riot occurred in Gary, Indiana.

Jul 30, Saddam Hussein took over internal security in Iraq.

August 8. Race riot in Miami.

August/September. Race riots in several cities occurred during the hottest days of summer. In Columbus, Ohio the city was under curfews for 3 days.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Apollo 7 mission patch for the 11-day mission, the first manned space flight to broadcast video and audio back to Earth from orbit.Command Module pilot, Don F. Eisele, Commander, Walter M. Schirra Jr. and Lunar Module pilot, Walter Cunningham.
Apollo 7 mission patch for the 11-day mission, the first manned space flight to broadcast video and audio back to Earth from orbit.
Apollo 7 mission patch for the 11-day mission, the first manned space flight to broadcast video and audio back to Earth from orbit. | Source
Command Module pilot, Don F. Eisele, Commander, Walter M. Schirra Jr. and Lunar Module pilot, Walter Cunningham.
Command Module pilot, Don F. Eisele, Commander, Walter M. Schirra Jr. and Lunar Module pilot, Walter Cunningham. | Source

October 11. Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, launched.

October 12. Mexico City Olympic Games open. Unfortunately, 300 students had been killed by the military in Mexico City weeks before the opening.

November 12. The Supreme Court repealed an Arkansas law banning the teaching of evolution.

Month unknown, 1968 -- The Association of Black Psychologists was founded. Glamour Magazine put a Black model on the cover for the first time. Hewlett-Packard introduced the world's first programmable scientific desktop calculator - many businesses, however, kept their old, huge, hand-cranked versions.

Milestones of 1968

Funniest Invention of the Year:

Scientists crossed Pacific oysters with Kumamoto oysters and got the Gigomoto oyster. Instead of the best traits of both oysters they got the combined worst traits of both

Funniest Startup of the Year:

China established a research center for manned space flight to open in 1973, but canceled it, because of lack of money and political support.

Funniest Weather of the Year:

In Mexico there rained hundreds of thousands of maggots on Acapulco, the vacation capital.

Funniest Political Commentary on TV:

That was the Week that Was and Laugh In.

Cold War Timeline in this Period

© 2008 Patty Inglish


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from North America

      Great! I'm glad it helped.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Very informative and with lots of links for further reading. I am a European historian, so I never spent much time on American history (well, not after 9th grade, anyway), so this was very helpful. I especially liked the Cold War Timeline. My students and I have used a variety of Cold War Timelines, but none of them provided the visual clarity that this one does. Thanks.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      Hi highwaystar. Story telling skills came to me through reading a LOT and listening to the Native American story tellers at the Ohio State Fair and at pow wows. As for research, my masters degree program was a killer! I had advisers that kept me looking for the oldest and the newest research every day -- before the Internet! I think our university was rather behind in some technology - the year I graduated, the Internet finally came to campus. LOL.

      I was also taught to either remember what I leanred ot to keep notes about where to look it up again.

    • profile image

      highwaystar 9 years ago

      Patty, as always you're right on the pulse, plenty of details, one heck of a good read, hey what's your secret to being such a great researcher and story teller too.