Study Guide

The 1960s People

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  • John F. Kennedy

    John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) was the 35th President of the United States of America. Born to a wealthy and politically influential Massachusetts family (Kennedy's father Joseph served as ambassador to Great Britain from 1938 to 1940), he graduated from Harvard and served in the Navy during World War II, earning the Navy and Marine Corps Medals and the Purple Heart. 

    Following the war, he was elected to the United States Congress for three terms and to the United States Senate twice (1952 and 1958). He won election to the presidency in 1960, in one of the closest elections in American history.

    As president, Kennedy announced a bold domestic agenda of reducing poverty and advancing civil rights. But his legislative record was relatively thin. Many of his progressive plans were delayed by conservative Southern members of his own Democratic Party. He did, however, boost economic growth by advancing a series of sweeping individual and business tax reductions in 1963.

    Kennedy's foreign policy record was similarly mixed. He gave the go-ahead to an invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro exiles planned by the CIA during the Eisenhower administration. The invasion prompted international criticism; its failure undermined American prestige and contributed to Moscow's resolve to place missiles in Cuba the following year. 

    This, in turn, led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy's greatest success as president. The president rejected military advice to attack the sites and imposed a quarantine on the island, blocking Soviet ships trying to reach Cuba. Kennedy's and America's prestige were boosted when the Soviets capitulated to American demands and agreed to dismantle their missile sites.

    Kennedy also increased American involvement in Vietnam. By 1963, he'd placed 16,000 military advisors in country. Historians differ as to whether he would have continued this policy in Vietnam and expanded America's military presence had he lived to serve out his full term.

    Kennedy was assassinated on November 22nd, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, by Lee Harvey Oswald. Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president the same day.

  • Lyndon Johnson

    Lyndon Johnson (1908–1973) was the 36th President of the United States. Born in Texas, Johnson worked his way through Southwest State Teachers College and taught for two years near Houston. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1937 but took a leave of absence during World War II to serve in the Navy. 

    He returned to the House in 1942 and served until 1949 when he was elected to the United States Senate. In 1960, he was selected to join presidential nominee John F. Kennedy on the Democratic ticket. He was elected vice president on November 8th, 1960, and succeeded to the presidency when John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22nd, 1963.

    As president, Johnson successfully implemented and expanded Kennedy's domestic agenda. A skilled politician with almost two decades of congressional experience, Johnson secured passage of a vast array of social programs labeled the "Great Society." These programs included Medicare, Medicaid, VISTA, Head Start, the Job Corps, and the Office of Economic Opportunity. Johnson also pushed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through Congress.

    Convinced that a communist victory in South Vietnam would lead to red domination of all of Southeast Asia, Johnson escalated America's involvement in Vietnam. After massive bombing campaigns proved unsuccessful in deterring communist advances in South Vietnam, Johnson increased American ground forces. By 1968, close to 600,000 Americans had been deployed in the country and more than 30,000 had been killed. 

    When the Tet Offensive demonstrated that North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces were still strong, Johnson froze his policy and announced that he would not seek re-election.

  • Bernardine Dohrn

    Bernardine Dohrn (1942–) was a leader of the Weathermen, a radical offshoot of the Students for a Democratic Society. Born in Wisconsin, she graduated from the University of Chicago in 1963 and the University of Chicago Law School in 1967. As a member of the SDS, Dohrn aligned herself with its more radical factions. After the dissolution of the SDS in 1969, she helped found Weatherman, the militant group more commonly known as the Weathermen.

    As one of the most influential leaders of the Weathermen, Dohrn argued that student activists needed to escalate their efforts to stop the war in Vietnam and end domestic racial and class oppression. To demonstrate their willingness to use violence, the Weathermen organized the Days of Rage in Chicago in October 1969, during which Dohrn led the Women's Militia in its attack on an army induction center.

    In 1970, the Weathermen went underground and plotted a series of bombings to protest the Vietnam War and what they saw as other forms of domestic injustice. Dohrn read the Weathermen's declaration of their own war on the political establishment in 1970 that accompanied this campaign, but less than a year later, she also read a statement announcing a modification of the Weathermen's strategies. Attacks on property wouldn't cease, but "New Morning–Changing Weather" argued that mass protests and demonstrations were also revolutionary activities. Guns and bombs weren't the only way to advance radical change.

    In 1980, Dohrn emerged from the underground and turned herself into authorities. She pled guilty to several charges and served a brief prison term. In 1991, she accepted a position on the faculty of the Northwestern University School of Law.

  • Mario Savio

    Mario Savio (1942–1996) was the widely-recognized leader of the 1964 Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley. 

    Born in New York to devout Catholic parents, Mario considered joining the priesthood. He was introduced to social activism through the Newman Club, the Catholic parish and social center at Queens College. In 1963, he transferred to Berkeley as a philosophy major. At Berkeley he became more involved in politics, participated in student efforts to integrate local businesses and, during the summer of 1964, traveled to the South to work in the Mississippi Summer Project.

    During the Free Speech Movement, he emerged as an eloquent speaker and uncompromising leader of the student groups trying to win increased rights of political advocacy and organization on campus. Their efforts won the support of the faculty and, ultimately, major concessions from the university administration.

    Following the Free Speech Movement, administration officials obstructed Savio's readmission to the university until 1971. But he returned only briefly to Berkeley. Ultimately, Savio graduated from San Francisco State University and taught math at several colleges before his early death in 1996.

  • Curt Flood

    Curt Flood (1938–1997) was an All-Star center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals and the first high-profile player to challenge Major League Baseball's reserve clause. 

    Raised in Oakland, California, Flood signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds in 1956 and was traded to the Cardinals the following year. A three-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner, Flood captained St. Louis teams that won three National League pennants and two World Series titles. 

    In 1969, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. He refused the trade and sued Major League Baseball, arguing that the reserve clause that gave the Cardinals lifetime control over Flood's labor violated antitrust laws and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

    Flood's case against baseball, Flood v. Kuhn, was heard by the United States Supreme Court in 1972. The Court held that, because of baseball’s unique place in American culture, it was exempt from antitrust regulation. After sitting out a year, Flood signed with the Washington Senators in 1971, but his comeback attempt was unsuccessful. He died in 1997 of throat cancer. 

    In 1975, an independent arbitrator ruled that the reserve clause only bound a player for one year beyond his contract, introducing free agency to major league baseball. In 1998, Congress passed the Curt Flood Act legislatively terminating the reserve clause and bringing baseball into alignment with the nation's antitrust laws.

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