JFK, MLK, LBJ, Vietnam and the 1960s

At the start of the 1960s, things seemed pretty much like the 1950s—prosperous, calm and predictable. But by 1963, the civil rights movement was making headlines, and the young and vibrant President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, one of the most stunning events of the 20th century. The nation mourned, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson suddenly became president on that day in November. He signed momentous legislation that included the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but also was the man who was the target of protesters' wrath for the quagmire in Vietnam, which expanded in the late '60s. In 1968, the U.S. mourned two more inspirational leaders who were assassinated: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April and Robert F. Kennedy in June. For those living through this decade, it was one not to be forgotten. 


Nixon and JFK debate
Presidential candidates Richard Nixon (left), later the 37th president of the United States, and John F. Kennedy, the 35th president, during a televised debate. MPI / Getty Images

The decade opened with a presidential election that included the first televised debates between the two candidates, John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. 

Alfred Hitchcock's landmark movie "Psycho" was in the theaters; lasers were invented; Brazil's capital moved to a brand new city, Brasilia; and the birth control pill was approved by the FDA.

The civil rights era began with a lunch counter sit-in at a Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The most powerful earthquake ever reported devastated Chile, and 69 people lost their lives in the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa.


Building the Berlin Wall
Building the Berlin Wall, symbol of the Cold War. Keystone / Getty Images

The year 1961 saw the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba and the building of the Berlin Wall.

Adolf Eichmann went on trial for his role in the Holocaust, the freedom riders challenged segregation on interstate buses, the Peace Corps was founded, and the ​Soviets launched the first man into space. And speaking of space, JFK gave his "Man on the Moon" speech.


Marilyn Monroe
George Rinhart / Corbis via Getty Images

The biggest event of 1962 was the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the United States was on edge for 13 days during a confrontation with the Soviet Union.

In perhaps the most stunning news of 1962, the iconic sex symbol of the era, Marilyn Monroe, was found dead at her home in August. Earlier that year, she sang a memorable "Happy Birthday" to JFK.

In the ongoing civil rights movement, James Meredith was the first African-American admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi.

In lighter news, Andy Warhol exhibited his iconic Campbell's Soup can painting; the first James Bond movie, "Dr. No," hit the theaters; the first Walmart opened; Johnny Carson began his long run as host of the "Tonight" show; and Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" was published.


MLK I Have A Dream speech
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington in August 1963. Central Press / Getty Images

The news of this year made an indelible mark on the nation with the assassination of JFK on Nov. 22 in Dallas while on a campaign trip.

But other major events occurred: This was the year of the 16th Street Baptist Chuch bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in which four girls were killed; civil rights activist Medgar Evers was murdered; and the March on Washington drew 200,000 protesters who witnessed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's legendary "I Have a Dream" speech.

This was also the year of the Great Train Robbery in Britain, the establishment of the hotline between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and the first woman launched into space.

Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" was on bookstore shelves, and the first "Dr. Who" episode aired on television.


The Beatles U.S.A Invasion
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

In 1964, the landmark Civil Rights Act became law, and the Warren Report on the assassination of JFK was issued, naming Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone killer.

Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in South Africa, and Japan debuted its first bullet train.

On the culture front, the news was big: The Beatles took the U.S. by storm and change pop music forever. GI Joe showed up on toy store shelves and Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali) became the heavyweight champion of the world.


Malcolm X
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

In 1965, LBJ sent troops to Vietnam in what would become a source of division in the U.S. in the years to come. Activist Malcolm X was assassinated, and riots devastated the Watts area of Los Angeles.

The Great Blackout of November 1965 left about 30 million people in the Northeast in the dark for 12 hours in the biggest power failure in history up to that time.

On the radio, the Rolling Stones' mega hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" got a lot of play, and miniskirts started showing up on city streets.


Mao Zedong
Apic / Getty Images

In 1966, Nazi Albert Speer was released from Spandau Prison, Mao Tse-tung launched the Cultural Revolution in China, and the Black Panther Party was founded.

Mass protests against the draft and the war in Vietnam dominated the nightly news, the National Organization for Women was founded, and "Star Trek" made its legendary mark on TV.


Super Bowl I
Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor (31) turns the corner with Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Andrew Rice (58). James Flores / Getty Images

The first Super Bowl ever was played in January 1967, with the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Australian prime minister disappeared, and Che Guevara was killed.

The Middle East witnessed the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria; Joseph Stalin's daughter defected to the U.S.; three astronauts were killed during a simulated launch; the first heart transplant was successfully achieved; and Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American justice on the Supreme Court.


My Lai massacre
United States Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle snapped this photo in the aftermath of the My Lai massacre. Ronald L. Haeberle/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Two assassinations overshadow all other news of 1968—the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in April, and Robert F. Kennedy was felled by an assassin's bullet in June as he was celebrating his win in the California Democratic primary.

The My Lai massacre and the Tet Offensive topped the news about Vietnam, and the spy ship USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea.

The Prague Spring marked a time of liberalization in Czechoslovakia before the Soviets invaded and removed the leader of the government, Alexander Dubcek.


Neil Armstrong bootprint Moon

Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon during the flight of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969.

Sen.Ted Kennedy left the scene of an accident on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, where Mary Jo Kopechne died.

The legendary Woodstock rock concert happened, "Sesame Street" came to TV, ARPANET, the precursor of the Internet, made an appearance, and Yasser Arafat became the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

In the most grisly news of the year, the Manson Family killed five at the home of director Roman Polanski in Benedict Canyon near Hollywood.