Protest and Politics

The Election of 1960

In the presidential election of 1960, voters chose between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy. For the first time, television played a major role. The candidates debated on live TV Nixon was the better debater, but he was uncomfortable on TV Most people who watched the debate thought that Kennedy had won. In the end, Kennedy won the election by a narrow margin.

Kennedy’s legislative plans included giving health insurance to the elderly, creating a Department of Urban Affairs, and increasing funding for education and the space program. Not all of these plans became law. However, laws were passed to increase the minimum wage, require equal pay for women, and fund urban renewal projects.

Kennedy Assassinated On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy and his wife were riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, when gunshots suddenly rang out. The president was shot twice and killed.

Johnson’s Great Society

After President Kennedy’s death, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president. Johnson announced an “unconditional [unlimited] war on poverty” and spoke about creating a “Great Society” that would “end poverty and racial injustice.” Major reforms were passed both before and after Johnson’s reelection in 1964.

Great Society Legislation

Program Title Explanation of Program
Economic Opportunity Act Set up the Office of Economic Opportunity, which ran programs to help the poor
Medicare Health insurance for people over 65
Medicaid Health insurance for low-income families
Head Start Preschool for children of low-income families
Clean Air and Water Quality Acts Set standards and guidelines for air and water quality
Housing and Urban Development Act Created a government department that oversees federal government involvement in community development and housing

Important Supreme Court cases were decided during this time. In a series of decisions, the Court ruled that the Bill of Rights applied to states as well as to the federal government. Specifically, the Supreme Court made these rulings:

  • Evidence illegally collected is inadmissible, or not allowed, in court.
  • All suspects have a right to a lawyer during police questioning and at trial.
  • Police must inform people of their rights when they are arrested (the Miranda warning).

Brown v. Board of Education

One of the most important Supreme Court rulings was in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had been challenging segregation laws for decades. Segregation is the practice of separating people or groups on the basis of race. In 1954, the NAACP sued the Topeka school board on behalf of Linda Brown. Brown was forced to attend a school across town rather than the school near her house because of her race. The Supreme Court’s decision was unanimous; that is, there was no dissent or disagreement. Racial segregation in schools was illegal. The court did not consider segregated schools to be equal under the law.

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, segregation was a fact of life for African-Americans in the South. Restaurants and movie theaters had separate sections for African-Americans. They were forced to ride in the backs of buses and trains. In 1955, an African American woman named Rosa Parks sat at the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. When she refused to give up her seat to a white man, she was arrested. Her actions sparked a bus boycott. African-Americans refused to use the bus system. For over a year, they walked to work or carpool rather than ride the bus.

The Civil Rights Movement

The bus boycott ended in 1956 when the Supreme Court ruled that segregating buses was illegal. The court ruling encouraged other protests, such as sit-ins and demonstrations, or public protests. Freedom Riders rode interstate buses to draw attention to continuing segregation in the South. Many African-Americans faced beatings and harassment.

The movement to end discrimination (unfair treatment) and guarantee African-Americans equal treatment was called the civil rights movement. A young and skillful speaker, Martin Luther King J r. became its leader. He received widespread support for his nonviolent protests. Americans were upset by news reports showing peaceful demonstrators being attacked by police with clubs and dogs.

In 1963, President Kennedy announced a civil rights bill. The bill would ban segregation in public places and end discrimination in voting and employment. However, the bill stalled in the Senate. To pressure Congress to pass the bill, Dr. King organized a march in Washington, DC. More than 200,000 supporters joined the march. It was there that King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Congress finally passed the civil rights bill in 1964. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. It put an end to practices that denied African-Americans their right to vote. As a result, hundreds of African-Americans and other minorities were elected to public office. Hundreds of thousands more registered to vote for the first time.

On April 4, 1968, Dr. King was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. Although the movement lost one of its most important and inspirational leaders, it continued. The civil rights movement also led women, Hispanics, Native Americans, homosexuals, and other groups to seek equal rights.

Antiwar Protests

Throughout the 1960s, the United States became more and more deeply involved in the conflict between communist and non-communist forces in Vietnam. In 1964, Congress gave President Johnson the authority to go to war. At first, a majority of Americans supported the war. But as casualties grew, people began to protest. Images of the fighting were shown on nightly TV newscasts. For the first time, the realities of war hit home.

There was opposition to the war for several reasons. Some people thought that the United States should not get involved in another country’s civil war. Others protested the draft system, which required young men to serve in the armed forces. In practice, it was often men from lower-income families that were drafted and sent to fight.

President Johnson decided not to run for re-election in 1968. Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey. The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon. Nixon’s promise to end the war helped him beat Humphrey.

Other Minorities Fight for Their Rights

The civil rights movement inspired other minority groups to fight for their rights. There were over 9 million Hispanic Americans in the United States by the late 1960s. Many immigrants worked on farms, where conditions were difficult and wages were low. In response, unions such as the United Farm Workers (UFW) fought for better wages and benefits.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Native Americans also began organizing. In 1968, Congress passed a law giving Native Americans equal protection under the Bill of Rights. In the 1970s, they won court cases that gave them greater control over reservations and money owed to them by the government.

During and after World War II, more women joined the workforce. But only certain jobs were offered to women, and their pay was not equal to the pay men received. Using their experience with civil rights, women began to protest. As a result, these legislative reforms were enacted:

  • 1963: Equal Pay Act makes it illegal to pay men more than women for the same job
  • 1964: Civil Rights Act, Title VII, outlaws job discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and gender
  • 1972: Educational Amendments, Title IX, makes it illegal for any school receiving federal funds to discriminate on the basis of gender