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President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Vice President Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as president aboard Air Force One on the tarmac at Dallas' Love Field.
LBJ addresses the nation and pledges to carry on Kennedy's progressive policies. The speech is credited with uniting the American people—and Congress—behind Johnson.
Johnson signs the Clean Air Act, the first federal legislation aimed at controlling air pollution.
In his first State of the Union address, Johnson declares "unconditional war on poverty in America." The War on Poverty will become a main focus of LBJ's Great Society programs.
The president addresses the graduating class of 1964 at the University of Michigan and lays out his plans to build a "Great Society."
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, introduced by President Kennedy in June 1963, finally becomes law. It bans discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and gender.
The Urban Mass Transportation Act provides federal funds to build or improve public transportation.
Congress passes the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving the president the power to use U.S. combat forces in Vietnam without congressional approval. This leads to an escalation of the war in Vietnam without input from Congress or the American public.
The Economic Opportunity Act creates the Jobs Corps, Community Action Programs (CAP), Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), and the Economic Opportunity Council (EOC). It's a major salvo in Johnson's War on Poverty, with federal funds for job training, adult education, and loans for small businesses and rural families in need.
The Wilderness Act sets up the means to preserve natural landscapes "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man." Nine million acres are placed under federal protection.
Johnson crushes Republican Barry Goldwater in the presidential election. LBJ wins 61.1 percent of the popular vote, the largest percentage for any presidential candidate since 1820.
Six hundred demonstrators march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. Police attack the peaceful protesters with nightsticks and seriously injure several. Organizer Amelia Boynton is beaten unconscious and left lying in the street. John Lewis (now a congressman from Georgia) receives a skull fracture. Images of the brutality shown on TV and in newspapers shock the nation.
In response to Selma and other acts of violence against African Americans trying to exercise their constitutional right to vote, LBJ introduces voting rights legislation. "It is not just N****es, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice," Johnson said in his address to Congress. "And we shall overcome."
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act gives federal aid to poor school districts. Its goal is to provide equal educational opportunities for all public school students.
Johnson announces Project Head Start, a program for preschool kids from poor families.
LBJ sends an additional 50,000 troops to Vietnam, firmly committing the U.S. to a ground war. By the time Johnson leaves office in 1969, 500,000 American troops will be serving in Vietnam. Increased spending on the war and growing public opposition to it will derail the president's Great Society plans.
LBJ creates Medicare and Medicaid by signing the Social Security Amendments into law. Medicare is health insurance for Americans over 65 and younger folks with disabilities; Medicaid provides health care for the poor.
The Voting Rights Act becomes law and makes discrimination at the polls illegal. Federal examiners are appointed to oversee voter registration in areas with a history of denying African Americans and other minorities the right to vote.
Johnson signs the Housing and Urban Development Act. Among other provisions, the act helps veterans obtain affordable mortgages, gives rent subsidies to the elderly and the disabled, and funds urban beautification projects.
Rioting begins in Watts, an African American neighborhood in Los Angeles. Charges of police racism stemming from the arrest of a Black man for drunk driving spark a week-long spree of looting, arson, and violence. It ends with 34 deaths, 4,000 arrests, and $40 million in property damage. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. cites high unemployment, poor housing, and "general despair" in inner-city ghettos as the real cause of the unrest.
Johnson stresses the importance of cultural programs in a well-rounded society by signing the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act.
The Immigration and Nationality Act revamps immigration law, ending the national origin quota system that had been in effect since 1921. Relatives of U.S. citizens and those with specialized professional skills will be given priority.
Despite opposing the legislation, LBJ signs the Freedom of Information Act giving individuals the legal right to obtain federal records.
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act gives the federal government the authority to regulate automotive safety for the first time. It's part of the Johnson administration's efforts to protect the rights—and lives—of American consumers.
LBJ nominates Thurgood Marshall for the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall successfully argued Brown v. Board of Education before the court in 1954. The Senate confirms Marshall's nomination in August; in October he is sworn in as the nation's first African-American Supreme Court justice.
Riots erupt in Newark, New Jersey, and Detroit, Michigan. Despite the Great Society's focus on social problems like poverty and unemployment, conditions in America's inner cities continue to deteriorate.
Noting that "what educates can also be exciting," LBJ signs the Public Broadcasting Act to provide free educational and cultural programming on TV and radio. Public television will become home to shows like Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, Sid the Science Kid, and Maya & Miguel. And for the older set, NOVA, Frontline, Ken Burns' documentaries, and Masterpiece (Downton Abbey, anyone?).
North Vietnam launches massive surprise attacks against the South Vietnamese and their U.S. allies on the Tet holiday (Vietnamese New Year). The North is ultimately defeated, but the offensive has a major impact on U.S. public opinion about LBJ's Vietnam policy.
Robert F. Kennedy, younger brother of the late JFK, announces that he will run for president in the upcoming election.
With falling public approval ratings and growing opposition to the war in Vietnam, Johnson decides not to run for reelection. "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president," he tells the nation.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots break out in more than 100 U.S. cities, including, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Chicago.
Shortly after winning the California Democratic primary, Robert Kennedy is assassinated in Los Angeles.
Republican Richard Nixon is elected president. Nixon narrowly wins the popular vote over Democrat Hubert Humphrey, 43.4 percent to 42.7, but he locks up nearly 56 percent of the electoral vote.