LAW & ORDERHEAVEN & EARTHGRAcEPOWERFRONT LiNEHOmE FRONTLOVEHATESTEP DOWNSHOT DOWNcOmEDyTRAGEDy
The 1968 exhibiT: hstorcal background
At the start o the 1960s, the United States was a superpower withmilitary strength and great economic prosperity. President John F.Kennedy opened the decade by saying “It is a time or a new genera-tion o leadership to cope with new problems and new opportunities,or there is a new world to be won.”Indeed, during the 1960s students on campuses across the country took up the cause o creating a “new” and more just society. Highly idealistic, they demanded desegregation, championed ree speech andprotested the U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam. They challengedviews o material culture, supported new roles or women andexplored alternative views o sex and marriage. Searching or a newidentity, many dabbled in illicit drugs, created a new style o dress andlistened to new orms o music.Ater a landslide win in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson took upthe call or social and economic justice, pushing through domes-tic programs including the Civil Rights Acts o 1964, the VotingRights Act o 1965, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and the Oceo Economic Opportunity. Prosperity meant the money was there tosupport these programs. Unemployment was low and salaries wererising. Idealism was not just or students or counterculture groups, itwas embraced by people o all ages in public and private lie.But not every American took up the call or change. Many deendedthe traditions o segregation and pushed or a limited role o govern-ment. A generation gap developed between parents who came o agein the 1940s and 50s and the more experimental views o youth in the1960s. Some viewed long hair and bell bottoms as signs o anarchy while others saw explorations with drugs and sex as immoral. Criticsoten labeled student protesters as sel-indulgent and inexperienced.Student revolutionaries did not bring an end to capitalism, nor didthey lead the masses to abandon material goods. But they did success-ully call or the withdrawal o U.S. troops in Vietnam, gains weremade in the civil rights movement and women across the nation tookcontrol o their social and economic utures, increasing their presencein the workorce by 50 percent during the 1960s. Fewer Americanslived in poverty, the elderly got better healthcare and America’sworkplace was more diverse and fexible. And towards the end o thedecade or the rst time the United States landed a man on the moon.Still, optimism was ading and in its place was a growing sense o doubt, anger and ear. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated; American military power was challenged at homeand in the eld; a growing tax burden created by expanding govern-ment programs and a mounting war debt pushed the economy to thebrink, while peaceul protests turned into violent displays o publicdisorder and rioting. The new youth slogan became “turn on, tune in,and drop out.” Drug use was blamed or the deaths o Janis Joplin andJimi Hendrix. By the end o the 1960s women may have held nearly hal the jobs in the United States, but they earned 60 percent as muchas their male counterparts. And the manned space program was scaledback in avor o cheaper and more eective unmanned fights.Some argue the events o the 1960s ostered a culture o immoral-ity while creating a welare state at the expense o an immense taxburden. Others say civil and political rights improved, social inequitieswere leveled and a renewed sense o American idealism was ostered.The debate is never more important than it is today. Those who livedthrough the 1960s are now in positions o leadership in Americangovernment and society, and they are raising amilies and passing ontheir belies to a new generation.