These Historic Moments Defined the 1960s
The 1960s in America was a revolutionary decade. It was a time of frequent social and political unrest, culminating in a call for civil rights for the African American community. Icons like Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe were both celebrated and lost in the same decade.
At the same time, the country was divided over the Vietnam War, and a new counterculture generation found their voice. Relive one of America’s most radical decades with our collection of the most historic moments that defined the 1960s.
The Greensboro Four Take a Seat
In February 1960, four freshman students from North Carolina State University stood up to segregation by sitting down. Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain and David Richmond held a sit-in at a "whites only" counter at a local Woolworth's and wouldn't leave in protest against segregation.
The FDA Introduces the Birth Control Pill
On June 23, 1960, the birth control pill — generally simply known as "the pill" — was approved for oral use in women by the Food and Drug Administration. When taken correctly, it safely alters the menstrual cycle to eliminate ovulation and prevent pregnancy. Many believe the pill influenced the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
Kennedy Escalates the Vietnam War
When President John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, he committed to maintaining the Cold War foreign policy inherited from the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. During his presidency, he faced three crises: the construction of the Berlin Wall, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the communist movement in Southeast Asia.
America’s Bay of Pigs Invasion
In January 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew General Fulgencio Batista, Cuba's American-backed president. Castro disapproved of American business interests in Cuba and dramatically changed the two nations' relationship. For the next two years, U.S. officials attempted to remove Castro from power.
Marilyn Monroe Dies by Suicide
On the night of August 4, 1962, Marilyn Monroe's housekeeper and psychiatrist discovered Monroe in bed, surrounded by empty pill bottles. The screen icon took her own life by overdosing on barbiturates. It was a tragic end for the Hollywood legend, whose life was made difficult by the public's endless interest in her private life.
Johnny Carson Hosts The Tonight Show
When Carson debuted on The Tonight Show on October 1, 1962, he forever changed late-night talk shows. His take on creating an entertaining evening program is the format that continues to rule nighttime TV to this day. First comes the monologue, then some sketch comedy and all rounded out with interviews and performances.
James Bond Debuts in Dr. No
In October 1962, Sean Connery cemented his status as a Hollywood legend in the first film in the James Bond franchise. The movie was a major financial success and launched a genre of copycat films about secret agents. To date, 26 Bond films have followed with various actors in the role.
President Kennedy Announces Cuban Blockade During the Missile Crisis
On October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced the discovery of Soviet ballistic missiles in Cuba. In response, he ordered a military quarantine forbidding any ship from entering the island nation. American citizens lived in fear of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the world wondered if there could ever be a peaceful resolution.
Andy Warhol’s Pop Art Makes a Splash
In the months following Monroe's suicide, artist Andy Warhol immortalized the star while simultaneously introducing the world to pop art. Warhol's Marilyn Diptych was a series of 50 images of Monroe's face screen printed and then painted with wild, pastel colors. His pieces, which attempted to capture the shock and help people process it with compassion, were the building blocks of pop art.
Betty Friedan Writes The Feminine Mystique
In February 1963, Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique was released, sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism. The book started out as a magazine article requiring Friedan to poll her former Smith alum about their lives as housewives. Many of them reported they were unhappy, which prompted her to launch a larger research project that led to the book.
Beach Party Breaks the Box Office
Movie goers flocked to the cinema to catch the release of Beach Party on August 7, 1963. The film generated a surprising $2.3 million at the box office and launched an entire beach party film genre. Sunny, musical SoCal movies dominated teen culture for the next several years.
Martin Luther King Jr. Has a Dream
On August 28, 1963, roughly 250,000 activists participated in The March on Washington, a public movement to advocate for civil and economic rights for African Americans. The march was historic for many reasons, particularly that it resulted in Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his powerful "I Have a Dream" speech.
President John F. Kennedy Assassinated
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a presidential motorcade in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. His wife, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, was riding by his side while Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, Nellie, rode in front. Connally also sustained injuries but recovered in the hospital.
The Beatles Appear on The Ed Sullivan Show
On February 9, 1964, The Beatles made their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. A record 73 million viewers tuned in to watch the four mop-topped Brits perform "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Beatlemania had officially taken over the country.
Cassius Clay Defeats Sonny Liston
Before February 25, 1964, Sonny Liston was the World Heavyweight Champion of the world. Then came the underdog, Cassius Clay. Their historic fight in Miami Beach was a major victory for Clay and an unbelievable upset for Liston. So unbelievable, in fact, that an investigation was launched to make sure Liston didn't lose on purpose.
Malcolm X Assassinated
Malcolm X was a powerful figurehead during the civil rights movement. On February 19, 1965, he was assassinated during a speech in Manhattan by members of the Nation of Islam (NOI). Malcolm, a former member of the NOI, had repeatedly claimed they were trying to have him killed.
“Bloody Sunday” Shocks the World
On March 7, 1965, roughly 600 civil rights activists started to march. They were heading from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery to speak with Governor George Wallace about the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson. When they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state troopers were waiting on the other side.
The Watts Riots Rock Los Angeles
For almost a week in August 1965, the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles was in a state of unrest. A scuffle with local police escalated into a fight, with neighbors reporting that police had injured a pregnant woman. That amplified the racial and social tensions people already felt toward the police, and riots ensued.
Lyndon B. Johnson Signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965
On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. This landmark piece of legislation outlawed racial discrimination in voting. Johnson’s signing of the act during the height of the civil rights movement was seen as a move to help unite a divided America.
Star Trek Goes Where No Man Has Gone Before
Science fiction lovers tuned in on September 8, 1966, for the premiere episode of Star Trek. The show took place across the Milky Way galaxy, roughly during the 2260s. Led by Captain Kirk, the ship’s crew explored the deep reaches of space to find new worlds and life forms.
Timothy Leary Turns On, Tunes In and Drops Out
In 1966, Timothy Leary proclaimed his famous line, "Turn on, tune in, drop out," at the hippie-fueled Human Be-In gathering in San Francisco. The Harvard University clinical psychologist was an outspoken advocate for the use of psychedelic drugs for therapeutic purposes.
The First Super Bowl Kicks Off
Football took the main stage as a major spectacle on January 15, 1967. The first AFL-NFL World Championship game — a.k.a. the Super Bowl — took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The game generated a lot of publicity ahead of time, as tensions between the AFL and NFL were quite heated.
Aretha Franklin Demands “Respect”
Originally written and released by Otis Redding in 1965, "Respect" was originally a plea from a desperate man, but Franklin's rendition, released on April 29, 1967, made the song the anthemic classic it is today. Franklin turned the song into a declaration — no, a demand — from a powerful woman.
Twiggy Arrives at Kennedy Airport
Lesley Lawson (nee Hornby) — a.k.a. Twiggy — became a British modeling sensation in 1966 thanks to her unique appearance. Her pixie haircut, big eyes and androgynous style took the modeling world by storm. But it wasn't until she touched down at Kennedy airport in NYC in 1967 that she gained widespread global attention.
John Phillips Writes "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)"
In San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, a social revolution bloomed in the summer of 1967. Dubbed "The Summer of Love," hoards of young people who opposed the Vietnam War, consumerism and government at large gathered to exchange ideas, take psychedelics and create art with one another.
Thurgood Marshall Becomes a Supreme Court Justice
With the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, President Johnson knew the right man to nominate. On June 13, 1967, the president nominated Thurgood Marshall to be the 96th justice to serve on the court and the first African American to hold the position.
Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated
Martin Luther King Jr., the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and prominent leader of the civil rights movement, was fatally shot on April 4, 1968. It came as a shock to the country as he routinely preached the use of nonviolence to effect change during his time as a clergyman and civil rights leader.
The 1968 Democratic National Convention Heats Up
1968 was a year of political and civil unrest. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were both assassinated. There were riots and violence in more than 100 U.S. cities. But the political show must go on. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the real battle was going on outside between protesters and the police.
Armstrong and Aldrin Walk on the Moon
On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. He and Buzz Aldrin spent hours on the moon's surface while Michael Collins managed the Columbia ship above. NASA's Apollo 11 was the thrilling mission that ended the decade-long Space Race between the Soviets and the Americans.
Jimi Hendrix Plays "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock
The Woodstock music and arts festival was held August 15-18, 1969. Over 400,000 people poured into upstate New York to listen to music's biggest acts, including Jefferson Airplane, The Who and Janis Joplin, among many others. As the Vietnam War divided the country, the festival sent a message of peace from the musicians and the counterculture movement at large.