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    United States History
    Decades of Change united_states_history_decades_of_change.html
    Source: United States Information Agency


        "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood." Martin Luther King Jr., 1963


        By 1960 government had become an increasingly powerful force in people's lives. During the 1930s, The White House had initiated legislation and worked closely with Congress to ease the trauma of the Great Depression. New executive agencies were created to deal with many aspects of American life. The number of civilians employed by the federal government rose from 1 million to 3.8 million during World War II, then stabilized at 2.5 million throughout the 1950s. Federal expenditures, which had stood at $3.1 thousand-million in 1929, increased to $75 thousand-million in 1953 and passed $150 thousand-million in the 1960s.


        Most Americans accepted government's expanded role, even as they disagreed about how far that expansion should continue. Democrats wanted the government to use its power to ensure growth and stability. They wanted to extend federal benefits for education, health and welfare. Republicans, while accepting government's basic and necessary responsibility, hoped to cap spending and restore a larger measure of individual initiative.




        John F. Kennedy, Democratic victor in the election of 1960, was at 43 the youngest man ever to win the presidency. On television, in a series of debates with opponent Richard Nixon, he appeared able, articulate and energetic. In the campaign, he spoke of moving aggressively into the new decade, for "the New Frontier is here whether we seek it or not." In his first inaugural address he concluded with an eloquent plea: "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." Throughout his brief presidency, Kennedy's special combination of grace, wit and style sustained his popularity and influenced generations of politicians to come.


        Kennedy wanted to exert strong leadership to extend economic benefits to all citizens, but a razor-thin margin of victory limited his mandate. Even though the Democratic Party controlled both houses of Congress, conservative Southerners resisted plans to increase federal aid to education, provide health insurance for the elderly and create a new Department of Urban Affairs. And so, despite his rhetoric, Kennedy's policies were often limited and restrained.


        One priority was to end a recession and restore growth. But Kennedy lost the confidence of business leaders in 1962, when he sought to roll back what the administration regarded as an excessive price increase in the steel industry. Though he succeeded in his immediate goal, he alienated an important source of support. When he later called for a large tax cut to provide capital and stimulate the economy, conservative opposition in Congress destroyed any hopes of passing the deficit measure.


        The overall legislative record of the Kennedy administration was meager. The president made some gestures toward civil rights leaders but did not embrace the goals of the civil rights movement until nearly the end of his presidency. He failed in his effort to aid public education and to provide medical care for the elderly. He gained only a modest increase in the minimum wage. Still, he did secure funding for a space program, and established the Peace Corps to send men and women overseas to assist developing countries in meeting their own needs. Kennedy had planned an ambitious legislative program for the last year of his term. But then on November 22, 1963, he was assassinated while riding in an open car during a visit to Dallas, Texas. It was a traumatic and defining moment for a generation, just as the death of Franklin Roosevelt had been for an earlier one. In retrospect, Kennedy's liberal reputation stems more from his style and ideals than from the implementation of his policies; but because the agenda set out in the last year of his presidency was enacted in 1964-1966, he was seen as a liberal force for change after his death.




        Lyndon Johnson, a Texan who was majority leader in the Senate before becoming Kennedy's vice president, was a masterful politician. He had been schooled in Congress, where he developed an extraordinary ability to get things done. He could plead, cajole or threaten as necessary to achieve his ends. As president, he wanted to use his power aggressively to eliminate poverty and spread the benefits of prosperity to all.


        Johnson took office determined to secure the measures that Kennedy had sought. Immediate priorities were bills to reduce taxes and guarantee civil rights. Using his skills of persuasion and calling on the legislators' respect for the slain president, in 1964 Johnson succeeded in gaining passage of the Civil Rights Bill. Introduced by Kennedy, it was the most far-reaching piece of civil rights legislation enacted since Reconstruction. Soon Johnson addressed other issues as well. By the spring of 1964, he had begun to use the name "Great Society" to describe his reform program, and that term received even more play after his landslide victory over conservative Republican Barry Goldwater in the presidential election of that year. On the economic front, Johnson pushed successfully for a tax cut, then pressed for a poverty program Kennedy had initiated. "This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America," he announced. The Office of Economic Opportunity provided training for the poor and established various community-action programs to give the poor themselves a voice in housing, health and education programs.


        Medical care came next. Truman had proposed a centralized scheme more than 20 years earlier, but had failed to gain congressional passage. Under Johnson's leadership, Congress enacted Medicare, a health insurance program for the elderly, and Medicaid, a program providing health-care assistance for the poor.


        Similarly, Johnson succeeded in the effort to provide aid for elementary and secondary schooling where Kennedy had failed. The measure that was enacted gave money to the states based on the number of their children from low-income families. Funds could be used to assist public- and private-school children alike.


        The Great Society reached even further. A new housing act provided rent supplements for the poor and established a Department of Housing and Urban Development. An immigration measure finally replaced the discriminatory quotas set in 1924. Federal assistance went to artists and scholars to encourage their work.


        The Johnson administration also addressed transportation safety issues, in part because of the efforts of a young lawyer, lobbyist and consultant named Ralph Nader. In his 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile, Nader argued that many cars could cause death or damage in even low-speed accidents. Nader said that automobile manufacturers were sacrificing safety features for style, and he named specific models in which faulty engineering contributed to highway fatalities. In September 1966, Johnson signed into law two transportation bills. The first provided funds to state and local governments for developing safety programs, while the other set up federal safety standards for cars and tires. In all, the Great Society was the greatest burst of legislative activity since the New Deal. But support for the Johnson administration policies began to weaken as early as 1966. Some of Johnson's programs did not live up to expectations; many programs went underfunded. Still, the Great Society achieved some reductions in poverty -- between 1965 and 1968, for example, black-family income rose from 54 percent to 60 percent of white-family income.




        In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States remained locked in bitter conflict with communist countries. Most American leaders throughout the period saw the world in Cold War terms and sought to counter the perceived threat of the Soviet bloc. Cuba became a battleground in the Kennedy years.


        Ever since Fidel Castro's revolutionary army seized power in 1959 and gained the support of the Soviet Union, relations with Cuba had been strained. The United States broke diplomatic ties just before Kennedy assumed office, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began training Cuban exiles to invade their homeland and spark an uprising. The attack at the Bay of Pigs in the spring of 1961 failed miserably. Kennedy, who approved the plan initiated by the Eisenhower administration, accepted responsibility for the defeat.


        The next year, seeking to recoup lost prestige, Kennedy stood firm when he learned the Soviet Union was secretly installing offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba. After considering different options, he decided on a quarantine to prevent Soviet ships from bringing additional missiles to Cuba, and he demanded publicly that the Soviets remove the weapons. After several days of tension, during which the world was closer than ever before to nuclear war, the Soviets backed down. Supporters applauded Kennedy's courage; critics charged that he risked nuclear disaster when quiet diplomacy might have been more appropriate. In retrospect, however, the Cuban missile crisis marked a turning point in U.S.-Soviet relations as both sides saw the need to defuse tensions that could lead to direct military conflict. The following year, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain signed a landmark Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere.




        Space became another arena for competition after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik -- an artificial satellite -- in 1957. Americans were chastened, for the Russians had beaten them into orbit with a rocket that could have easily carried a nuclear bomb. The United States only managed to launch its first satellite, Explorer I, in 1958. The public mood worsened when the Soviets placed the first man in orbit in 1961. Kennedy responded by committing the United States to land a man on the moon and bring him back "before this decade is out."


        With Project Mercury, in August 1962 John H. Glenn Jr. became the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth. In the mid-1960s, U.S. scientists used the Gemini program to examine the effects of prolonged space flight on man. Gemini, Latin for "twins," carried two astronauts, one more than the earlier Mercury series and one less than subsequent Apollo spacecraft. Gemini achieved several firsts, including an eight-day mission in August 1965 -- the longest space flight at that time -- and in November 1966, the first automatically controlled reentry into the Earth's atmosphere. Gemini also accomplished the first manned linkup of two spacecraft in flight as well as the first U.S. walks in space.


        The Apollo project achieved Kennedy's goal. In July 1969, with hundreds of millions of television viewers watching around the world, Neil A. Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.


        Other Apollo flights followed, but many Americans began to question the value of manned space flight. In the early 1970s, as other priorities became more pressing, the United States scaled down the space program. Some Apollo missions were scrapped; only one of two proposed Skylab space stations was built.




        Indochina was still another Cold War battlefield. France had controlled Vietnam since the middle of the 19th century, only to be supplanted by Japan during the Second World War. Meanwhile, Ho Chi Minh, a Vietnamese communist, sought to liberate his nation from colonial rule and took the American War for Independence as his model. After the Allies defeated the Japanese in 1945, they still had to deal with Ho Chi Minh.


        France, hoping to regain great-power status, insisted on returning to Vietnam. Ho refused to back down, and the war for liberation continued. The United States, eager to maintain French support for the policy of containment in Europe, provided France with economic aid that freed resources for the struggle in Vietnam. Even that assistance could not prevent French defeat in 1954. At an international conference in Geneva, Vietnam was divided, with Ho in power in the North and Ngo Dinh Diem, a Roman Catholic anti-communist in a largely Buddhist population, heading the government in the South. Elections were to be held two years later to unify the country.


        Persuaded that the fall of Vietnam could lead to the fall of Burma, Thailand and Indonesia, Eisenhower backed Diem's refusal to hold elections in 1956 and began to increase economic and military aid. Kennedy increased assistance, and sent small numbers of military advisors, but still the struggle between North and South continued. Diem's unpopularity culminated in his overthrow and death in 1963.


        The situation was more unstable than ever before. Guerrillas in the South, known as Viet Cong, challenged the South Vietnamese government, sometimes covertly, sometimes through the National Liberation Front, their political arm. Aided by North Vietnam, they gained ground, especially among the peasants in the countryside. Determined to halt communist advances in South Vietnam, Johnson made the Vietnam War his own. After a North Vietnamese naval attack on two American destroyers, Johnson won from Congress on August 7, 1964, passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed the president to "take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression." After his re-election in November 1964, he embarked on a policy of escalation. From 25,000 troops at the start of 1965, the number of soldiers -- both volunteers and draftees -- rose to 500,000 by 1968. A massive bombing campaign wrought havoc in both North and South Vietnam.


        With grisly battles shown on television, Americans began to protest their country's involvement in the war. Such foreign policy specialists as George Kennan found fault with U.S. policies. Others argued that the U.S had no strategy for ending the war. Americans watched as the massive military campaign seemed to have no effect on the course of the war. Public dissatisfaction with U.S. policy, especially among the young, pressured Johnson to begin negotiating for peace.


        Anti-war sentiment in 1968 led Johnson to renounce any intention of seeking another term. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, protesters fought street battles with police. The chaos in the Democratic Party, especially after the murder of Robert Kennedy in June; white opposition to the civil rights measures of the 1960s; and the third-party candidacy of Alabama Governor George Wallace (who won his home state, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Georgia) helped elect Republican Richard Nixon, who ran on a plan to extricate the United States from the war and to increase "law and order" at home.


        While slowly withdrawing American troops, Nixon ordered some of the most fearful bombing in the war. He also invaded Cambodia in 1970 to cut off North Vietnamese supply lines, which passed through there to South Vietnam. This led to another round of protests and demonstrations, as students in many universities took to the streets. In one such demonstration, at Kent State in Ohio, national guard troops who had been called in to restore order panicked and killed four students.


        A cease-fire, negotiated for the United States by Nixon's national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, was finally signed in 1973. Although American troops departed, the war lingered on into the spring of 1975, when North Vietnam consolidated its control over the entire country.


        The war had a tremendous price. It left Vietnam devastated, with millions maimed or killed. The United States spent over $150 thousand-million in a losing effort that cost 58,000 American lives. The war also ended the Cold War foreign policy consensus. The public found that certain American military units had engaged in atrocities in Vietnam and that the government had lied about the circumstances surrounding the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. Many Americans were horrified at the invasion of Cambodia. The war led many young Americans to question the actions of their own nation and the values it sought to uphold.




        As the war wound down, the Nixon administration was able to deal pragmatically with the major communist powers. The most dramatic step was opening ties to the People's Republic of China. In the two decades since Mao Zedong's victory, the United States had argued that the Nationalist government on Taiwan represented all of China. In 1971 and 1972, Nixon softened the American stance, eased trading restrictions and became the first American president ever to visit Beijing.


        With the Soviet Union, Nixon was equally successful in pursuing a policy of detente. Several months after his trip to China, he visited the Soviet Union. He held several cordial meetings with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in which they agreed to limit stockpiles of missiles, cooperate in space and ease trading restrictions. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) culminated in 1972 in an arms control agreement limiting the growth of nuclear arsenals and restricting anti-ballistic missile systems.




        Nixon took office after eight years of Democratic rule. Vice president under Eisenhower before his unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1960, Nixon embraced politics, but without the passion of President Johnson. Distant often appearing ill at ease, he was always calculating his next move. That helped him at first, but finally led to his downfall.


        Although Nixon subscribed to the Republican value of fiscal responsibility, he recognized the need for government's expanded role and accepted the basic contours of the welfare state. He simply wanted to manage its programs better.


        Nixon confronted a series of economic problems during his presidency. By 1973 the inflation rate was 9 percent; the Dow-Jones average of industrial stocks fell 36 percent between November 1968 and May 1970; and the unemployment rate reached 6.6 percent by the end of 1970. Nixon imposed wage-price controls in 1971, but they did little good.


        Factors beyond Nixon's control undermined his economic policies. In 1973 the war between Israel, Egypt and Syria prompted Saudi Arabia to impose an embargo on oil shipped to Israel's ally, the United States. Other member nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quadrupled their prices. Americans faced both shortages and rapidly rising prices. Even when the embargo ended the next year, prices remained high. Higher energy prices affected all areas of American economic life: in 1974 inflation reached 12 percent, causing disruptions that led to even higher unemployment rates. This era of recession and inflation ("stagflation") brought an end to the unprecedented economic boom America had enjoyed since 1948.


        While trying to manage the economy, Nixon also sought to restore "law and order." Rising crime rates in American cities and political protests, increased drug use and more permissive views about sex in U.S. universities offended many Americans. Seeking to strengthen his own political constituency, Nixon chose to use government power to counter disruption. He lashed out at demonstrators, attacked the press for distorted coverage and sought to silence his opponents.


        That strategy backfired in the Watergate affair. Facing Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress during his first term, Nixon wanted to win an overwhelming re-election victory in 1972 that would bring Republican congressional majorities and end the legislative stalemate. The Committee to Re-elect the President launched a massive fund-raising campaign to collect money before contributions had to be reported under a new law.


        Early in 1972, Nixon's team proposed to tap the telephones of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, D.C. The attempt failed. When the burglars, carrying money and documents that could ultimately be traced to The White House, were arrested, the administration decided to cover up its involvement. Six days after the discovery of the break-in, Nixon told the Central Intelligence Agency to order the Federal Bureau of Investigation to cease its investigation on the grounds that national security was at stake. In fact, the break-in was just one aspect of a campaign to locate and destroy people whom the administration considered its "enemies." These activities involved illegal wiretapping, break-ins and fundraising. Although Nixon was overwhelmingly re-elected that year, the press, particularly the Washington Post, continued to investigate. As the scandal unfolded, the Democratic majority in the Congress instituted impeachment proceedings against Nixon. As the evidence of his involvement began to mount, he resigned on August 9, 1974.




        Gerald Ford, an unpretentious man who had spent most of his public life in Congress, became Nixon's vice president following the resignation of the previous vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, after it was revealed that he had accepted bribes both before and during his term as vice president. Twenty months later, upon Nixon's resignation, Ford became president. His first priority was to restore trust in the government, which had been shaken by impeachment proceedings aimed at removing Nixon from office. Initially Ford enjoyed a great deal of confidence, but it quickly eroded when he pardoned Nixon and thus headed off any possible prosecution in the future.


        In public policy, Ford followed the course Nixon had set. Economic problems remained serious, as inflation and unemployment continued to rise and the gross national product fell. Ford first tried to cajole the public, much as Herbert Hoover had done in 1929. When that failed, he imposed measures to curb inflation, which led to a 12-percent unemployment rate, and the most serious recession since the Great Depression. A tax cut, coupled with higher unemployment benefits, led to modest recovery, but still no end to economic difficulties. THE CARTER YEARS


        Jimmy Carter, former Democratic governor of Georgia, won the presidency in 1976. Portraying himself during the campaign as an outsider to Washington politics, he promised a fresh approach to governing, but his very lack of experience at the national level complicated his tenure from the start. A naval officer and engineer by training, he often appeared to be a technocrat, when Americans wanted someone more vibrant to lead the way through troubled times.


        In economic affairs, Carter at first permitted a policy of deficit spending. When the Federal Reserve Board, responsible for setting monetary policy, increased the money supply to cover deficits, inflation rose to 10 percent a year. Carter responded by cutting the budget to slow inflation, but cuts affected social programs at the heart of Democratic policy. By the end of his term, with deficits still high, the alienation of the business community could be seen in falling bond prices and rising interest rates.


        Carter also faced criticism for his failure to develop an effective energy policy. He presented a comprehensive program, aimed at reducing dependence on foreign oil, that he called the "moral equivalent of war." Opponents thwarted it in Congress.


        Though Carter called himself a populist, his political priorities were never wholly clear. He endorsed government's protective role, but then began the process of deregulation -- the removal of governmental controls in economic life. Arguing that some restrictions over the course of the past century limited competition and increased consumer costs, he favored decontrol in the oil, airline, railroad and trucking industries.


        Carter hoped to reestablish Democratic leadership, but his efforts failed to gain either public or congressional support. By the end of his term, his disapproval rating reached 77 percent, and Americans began to look toward the Republican Party again.




        In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the United States continued to pursue an active policy in world affairs, addressing issues in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. However, in the late 1970s, serious problems emerged in relations with the Soviet Union, and particularly with Iran.


        President Ford continued the Nixon administration policy of pursuing detente with the Soviet Union. In November 1974, Ford met with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in Vladivostok. The meeting resulted in a preliminary agreement on further U.S.-Soviet arms control measures. It also helped pave the way for a multi-nation conference in Helsinki, Finland, in 1975.


        The Helsinki Conference, the largest summit meeting in European history, was attended by the leaders of 35 European countries as well as the United States and Canada. The conference produced a historic 30,000-word Final Act, which incorporated some significant points championed by Western countries as well as some advocated by regimes in the Eastern bloc. It recognized the permanence of the changes in European borders after World War II -- an acknowledgment that Moscow had long sought. The Helsinki Final Act also contained pledges to respect individual rights and human liberties. Western nations hoped to increase pressure on Eastern bloc governments by getting them to sign the pledge. In fact, Western nations effectively used periodic "Helsinki review meetings" to call attention to various abuses of human rights by communist regimes of the Eastern bloc.


        President Jimmy Carter helped to achieve a significant breakthrough between Egypt and Israel in which these countries ended 30 years in a state of war. Acting as both mediator and participant, Carter met in 1978 at Camp David, Maryland, the presidential retreat, with Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to negotiate a peace settlement. Both leaders returned to the United States to sign the peace treaty at The White House in March 1979.


        After protracted and often emotional debate, Carter also secured Senate ratification of treaties returning the Panama Canal to Panama by the year 2000. And he followed Nixon's lead as he extended formal diplomatic recognition to the People's Republic of China.


        But Carter enjoyed less success with the Soviet Union. Though he assumed office with detente at high tide and declared that the United States had escaped its "inordinate fear of communism," his insistence that "our commitment to human rights must be absolute" antagonized the Soviet government. A SALT II agreement further limiting nuclear stockpiles was signed, but not ratified by the U.S. Senate, in part to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. That same year Carter began a defense build-up that paved the way for the huge expenditures of the 1980s.


        In 1979 Carter encountered even more trouble with Iran. After a fundamentalist revolution, led by Shiite Muslim leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, replaced a corrupt but friendly regime, Carter admitted the deposed shah to the United States for medical treatment. Angry Iranian militants seized the American embassy in Teheran and held 53 American hostages for more than a year. Despite his efforts, Carter could not secure their release, and his failure contributed to his electoral defeat.




        The struggle of black Americans for equality reached its peak in the mid-1960s. After progressive victories in the 1950s, blacks became even more committed to nonviolent direct action. Groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), made up of black clergy, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), composed of younger activists, sought reform through peaceful confrontation.


        In 1960 black college students sat down at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter in North Carolina and refused to leave. Their sit-in captured media attention and led to similar demonstrations throughout the South. The next year, civil rights workers organized "freedom rides," in which blacks and whites boarded buses heading South toward segregated terminals, where confrontations might capture media attention and lead to change.


        They also organized rallies, the largest of which was the "March on Washington" in 1963. More than 200,000 people gathered in the nation's capital to demonstrate their commitment to equality for all. The high point of a day of songs and speeches came with the address of Martin Luther King Jr., who had emerged as the preeminent spokesman for civil rights. "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood," King proclaimed. Each time he used the refrain "I have a dream," the crowd roared.


        But the rhetoric of the civil rights movement at first failed to bring progress. President Kennedy was initially reluctant to press white Southerners for support on civil rights because he needed their votes on other issues. But events forced his hand. When James Meredith was denied admission to the University of Mississippi in 1962 on account of his race, Kennedy sent federal troops to uphold the law. After protests aimed at the desegregation of Birmingham, Alabama, prompted a violent response by the police, he sent Congress a new civil rights bill mandating the integration of public places. Not even the "March on Washington," however, could extricate the measure from a congressional committee, where it was still bottled up when Kennedy was assassinated.


        President Johnson was more successful. A Southerner from Texas, he became committed to civil rights as he sought national office. In 1963, he told Congress: "No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill." Using all his authority, he persuaded the Senate to limit debate and secured the passage of the sweeping Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in all public accommodations. The next year, he pressed further for what became the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It authorized the federal government to appoint examiners to register voters where local officials made black registration impossible. The year after passage, 400,000 blacks registered in the deep South; by 1968 the number reached 1 million and nationwide the number of black elected officials increased substantially. Finally, in 1968, the Congress passed legislation banning discrimination in housing.


        For all of the legislative activity, some blacks became impatient with the pace of progress. Malcolm X, an eloquent activist, argued for black separation from the white race. Stokely Carmichael, a student leader, became similarly disillusioned by the notions of nonviolence and interracial cooperation. He preached the need for black power, to be achieved by whatever means necessary.


        Violence accompanied militant calls for reform. Riots broke out in several big cities in 1966 and 1967. In the spring of 1968, Martin Luther King fell before an assassin's bullet. Several months later, Senator Robert Kennedy, a spokesman for the disadvantaged, an opponent of the Vietnam War and the brother of the slain president, met the same fate. To many these two assassinations marked the end of an era of innocence and idealism in both civil rights and the anti-war movements. The growing militancy on the left, coupled with an inevitable conservative backlash, opened a rift in the nation's psyche which took years to heal.


        The federal commitment to civil rights diminished when Richard Nixon became president. Nixon was determined to consolidate his political base around conservative whites who felt that the movement for black equality had gone too far. The "Southern strategy" led the administration to reduce the appropriation for fair housing enforcement and in 1970, to prevent, unsuccessfully, the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1971 that busing children was a permissible means of desegregating schools, Nixon denounced the ruling on television and sought a congressional moratorium or restriction. Though he failed to achieve his end, he made his position clear. Opponents of busing gained a victory in 1974 in Milliken v. Bradley, in which the Supreme Court invalidated efforts to transfer inner-city black students to suburban schools that were predominately white.


        The backlash against preferential treatment for minorities became even more public in a Supreme Court case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white man, claimed that a quota reserving places for minority applicants was responsible for the rejection of his application to medical school in California. The court ordered his admission, arguing that quotas could no longer be imposed, but then upheld the consideration of race as one of the relevant factors in selection procedures.


        Nevertheless, the controversy over busing and affirmative action sometimes obscured the steady march of many African Americans into the ranks of the middle class and suburbia throughout these tumultuous years.




        During the 1950s and 1960s, increasing numbers of married women entered the labor force, but in 1963 the average working woman earned only 63 percent of what a man made. That year author Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, an explosive critique of middle-class patterns that helped millions of women articulate a pervasive sense of discontent. Arguing that women often had no outlets for expression other than "finding a husband and bearing children," Friedan encouraged readers to seek new roles and responsibilities, to seek their own personal and professional identities rather than have them defined by the outside, male-dominated society.


        The women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s drew inspiration from the civil rights movement. It was made up mainly of members of the middle class, and thus partook of the spirit of rebellion that affected large segments of middle-class youth in the 1960s. Another factor linked to the emergence of the movement was the sexual revolution of the 1960s, which in turn was sparked by the development and marketing of the birth-control pill.


        Reform legislation also prompted change. During debate on the 1964 Civil Rights bill, conservatives hoped to defeat the entire measure by proposing an amendment to outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender as well as race. First the amendment, then the bill itself, passed, giving women a legal tool to secure their rights.


        Women themselves took measures to improve their lot. In 1966, 28 professional women, including Betty Friedan, established the National Organization for Women (NOW) "to take action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now." By the next year, 1,000 women had joined; four years later membership reached 15,000. NOW and similar organizations helped make women increasingly aware of their limited opportunities and strengthened their resolve to increase them.


        Feminism, or organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests, reached high tide in the early 1970s. Journalist Gloria Steinem and several other women founded a new magazine, Ms., which began publication in 1972. Between 1971 and 1976, Our Bodies, Ourselves, a handbook by a woman's health collective, sold 850,000 copies.


        Some activists pressed for ratification of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution. Passed by Congress in 1972, it declared, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." Over the next several years, 35 of the necessary 38 states ratified it. The courts also promoted sexual equality. In 1973 the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade sanctioned women's right to abortion during the early months of pregnancy -- a significant victory for the women's movement.


        In the mid- to late 1970s, however, the women's movement stagnated. It failed to broaden its appeal beyond the middle class. Divisions arose between moderate and radical feminists. Conservative opponents mounted a campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment, and it died in 1982 without gaining the approval of the 38 states needed for ratification.




        In post-World War II America, Spanish-speaking groups faced discrimination as well. Coming from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Central America, they were often unskilled and unable to speak English. Some worked as farm laborers and at times were cruelly exploited while harvesting crops; others gravitated to the cities, where, like earlier immigrant groups, they encountered serious difficulties in their quest for a better life.


        Chicanos, or Mexican-Americans, mobilized in organizations like the radical Asociacion Nacional Mexico-Americana, yet did not become confrontational until the 1960s. Hoping that Lyndon Johnson's poverty program would expand opportunities for them, they found that bureaucrats failed to respond to less vocal groups. The example of black activism in particular taught Hispanics the importance of pressure politics in a pluralistic society.


        The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 had excluded agricultural workers from its guarantee of the right of labor to organize and bargain collectively. But Cesar Chavez, founder of the overwhelmingly Hispanic United Farm Workers, demonstrated the efficacy of direct action in seeking recognition for his union. Taking on the grape growers of California, Chavez called for a nationwide consumer boycott that finally provided exploited migrant workers with union representation. Similar boycotts of lettuce and other products were also successful. Though farm interests continued to try to obstruct Chavez's organization, the legal foundation had been laid for representation to secure higher wages and improved working conditions.


        Hispanics became politically active as well. In 1961 Henry B. Gonzalez won election to Congress from Texas. Three years later Elizo ("Kika") de la Garza, another Texan, followed him, and Joseph Montoya of New Mexico went to the Senate. Both Gonzalez and de la Garza later rose to positions of power as committee chairmen in the House. In the 1970s and 1980s, the pace of Hispanic political involvement increased, and by the time Bill Clinton became president, two prominent Hispanics were named to his cabinet: former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros as secretary of housing and urban development (HUD), and former Denver mayor Frederico Pena as secretary of transportation.




        In the 1950s, Native Americans struggled with the government's policy of moving them off reservations and into cities where they might assimilate into mainstream America. Not only did they face the loss of land; many of the uprooted Indians often had difficulties adjusting to urban life. In 1961 when the policy was discontinued, the United States Commission on Civil Rights noted that for Indians, "poverty and deprivation are common."


        In the 1960s and 1970s, watching both the development of Third World nationalism and the progress of the civil rights movement, Native Americans became more aggressive in pressing for their own rights. A new generation of leaders went to court to protect what was left of tribal lands or to recover that which had been taken, often illegally, in previous times. In state after state, they challenged treaty violations, and in 1967 won the first of many victories guaranteeing long-abused land and water rights. The American Indian Movement (AIM), founded in 1968, helped channel government funds to Indian-controlled organizations and assisted neglected Indians in the cities.


        Confrontations became common. In 1969 a landing party of 78 Native Americans seized Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay and held it until federal officials removed them in 1971. In 1973 AIM took over the South Dakota village of Wounded Knee, where soldiers in the late 19th century had massacred a Sioux encampment. Militants hoped to dramatize miserable conditions in the reservation surrounding the town, where half of the families were on welfare and alcoholism was widespread. The episode ended, after one Indian was killed and another wounded, with a government agreement to re-examine treaty rights, although little was subsequently done.


        Still, Indian activism brought results. Other Americans became more aware of Native American needs. Officials in all branches of government had to respond to pressure for equal treatment that was long overdue. The Senate's first Native American member, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, was elected in 1992.




        The agitation for equal opportunity sparked other forms of upheaval. Young people in particular rejected the stable patterns of middle-class life their parents had created in the decades after World War II. Some plunged into radical political activity; many more embraced new standards of dress and sexual behavior.


        The visible signs of the counterculture permeated American society in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Hair grew longer and beards became common. Blue jeans and tee shirts took the place of slacks, jackets and ties. The use of illegal drugs increased in an effort to free the mind from past constraints. Rock and roll grew, proliferated and transformed into many musical variations. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other British groups took the country by storm. "Hard rock" grew popular, and songs with a political or social commentary, such as those by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, became common. The youth counterculture reached its apogee in August 1969 at Woodstock, a three-day music festival in rural New York State attended by almost half-a-million persons. The festival, mythologized in films and record albums, gave its name to the era -- The Woodstock Generation.


        The energy that fueled the civil rights movement and catalyzed the counterculture also stimulated an environmental movement in the mid-1960s. Many were aroused by the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, which pointed to the ravages of chemical pesticides, particularly DDT. Public concern about the environment continued to increase throughout the 1960s as many became aware of other pollutants surrounding them - automobile emissions, industrial wastes, oil spills -- that threatened their health and the beauty of their surroundings. On April 22, 1970, schools and communities across the United States celebrated Earth Day. "Teach-ins" educated Americans about the dangers of environmental pollution.


        But many resisted proposed measures to clean up the nation's air and water. Solutions would cost money to businesses and individuals, and force changes in the way people lived or worked. However, in 1970, Congress amended the Clean Air Act of 1967 to develop uniform national air-quality standards. It also passed the Water Quality Improvement Act, which made cleaning up off-shore oil spills the responsibility of the polluter. Then, in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was created as an independent federal agency to spearhead the effort to bring abuses under control.


        NOTE: The information regarding the United States on this page is re-published from United States Information Agency. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of United States History information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about American History should be addressed to the United States Information Agency

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    Revised 08-Sep-05
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