The civil rights movement picked up momentum during the 1960's. The movement started in the 1950's to protest segregation. In 1896, the Supreme Court had ruled that there should be "separate but equal" facilities for black and white Americans. The ruling dictated that everything from maternity wards to morgues be segregated. Though separate, segregated facilities, particularly schools, were seldom, if ever, equal. White schools were usually new and well-maintained while black schools were single room shacks. In 1951, the Reverend Oliver Brown tried to enroll his daughter, Linda, in all-white Sumner Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas. Denied, Brown sued the Board of Education, and the case was argued before the Supreme Court in 1953. In an unanimous decision, the Court ruled, "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." Brown v. the Board of Education ended segregation in public schools, but school systems in both the North and South fought the decision.June 1960
The civil rights movement began in earnest after 43-year-old seamstress Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. The black community of Montgomery selected the minister of her church, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., to lead the protest against her arrest. King put his philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience into action by organizing a boycott of Montgomery's buses. For more than a year no black person rode a Montgomery bus. In November 1956, the Supreme Court ordered Montgomery to desegregate its buses. For the next ten years, peaceful protests led the civil rights movement slowly along until it boiled over in the mid-1960's.
In 1963, King led 250,000 people in a peaceful march on Washington, D.C. His televised "I have a dream" speech confronted white America with the justice of the civil rights movement. He said, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.'" In June 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, and in October, King won the Nobel Peace Prize.
By 1965, however, the tenor of the movement changed; it's nonviolence was being increasingly met with violence and death. President Kennedy and Mississippi NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) leader Medgar Evars had both been killed in 1963. In 1964, a Birmingham, Alabama church was bombed, killing four little girls, and three civil rights workers were slain in Mississippi. Malcolm X, one-time spokesman for the Nation of Islam and leader of the Organization for Afro-American Unity, was murdered in early 1965. On August 11, 1965, a predominately black section of Los Angeles called Watts erupted in six days of riots. A white policeman had arrested a black motorist for drunk driving, and the gathering crowd's frustration erupted into violence. The summer of 1965 was the first of several summers that left cities smoldering with unrest, the worst rioting happening in Newark and Detroit in 1967. Presidential commissions studying the riots determined the cause was economic. Martin Luther King agreed, "I worked to get these people the right to eat hamburgers, and now I've got to do something to help them get the money to buy them." However, he was killed in March 1968, setting off another wave of riots.
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev pledged support for "wars of national liberation" in an address to the United Nations in New York. At one point during the speech, Khrushchev took off his shoe and banged it on the table. (One of his biographers speculated that this was designed to improve his image at home.) Khrushchev came to New York in the middle of the 1960 Presidential election campaign. His U.N. address awakened Western fears that he planned to aid Communist revolutionary movements around the world. After his U.N. speech, Fidel Castro, leader of the recent revolution in Cuba, visited Khrushchev in his hotel room.
In his inauguration speech, President Kennedy says, "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty."
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On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first human in space. His ship, Vostok 1, made one orbit of the Earth, lasting 89.1 minutes. The entire trip from blastoff to landing lasted one hour and 48 minutes.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs failed. Shortly after taking office, President Kennedy approved the CIA's plan, inherited from the Eisenhower administration, to invade Cuba and oust Fidel Castro's Communist government. The United States launched the invasion three months into Kennedy's administration. Over 1,400 Cuban exiles, trained and equipped by the CIA, landed on Cuba's coast without air cover. The success of the invasion depended on a large uprising against Fidel Castro. However, the CIA had underestimated Castro's military strength and his popular support. All of the exiles were captured or killed by the Cuban armed forces within three days.
The Berlin Wall was erected between West and East Berlin. During the summer of 1961, a substantial number of East Germans had fled to the West through East Berlin. In August, the Soviet Union closed the Brandenburg Gate and sealed off the border between the eastern and western sectors of Berlin to stop the flow of refugees.
Partly because of the tense Berlin situation, President Kennedy asked Congress for a major increase in the U.S. defense budget. Kennedy requested more intercontinental ballistic missiles, more nuclear submarines, and more funds for civil defense.
As part of a campaign to reduce the United States' vulnerability to nuclear attack, President Kennedy advised Americans to build fallout shelters. President Kennedy's letter in the September issue of Life magazine set off a wave of "shelter mania" which lasted for about a year.
At this time, the Soviet Union also unexpectedly exploded the largest nuclear device in history, equal to 57 million tons of TNT. The Soviet Union had voluntarily stopped testing nuclear devices three years before, and Khrushchev had assured President Kennedy in June 1961 that the Soviet Union wouldn't test nuclear devices if the United States didn't.
U.S. reconnaissance discovers Soviet missiles in Cuba. The United States blockades Cuba for 13 days until the Soviet Union agrees to remove its missiles. The United States also agrees to remove its missiles from Turkey.
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The United States and the Soviet Union set up a hot line (teletype) between the White House and the Kremlin. The Cuban Missile Crisis showed both the United States and the Soviet Union the need for better communication. The two superpowers signed an agreement on June 20, 1963 to set up the hot line, and it was installed a few weeks later.
On August 5, 1963, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, prohibiting underwater, atmospheric, and outer space nuclear tests. The treaty does not ban underground nuclear tests, which limit the radiation released into the environment. More than 100 countries have ratified the treaty since 1963. Satellites in high orbits monitor the treaty by watching for the characteristic flash of a nuclear explosion. Limited Test Ban Treaty
First U.S. combat troops are sent to Vietnam.
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The large number of utility orders for nuclear power reactors made nuclear power a commercial reality in the United States. Before 1966, electric utilities had ordered less than ten reactors total. In 1966-67, that number quadrupled. After declining slightly in 1969, nuclear power reactor orders peaked in 1972-73.
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)--calling for halting the international spread of nuclear weapons capabilities--was signed. Non-nuclear nations--those that had not developed nuclear weapons at the time they signed the NPT--pledged never to make or acquire nuclear weapons. Nuclear nations pledged not to assist other countries in making or acquiring nuclear weapons and to curb the growth of their own arsenals. By 1970, more than 50 countries had ratified the NPT. By 1986, more than 130 countries had ratified it.
American astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first human on the moon. Apollo 11 astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin touched down on the moon near the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969. At 10:56 pm Eastern Daylight Time, Armstrong stepped out of the lunar lander Eagle and said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."