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How the 1960s Changed America Politically and Socially

Updated on June 27, 2015

How the 1960s Changed America

The 1960s was an extremely transformative time for the United States. The decade shaped the country and made it how it is today. It was a dynamic time for many reasons, including politics, the life of MLK, the creation of children's toys, and the rise of the hippies.


John F. Kennedy


Vietnam War


One of the greatest movers and shakers of politics in the 1960s was Martin Luther King, Jr. He changed the lives of blacks for many years to come. He once said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Martin Luther King Jr. took such a leap of faith when he began to speak out for blacks from 1955 until 1968, when he was assassinated while leading a protest in Tennessee. Though he was killed, his dream lives on today.

Another changing element in politics in the 1960s was the presidential term of John F. Kennedy. He famously said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” a reference to the draft. He was one of the four presidents who were successfully assassinated. The assassination of JFK eventually led to the creation of a police force that protected the president. Before his death, he was involved in three major events in US history: the Cuban Missile Crisis, the American Civil Rights Movement, and the building of the Berlin Wall. The presidential term of JFK has changed America and made it the way it is today.

A third political change that occurred during that decade was caused by the Vietnam War. It was a time of change because of several reasons. One of the many reasons is because of the draft; a draft is when people are chosen to serve in the military. This caused protests because many moms and wives had to send their sons and husbands to fight and more than likely to die in the war. Ho Chi Minh declared, "Our resistance will be long and painful, but whatever the sacrifices, however long the struggle, we shall fight to the end, until Vietnam is fully independent and reunified,” and it the US was a part of the long and painful fight. Those are just a few reasons why the Vietnam War in the 1960s was a time of change.


The 1960s also reflected a change in children's toys. The Barbie doll revolutionized commercial playthings in 1960, spawning the production of other action figures such as G.I. Joe and the trolls. Suddenly, the ideas and possibilities for new toys were endless. Altogether, these toys provided the spark for an explosion of different and unique children’s toys. They have revolutionized what little kids play with today.

Not only was children's entertainment shifting, but so was adults'. A second element of changing entertainment in the 1960s was found in the Woodstock festival. An outdoor concert that lasted for three days, it was one of the largest and most memorable gatherings in music history. Ben Wattenburg of PBS expains, “Critics argue that Woodstock represented much of what was wrong with the '60s: a glorification of drugs, a loosening of sexual morality, and a corrosive disrespect for authority.” And although Woodstock may have just seemed like a hippie gathering, it was an expression of freedoms on many levels. It opened the doors for many new musical genres and the independence to act freely in public.

The third element of change in entertainment was in sports. For example, the 1960 Olympic Games brought lots of attention to American sports. The United States teams had brought back more than 10 gold medals. Also, many started observing Muhammad Ali because he was the world heavy weight boxing champion. His saying was, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” But when he won his Olympic gold medal for boxing, he threw it into a river because he was so disgusted with racism in the US. And although it may not have seemed like it affected others, it gave anti-racial fighters an extra boost in their struggle to rid the United States of racism. There are many other stories about sports athletes who helped fight the fight against racism, but Muhammad Ali was one of the more well-known ones. Sports have changed everything and made the world the way it is today.

Social Rights

The hippies were representative of a social shift in the United States. One person said, “The hippies just wanted peace and love.” The reason they wanted peace was because the Vietnam War was starting and many people were dying. Another reason the hippies wanted love was because blacks were just set free, and racism was just kicking in. They changed the social status of the United States because of the way they lived.

Another social change in the 1960s was in the fight against racism toward blacks. Two famous people for fighting against racism in the 1960s were Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Malcolm X stated, "I believe in the brotherhood of all men, but I don't believe in wasting brotherhood on anyone who doesn't want to practice it with me. Brotherhood is a two-way street." He was saying that all men are equal and that racism will always exist, we just have to keep going on the good path that we are to fight against it. But even though many fought strongly against racism, it still exists today.

Lastly, a third social change in the 1960s was the new freedoms that everyone had. One said, “The people in the 1960s utilized their ability to free speech.” For example, the people realized their right to free speech and protests. And the diverse people who protested and spoke out for what they believed in changed the government’s decisions about several issues. The different freedoms that the people utilized have changed and shaped the US today.

As previously mentioned, one of the biggest influencers in the fight for social change was Martin Luther King, Jr. He fought strongly against racism and is one of the main reasons why the US is the way it is today. MLK is one of the most influential people in the United States, and he changed our lives with his "I Have a Dream" speech, his March on Washington, and his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize.

He changed the '60s when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. He included in it, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.' I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.” By this, he meant that he wanted everyone to just get along. He was tired of people getting disrespected because of their race or religion. This speech impacted millions of people and changed their lives and ways of thinking.

Another way that MLK changed in the 1960s was his March on Washington. It was attended by about 250,000 people. MLK was arrested and put in jail during his protests in Washington. And while in jail, he wrote a letter which he called “Letter from Birmingham City Jail.” This was a letter that advocated civil disobedience against unjust laws. His March on Washington changed the US and made it how it is today.

In the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. Also won the Nobel Prize. When he did, he gave the money away. In his acceptance speech, he said, "I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle, and to a movement which has not yet won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.” When he said this, he was asking he should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize when he had not yet fully achieved peace with blacks and whites. This line of thought was the reason he gave away the entire $54,000 to the civil rights movement. His winning of the Nobel Prize and giving all the money to the civil rights movement affected the lives of many people in the 1960s.

In conclusion, Martin Luther King Jr. changed the 1960s with his "I Have a Dream" speech, his March on Washington, and his giving away of the Nobel Peace Prize. Together, he, JFK, the Vietnam War, the rise of the hippies, the Woodstock festival, and the Olympics changed the US politically and socially. The 1960s was a very dynamic time for the United States of America.


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    • Ken Burgess profile image

      Ken Burgess 

      6 weeks ago from Florida

      Good Article, and interesting perspective.

      The 1960s critical for many reasons, the largest of which is the Kennedy Presidency.

      So much occurred that is public knowledge but unspoken.

      The Cuban Missile Crisis is a good example of what could be called "establishment" or "elites" or whatever you want to call the people who roam Washington D.C.s halls for their entire careers, be it in the Pentagon or Congress or some other Agency... 'flexing their muscles' and doing something counter to what the President wanted, by presenting him with misleading information and using intimidation.

      In his speeches President Kennedy spoke in the later days of his Presidency about the struggle he was waging against the CIA & Military, he "“wanted to splinter the C.I.A. in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds."

      This was foreshadowed by President Eisenhower's final address in which he warned the Nation against the "Military Establishment", its power and influence within D.C.

      But if you really want to know where our country took some major turns, look into Abraham Lincoln's Presidency, and Woodrow Wilson who allowed the establishment of the IRS (Revenue Act), the Federal Reserve Act (central bank), who did more to harm this Nation and strip it of its Sovereignty and Individual Freedoms than anyone in our history up until the 21st century.

    • Jennifer Snelling profile image

      Jennifer Snelling 

      2 years ago from Albany, GA

      This was an interesting article. It was impressive to read how history has changed within the last 50+ years. My favorite part of this article was about MLK donating his full Nobel Peace Prize honorarium to the Civil Rights Movement should have sparked awareness in everyone, especially the black community. I am saying this because this symbolized the great freedoms some of us take for granted today.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      This helped me a lot with studying for my test. I did really good because of the information in this article. I suggest this for anyone who needs to know about the 1960's.

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    • Credence2 profile image


      4 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

      Hi, Chase, sorry I missed this, it is right up my alley

      You said:

      "The assassination of JFK eventually led to the creation of a police force that protected the president"

      Kennedy and preceding presidents had the Secret Service at their beck and call, the problem was that the entire Dallas trip was poorly planned: sending the President into a hostile part of the country was the first, he was left vulnerable in a way that should not have been permitted

      I was a kid who witnessed the growth of the counter culture from about 1965 through the end of the decade. Vietnam was the backdrop, the period identified as the "sixties" really began with Kennedy's assassination and ended in early 1973 with Nixon ending the draft.

      The sixties were pivotal in the Civil Rights struggles, even in the South during the decade we have gone from freedom rider busses bombed and open murder to an end of the most egregious race related offenses by 1969.

      We have by no means solved all of the problems, but the sixties was a catalyst with a world far different by 1969 from where we started in 1960. Don't forget the significance of NASA and the goal to get to the moon by the end of that decade.

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      6 years ago

      As a person who was a teenager throughout the 1960's, the 1960's were a very exuberant, and yet an extremely turbulent, tense and troubled time as well. While many more people were made aware of the problems throughout the United States, I'm afraid, that, except for more women and girls becoming involved in what have been historically male-dominated trades/sports, and that abortion rights (which are now in danger) have been made legal, there's been no real change as far as I can see.

      The United States government is not only still at war, but we're all over the lot in that respect, if one gets the drift. Racism still abounds here in the United States, and attacks on our civil liberties and the prosecution of whistleblowers is just as bad, if not worse, under this present Administration in Washington.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      this blog was really interesting and useful as i have project to do. but thanks to you this blog really came useful and i would really like if you can get more good information on the 1960s Thanks!

    • Marquis profile image


      6 years ago from Ann Arbor, MI

      Lets see:


      2.prayer in public school ousted


      4.counterculture upheaval

      5. loss of morale

      Slightly better than the 1970s, but not a great time -

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      good article

    • pramodgokhale profile image


      6 years ago from Pune( India)

      MLK and JFK were inspiring figures and still memorable and then i was a school boy ,learnt lots of USA, democratic nation and funding to poor nations despite height of cold war.

      Without US help Europe could not have been built which was destroyed in WWII . Shouldering responsibilities as Super Power was not easy task and global peace and progress was difficult job which US had performed well.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      now i really know how Martin Luther King Jr. change the American culture

    • mysouth profile image


      7 years ago

      I believe that it is important for the US voting public to realize that the right wing constituency is attempting to move us back to pre 1960 and possibly even earlier. As a southerner, who is catholic,ha gun carry permit, is white, is highly educated, and who fortunately lived away from the south long enough to learn a more open perspective and understanding tolerance, I am appalled at what is occurring in the political leadership arenas.. If we allow the gun toting evangelicals to continue to change key laws in the states in order to circumvent what progress was made in the Federal arena, then we as a democracy have really failed. Beware of Dixie's creeping hypocrisy.

      I cannot remember or find in history an example of religious zealots with guns that ended well. Remember the crusades(sword wielders), Northern Ireland, The Middle East.

      The 60's taught tolerance, peace, self reflection, and a right for personal choices.

    • pramodgokhale profile image


      7 years ago from Pune( India)

      I agree 1960 was the golden beginning of America, true global power.John Kennedy was star figure and i was a school boy that time.India had cordial relations with USA.

      the beginning of Manned Moon mission was pioneered by Prez Kennedy,America supplied food to the world ,hungers in poor countries really great job was done US.

    • Bludwiczak profile image


      7 years ago from Western New York

      Nice article. The 60s are always a fascinating decade to think about, that so much could have happened in only 10 years.

    • yellowstone8750 profile image


      7 years ago from Taos, nm

      I would love to see a return of the 60s.

    • Treasuresofheaven profile image

      Sima Ballinger 

      8 years ago from Michigan

      You did a nice job. Didn't know anything about Woodstock festival. I was blessed to be born during that time. MLK and Kennedy are certainly my Heros.


    • profile image

      THAT Mary Ann 

      8 years ago

      As a member of the 60's generation, I really appreciate this post! voted up.

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 

      8 years ago

      Having lived through these was certainly a walk down memory lane. Well done Hub, Chasemillis. I look forward to following you, and Thanks for becoming a follower of mine.

    • profile image 

      8 years ago from upstate, NY

      An impressive article! The 60's changed things for the good and bad. I see the return to spiritual values was a good thing but it was perverted into loose morals and rebellion. The 60's also brought a significant Jesus movement that was good but many aspects of the hippie counter culture were very misguided.


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