The Life and Times of the 1960s

Everybody seems to be talking about the return of the 1990s. Everywhere you go, you see reboots and people just acting nostalgic about the decade. But while the 90s are great, everyone knows that the 1960s is where it’s at. It’s one of the most important decades not only in U.S. history, but in the history of the entire world. So with our Rock & Rockets event just over the horizon on Sunday, November 13 from 3 to 5:30 p.m., let’s talk about the life and times of the 60s.

Crying Girl (1964) - Roy Lichtenstein

Crying Girl (1964) – Roy Lichtenstein

The 60s gave birth to the most iconic works and franchises of popular culture, many of which continue to this day. Dr. Who, the 1966 Batman show, the 007 James Bond movies, Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Psycho, The Sound of Music, the list goes on and on. The 60s were also a fantastic decade for music, with The Temptations, The Supremes, The Rolling Stones, James Brown and, of course, The Beatles making the list of some of the most influential artists of all time. The Pop Art movement flourished in this period after its debut in the 1950s thanks to artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, whose paintings you can see in the Milwaukee Art Museum. And, of course, our very own Planetarium was born in 1966.

Black American civil rights leader Martin Luther King (1929 - 1968) addresses crowds during the March On Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, where he gave his 'I Have A Dream' speech.   (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Black American civil rights leader Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968) addresses crowds during the March On Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, where he gave his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

But while the 60s may have been one of the most fun decades, it was also one of the most politically turbulent. The civil rights movement ended decades of discrimination for African Americans and other racial and ethnic groups thanks to the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Andrew Goodman and thousands of supporters using nonviolent protest and civil disobedience. The movement culminated with Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963 and the Selma to Montgomery marches in March of 1965, which lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968.

A revolution was also sparked for women’s rights in the 60s. The second wave of feminism (with the first being the women’s suffrage movement that gave women the right to vote), began when Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1962, which called for women to reject the established and debilitating gender norms of the time and seek work outside of the household. Many feminist groups were formed, including the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the summer of 1966, and many leaders like Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug rose to drive the revolution. Groups also made sure that anti-gender discrimination laws, like the prohibition of gender discrimination added to the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, were enforced.

Women’s rights march in August 1970 – Diana Davies/International Film Circuit

The efforts of these movements brought together a divided America. And while we still struggle with racial and gender inequality to this day, we wouldn’t have made any progress without the struggle and sacrifices of the men and women behind these movements.

War correspondent Dickey Chapelle in Vietnam – Dickey Chapelle

The Vietnam War also weighed heavily on people’s minds. After years of tension, U.S. combat forces were sent to Vietnam in March of 1965 to help South Vietnam fend off the communist forces of North Vietnam and their allies. While the public was initially supportive of the war effort, increased media coverage quickly turned public opinion and anti-war campaigns became bigger and bigger with artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and The Beatles joining the cause. After years of protesting and costly conflict, peace talks began in 1968 between the U.S. and North Vietnam and President Richard Nixon began gradually withdrawing U.S. troops. And in January of 1973, the U.S. and North Vietnam ended conflict.

The 60s wasn’t just a cultural movement but also a technological one with the revolutionary advancements in space travel. After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I on October 4, 1957 and launched the dog Laika into space a month later, the U.S. followed up by launching Explorer I on January 31, 1958 and forming NASA in October of that year. On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy made a proclamation before a joint session of Congress to land a man on the mood and return him safely to Earth before the decade ends. Since then, NASA made landmark after landmark including the launching of Alan Shepard, the first American in space, on May 5, 1961 (one month after Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, was launched); the launching John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth on February 20, 1962 and the first U.S. spacewalk on June 3, 1965. And then on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins fulfilled the promise to put a man on the moon.

Moon Landing on July 20, 1969 – NASA

The 60s was a cultural, political and technological revolution that changed the face of the Earth for the better, and we are proud to celebrate those achievements at our Rock & Rockets event. The ideas, movements and sacrifices made by people of the 60s can be felt to this very day. While the 90s may be coming back, the 60s never left us.