1960s: The Way We Lived
1960s: The Way We Lived
The political unrest and social activism of the 1960s brought dramatic changes in the way many Americans lived. The civil rights movement, the gay liberation movement, and the women's movement certainly brought changes to the lives of those who participated in these movements of the 1960s, as well as to the larger social structures these movements hoped to change. Even more powerful were the changes brought by the shapeless and leaderless "youth movement," a general trend in culture that valued the freedom and lack of responsibility enjoyed by youth.
The dominant social movement in the first half of the decade was the civil rights movement. Nonviolent protestors led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) participated in sit-ins and boycotts throughout the South to protest the persistent racism and segregation in the region. When southerners reacted violently, the federal government stepped in to enforce equal rights laws. One key moment in the movement was the 1963 March on Washington, D.C., which saw hundreds of thousands of Americans—including a substantial white minority— express their approval for equal rights for African Americans. The civil rights movement became more violent later in the decade, with riots in America's worst ghettos and the assassination of leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X (1925–1965).
Prompted by the 1963 book The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1921–) and by the successes of the civil rights movement, American women also joined together to press for equal rights. They formed the National Organization for Women (NOW) and sought passage of an equal rights amendment to the Constitution. Though the amendment did not pass, women did gain reforms in divorce and abortion laws and greater access to economic opportunity. The gay liberation movement of the late 1960s also began its quest for an end to discrimination against homosexuals. The women's and gay liberation movements were all part of an ongoing sexual revolution that included a new permissiveness toward all things sexual.
The most visible of the 1960s movements was the youth movement, which took many forms. College youths were especially active in the antiwar movement, which protested American involvement in the Vietnam War (1954–75). They protested on college campuses across the nation and formed an important group, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Some youths rejected conventional American values altogether and became "hippies," drop outs who formed a counterculture based on free-love, drug use, and shared property. Throughout youth culture, drug use was on the rise, especially the use of marijuana and LSD. By the end of the decade, drug use had claimed the lives of many users, including rock stars Janis Joplin (1943–1970) and Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970).