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John F. Kennedy and the Politics of Expectation. With his New Frontier program, Kennedy promised to “get America movingagain”through vigorous governmental activism at home and abroad.

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john f kennedy and the politics of expectation
John F. Kennedy and the Politics of Expectation
  • With his New Frontier program, Kennedy promised to “get America movingagain”through vigorous governmental activism at home and abroad.
Kennedy campaigned on the issues of civil rights legislation, health care for the elderly, aid to education, urban renewal, expanded military and space programs, and containment of communism abroad.
  • Poised to become the youngest man ever elected to the presidency and the nation’s first Catholic chief executive, Kennedy practiced what became known as the “new politics,” an approach that emphasized youthful charisma, style, and personality more than issues and platforms.
A series of four televised debates between Kennedy and Nixon showed how important television was becoming to political life; voters who listened to the 1960 presidential debates on the radio concluded that Nixon had won, and those who watched it on TV felt that Kennedy had won.
  • Kennedy won only the narrowest of electoral victories, receiving 49.7 percent of the popular vote to Nixon’s 49.5 percent; a shift of a few thousand votes in key states would have reversed the outcome.
the kennedy administration
The Kennedy Administration
  • A host of trusted advisors and academics – “the Best and the brightest” – flocked to Washington to join the New Frontier. Not everyone was enchanted though, and the new administration got into hot water.
Fidel Castro overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959; Cuban relations with Washington deteriorated after Castro nationalized American-owned banks and industries and the United States declared an embargo on Cuban exports.
  • Isolated by the United States, Cuba turned to the Soviet Union for economic and military support.
  • In early 1961, Kennedy attempted to foment an anti-Castro uprising; the CIA-trained invaders were crushed by Castro’s troops after landing at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs on April 17.
The Peace Corps, the Agency for International Development, and the Alliance for Progress provided food and other aid to Third World countries, bringing them into the American orbit and away from Communist influence.
Funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its Mercury program won support; on May 5 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, and, in 1962, John Glenn manned the first U.S. Space mission to orbit the earth.
Kennedy could not mobilize public or congressional support for his New Frontier agenda; he managed to push through legislation raising the minimum wage and expanding Social Security benefits, but a conservative coalition of southern Democrats and western and midwestern Republicans effectively stalled most liberal initiatives.
After Kennedy’s assassination, the Tax Reduction Act (the Kennedy-Johnson tax cut, 1964) marked a milestone in the use of fiscal policy to encourage economic growth.
new tactics for the civil rights movement
New Tactics for the Civil Rights Movement
  • One of the most notable failures of the Kennedy administration was its reluctance to act on civil rights.
  • After the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) helped to organize the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in order to facilitate sit-ins by blacks demanding an end to segregation.
The Congress of Racial Equality organized freedom rides on bus lines in the South to call attention to segregation on public transportation; the activists were attacked by white mobs.
  • Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent federal marshals to Alabama to restore order; most southern communities quietly acceded to the Interstate Commerce Commission’s prohibition of segregated interstate vehicles and facilities.
When thousands of black demonstrators, organized by Martin Luther King Jr. marched to picket Birmingham, Alabama’s department stores, television cameras captured the severe methods used against them by Bull Connors.
  • President Kennedy responded to the incident on June 11, 1963, when he went on television to promise major legislation banning discrimination in public accommodations and empowering the Justice Department to enforce desegregation.
  • Black leaders hailed Kennedy’s speech as the “Second Emancipation Proclamation,” yet on the evening of the address,Medgar Evers, the president of the Mississippi chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was shot and killed.
To rouse the conscience of the nation and to marshal support for Kennedy’s bill, civil rights leaders launched a massive civil rights march on Washington in 1963, which culminated in the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr.
  • King’s eloquence and the sight of blacks and whites marching together did more than anything else to make the civil rights movement acceptable to white Americans; it also marked the highpoint of the civil rights movement and confirmed King’s position as the leading speaker for the black cause.
Southern Senators continued to block the civil rights legislation, and violence by white extremists shocked the nation when the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Al. killed four black Sunday school students.
kennedy cold warrior
Kennedy Cold Warrior
  • A resolute cold warrior, Kennedy proposed a new policy of flexible response measures designed to deter direct attacks by the Soviet Union, which resulted in the defense budget reaching its highest level as a percentage of total federal expenditures in the Cold War era and greatly expanding the military-industrial complex.
U.S.-Soviet relations further deteriorated when the Soviets built the Berlin Wall in order to stop the exodus of East Germans; the Berlin Wall remained a symbol of the Cold War until 1989.
  • The Cuban missile crisis was the climactic confrontation of the Cold War, which occurred in October 1962, when American reconnaissance planes flying over Cuba photographed Soviet-built bases for ICBMs, which could reach U.S. targets as far as 2,200 miles away.
In a televised address, Kennedy confronted the Soviet Union and announced that the United States would impose a “quarantineon all offensive military equipment” intended for Cuba.
  • After a week of tense negotiations, both Kennedy and Khrushchev made concessions: the United States would not invade Cuba, and the Soviets would dismantle the missile bases.

After the Cuban missile crisis Kennedy softened his Cold War rhetoric and began to strive for peaceful coexistence; in 1963 the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union agreed to stop testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in space, and underwater; underground testing would continue.

A new Washington-Moscow telecommunications “hot line” was established so that leaders could contact each other quickly during potential crises.
  • Despite efforts at peaceful coexistence, the preoccupation with the Soviet military threat to American security remained a cornerstone of U.S. policy; the Cold War, and the escalating arms race that accompanied it, would continue for another twenty-five years.
the kennedy assassination
The Kennedy Assassination
  • On November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, President Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald; Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president.
  • Kennedy’s youthful image, the trauma of his assassination, and the sense that Americans had been robbed of a promising leader contributed to a powerful mystique that continues today.
  • This romantic aura overshadows Kennedy’s mixed record of accomplishments; he exercised leadership in foreign affairs, but some remain critical of his belligerent stance toward the Soviet Union and lack of attention to domestic issues
lyndon b johnson and the great society
Lyndon B. Johnson and the Great Society

The Momentum for Civil Rights

Johnson won the 1964 election in a landslide and used his energy and genius for compromise to bring to fruition many of
  • Kennedy’s stalled programs as well as many of his own. Those legislative accomplishments—Johnson’s“Great Society”—fulfilled and in many cases surpassed the New Deal liberal agenda of the 1930s.
On assuming the presidency, Lyndon Johnson promptly pushed the passage of civil rights to appeal to a broad national audience and to achieve an impressive legislative accomplishment, which he hoped would place his mark on the presidency.
  • The Civil Rights Act passed in June 1964; its keystone, Title VII, outlawed discrimination in employment on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or sex.
The Civil Rights Act forced desegregation of public facilities throughout the South, yet obstacles to black voting remained.
  • To meet this challenge, civil rights activists mounted a major civil rights campaign in Mississippi known as “Freedom Summer,”which established freedom schools, conducted a voter registration drive, and organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
The reaction of white southerners to Freedom Summer was swift and violent; fifteen civil rights workers were murdered, and only 1,200 black voters were registered.
  • To protest these murders, in March, 1965, King and other civil rights activists staged a march from Selma to Montgomery; the marchers were attacked by mounted state troopers with tear gas and clubs, all of which was shown on national television that night.
Calling the episode “an American tragedy,” President Johnson redoubled his efforts to persuade Congress to pass the pending voting-rights legislation.
  • On August 6, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which suspended the literacy tests and other measures most southern states used to prevent blacks from registering to vote.
The Twenty-fourth Amendment’s outlawing of the federal poll tax, combined with the Voting Rights Act, allowed millions of blacks to register to vote for the first time.
  • In 1960 in the South only 20 percent of blacks of voting age had been registered to vote; by 1964 the figure had risen to 39 percent, and by 1971 it was 62 percent.

More than a quarter of a million Americans, including 50,000 whites, gathered on the Mall in the nation's capital on August 28, 1963, to pressure the government to support African Americans' civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr. mesmerized the crowd with his "I have a dream"speech.

When Johnson beat out Republican senator Barry Goldwater for the presidency in 1964, he achieved one of the largest margins in history: 61.1 percent of the popular vote.
  • Johnson used this mandate not only to promote the civil rights agenda but also to bring to fruition what he called “The Great Society.”
Wherever he acted, Johnson pursued an ambitious goal of putting “an end to poverty in our time”; the War on Poverty” expanded long-established social insurance programs, welfare programs (like Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Food Stamps), and public works programs.
  • The Office of Economic Opportunity, established by the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, created programs such as Head Start, the Job Corps, Upward Bound, Volunteers in Service to America, and the Community Action Program.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 authorized $1 billion in federal funds to benefit impoverished children; the Higher Education Act provided the first federal scholarships for college students.
  • Federal health insurance legislation was enacted; the result was Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor.
The creation of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1965 supported artists and historians in their efforts to understand and interpret the nation’s cultural and historical heritage.
  • Another aspect of public welfare addressed by the Great Society was the environment; Johnson pressed for expansion of the national park system, improvement of the nation’s air and water, and increased land-use planning.
At the insistence of his wife, Lady Bird, President Johnson promoted the Highway Beautification Act of 1965.
  • Liberal Democrats brought about significant changes in immigration policy with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965, which abandoned the quota system of the 1920s.
By the end of 1965, the Johnson administration had compiled the most impressive legislative record of liberal reforms since the New Deal; it had put issues of poverty, justice, and access at the center of national political life, and it expanded the federal government’s role in protecting citizens’ welfare.
  • By the end of the decade, many of its programs were under attack; limits that confronted it were the political necessity of bowing to pressure from various interest groups and limited funding for its programs.
The results of the War on Poverty were that the poor were better off in an absolute sense, but they remained far behind the middle class in a relative sense.
  • Democratic support for further governmental activism was hampered by a growing conservative backlash against the expansion of civil rights and social welfare programs.
  • After 1965, the Vietnam War siphoned funding away from domestic programs; in 1966 the government spent $22 billion on the war and only $1.2 billion on the War on Poverty. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, the Great Society was “shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam.”
america in vietnam from truman to kennedy into the quagmire 1945 1968
America in Vietnam: From Truman to Kennedy

Into the Quagmire, 1945–1968

america in vietnam from truman to kennedy
America in Vietnam: From Truman to Kennedy
  • Beginning in the 1940s, the United States became interested in supporting an anti Communist government in Vietnam. U.S. policymakers feared that the loss of any pro-Western government would prompt a chain reaction of losses in the region, termed the “domino effect.”
President Kennedy increased American involvement in the region, but after his assassination, top U.S. advisors argued that a full-scale deployment was needed in order to prevent the defeat of the South Vietnamese. President Johnson moved toward the Americanization of the war with Operation Rolling Thunder, a protracted bombing campaign that failed to incapacitate the North Vietnamese.
Vietnam was once a part of a French colony but was occupied by Japan during World
  • War II; after the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Ho Chi Minh and the Vietminh proclaimed Vietnam an independent nation, which began an eight-year war the Vietnamese called the French War of resistance.
  • Ho called on President Truman to support the struggle for Vietnamese independence,
  • but Truman ignored his pleas and instead offered covert financial support to the French.
Truman’s reasons for supporting the French were concerns that newly independent countries might align with Communists; maintaining good relations with France, whose support was crucial to the success of the new alliance: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); and the strategic roles Indochina was seen to play in reindustrializing Japan.
In 1950, Soviet and Chinese leaders recognized Ho Chi Minh’s republic in Vietnam; in turn, the United States recognized the French-installed government of Bao Dai.
  • Truman and Eisenhower provided military support to the French in Vietnam; Eisenhower argued that aid was necessary in order to prevent non-Communist governments from collapsing in a domino effect.
  • The 1954 Geneva accords partitioned Vietnam temporarily at the seventeenth parallel and committed France to withdraw its forces from the area north of that line and provided that voters in the two sectors would choose a unified government within two years.
To prevent a Communist victory in Vietnam’s election, Eisenhower saw to it that a pro-American government took power in South Vietnam under the leadership of Ngo Dinh Diem.
  • Realizing that the popular Ho Chi Minh would easily win in both the North and South, Diem called off the reunification elections that had been scheduled for 1956, a move the United States supported.
After France removed itself from the region in 1956, America replaced it as the dominant foreign power in the region.
  • Though Vietnam was too small a country to upset the international balance of power, Eisenhower and subsequent U.S. presidents viewed Vietnam as a part of the Cold War struggle to contain the Communist threat to the free world.
Between 1955 and 1961 the Eisenhower administration sent Diem an average of $200 million a year in aid and stationed approximately 675 American military advisors there.
  • In 1960, North Vietnam organized opponents in South Vietnam into the National Liberation Front (NLF); Kennedy increased the number of American military advisors, but sent no line troops, and also sent economic development specialists.
Kennedy adopted a new military doctrine of counterinsurgency; soon the Green Berets of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces were being trained to repel guerrilla warfare.
  • President Kennedy saw Vietnam as an ideal testing ground for the counterinsurgency techniques that formed the centerpiece of his military policy.
President Kennedy saw Vietnam as an ideal testing ground for the counterinsurgency techniques that formed the centerpiece of his military policy.
  • In 1960, North Vietnam organized opponents in South Vietnam into the National Liberation Front (NLF); Kennedy increased the number of American military advisors, but sent no line troops, and also sent economic development specialists.
American economic aid did little good in South Vietnam, and the NLF’s guerrilla forces (Vietcong) made considerable headway against Diem’s regime.
  • Anti-Diem sentiment flourished among peasants, who had been alienated by Diem’s “strategic hamlet” program, and Buddhists, who charged the government with religious persecution.
As opposition to Diem deepened, Kennedy decided the leader would have to be removed; in a November 1963 U.S.-supported coup, Diem was driven from office and assassinated by South Vietnamese officers.
  • When Johnson became president, he continued and accelerated U.S. involvement in Vietnam to prevent charges of being soft on communism.
escalation the johnson years
Escalation: The Johnson Years
  • After the removal of Diem, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and other top advisors argued that a full-scale deployment of forces was needed to prevent the defeat of the South Vietnamese.
Johnson knew that he needed congressional support or a declaration of war to commit U.S. troops to an offensive strategy, so he told the nation that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had fired on American destroyers in international waters in response to South Vietnamese amphibious attacks.
On August 7, 1964, Congress authorized the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed Johnson to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”
  • The Johnson administration moved toward the Americanization of the war with Operation Rolling Thunder, a protracted bombing campaign that by 1968 had dropped a million tons of bombs on North Vietnam
Operation Rolling Thunder intensified the North Vietnamese’s will to fight; the flow of their troops and supplies continued to the south unabated as the Communists rebuilt roads and bridges, moved munitions underground, and built networks of tunnels and shelters.
  • A week after the launch of Operation Rolling Thunder, the United States sent its first ground troops into combat; by 1968, more than 536,000 American soldiers were stationed in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s countryside was threatened with destruction; the massive bombardment plus a defoliation campaign seriously damaged agricultural production and thus the economy.
  • The dramatically increased American presence in Vietnam failed to turn the tide of the war; yet, hoping to win a war of attrition, the Johnson administration assumed that American superiority in personnel and weaponry would ultimately triumph. C. American Soldiers’ Perspectives on the War
Approximately 2.8 million Americans served in Vietnam, at an average age of only nineteen; some were volunteers, including 7,000 women enlistees.
  • Many soldiers served because they were drafted; until 1973, when the nation shifted to an all-volunteer force, the draft stood as a concrete reminder of the government’s impact on the lives of ordinary Americans.
Blacks were drafted and died roughly in the same proportion to their share of the draftage population; black and white sons of the poor and the working class shouldered a disproportionate amount of the fighting.
  • Young men from more affluent backgrounds were more likely to avoid combat through student deferments, medical exemptions, and appointments to the National Guard, thus making Johnson’s Vietnam policy more acceptable to the middle class.
Rarely were there large-scale battles, only skirmishes; rather than front lines and conquered territory, there were only daytime operations in the areas the Vietcong controlled at night.
  • Racism was a fact of everyday life; many soldiers lumped the South Vietnamese and the Vietcong together in the term gook.
Lieutenant Colonel John P. Vann (left) shown during his tour of duty in Vietnam in 1963, discussing a tactical decision.
Fighting and surviving under such harsh conditions took its toll; cynicism and bitterness were common and the pressure of waging war under such conditions drove many soldiers to seek escape in alcohol or drugs.
  • As Women’s Army Corps (WACs), nurses, and civilians serving with organizations such as the United Service Organization (USO), women volunteers witnessed death and mutilation on a massive scale.
By the late 1960s, public opinion began to turn against the war in Vietnam; television had much to do with these attitudes as Vietnam was the first televised war.
  • Despite glowing statements made on television, by 1967, many administration officials privately reached a more pessimistic conclusion regarding the war.
  • The administration was accused of suffering from a “credibility gap”; in 1966, televised hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee raised further questions about U.S. policy.
Economic developments put Johnson and his advisors even more on the defensive; the costs of the war became evident as the growing federal deficit nudged the inflation rate upward, beginning the inflationary spiral that plagued the U.S. economy throughout the 1970s.
  • After the escalation in the spring of 1965, various antiwar coalitions organized several mass demonstrations in Washington; participants shared a common skepticism about the means and aims of U.S. policy and argued that the war was antithetical to American ideals.

The button on this fatigue hat belonging to a veteran who served two tours of duty demonstrates veterans' response to the many Americans who just wanted to forget the war that the United States failed to win. Because their war was so different from other American wars, Vietnam veterans often returned home to hostility or indifference. The POW-MIA pin refers to prisoners of war and those missing in action. This man was unusual in serving two tours of duty in Vietnam; most soldiers served only one year.


Soldiers in previous wars had served "for the duration,” but Vietnam warriors had one-year tours of duty; a commander called it "the worst personnel policy in history,” because men had less incentive to fight near the end of their tour, wanting merely to stay alive and whole. The U.S. military inflicted great losses on the enemy, estimated at more than 200,000 by the end of 1967. Yet it could claim no more than a stalemate. In the words of infantryman Tim O'Brien, who later became an award-winning author, "We slay one of them, hit a mine, kill another, hit another mine. . . . And each piece of ground left behind is his [the enemy's] from the moment we are gone on our next hunt.”


Abe Fortas, a distinguished lawyer who had argued a major civil rights case, Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), before the Supreme Court, was a close friend and adviser to President Lyndon Johnson. This photograph of the president and Fortas taken in July 1965 illustrates how Johnson used his body as well as his voice to bend people to his will.

student activism
Student Activism
  • Youth were among the key protestors of the era.
  • The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), in their manifesto, the Port Huron Statement, expressed their disillusionment with the consumer culture and the gulf between the prosperous and the poor and rejected Cold War ideology and foreign policy.
  • The founders of SDS referred to themselves as the “New Left” to distinguish themselves from the “Old Left” of Communists and Socialists of the 1930s and 1940s.
At the University of California at Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement organized a sitin in response to administrators’ attempts to ban political activity on campus.
  • Many protests centered on the draft, especially after the Selective Service system abolished automatic student deferments in January 1966; in public demonstrations of civil disobedience, opponents of the war burned their draft cards, closed down induction centers, and broke into Selective Service offices and destroyed records.
Much of the universities’ research budget came from Defense Department contracts; students demanded that the Reserve Officer Training Corps be removed from college campuses.
  • The Johnson administration had to face the reality of large-scale opposition to the war with protests like “Stop the Draft Week” and the “siege on the Pentagon.”
the counterculture
The Counterculture
  • The “hippie” symbolized the new counterculture, a youthful movement that glorified liberation from traditional social strictures.
  • Popular music by Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan expressed political idealism, protest, and loss of patience with the war and was an important part of the counterculture.
Beatlemania helped to deepen generational divide and paved the way for the more rebellious, angrier music of other British groups, notably the Rolling Stones.
  • Drugs and sex intertwined with music as a crucial element of the youth culture as celebrated at the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair, which attracted 400,000 young people.
In 1967, at the “world’s first Human Be-In” at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Timothy Leary, urged gatherers to “turn on, tune in, and drop out”; the year 1967 was also the “Summer of Love” in which city neighborhoods swelled with young dropouts, drifters, and teenage runaways dubbed “flower children.”
Many young people stayed out of the counterculture and the antiwar movement, yet media coverage made it seem that all of American youth were rejecting political, social, and cultural norms.
the widening struggle for civil rights
The Widening Struggle for Civil Rights
  • Once the system of legal, or de jure, segregation had fallen, the civil rights movement turned to the more difficult task of eliminating the de facto segregation, enforced by custom.
Outside the South, racial discrimination was less flagrant, but it was pervasive, especially in education, housing, and employment; for example, Brown outlawed separate schools, but it did nothing to change the educational system where schools were all-black or all-white because of residential segregation.
As civil rights leaders confronted northern racism, the movement fractured along generational lines; older, established civil rights activists supported the nonviolent efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), while younger activists questioned the very goal of integration into white society and some embraced Black separatism
Black rage had expressed itself historically in demands for racial separation, espoused in the late nineteenth century by the Back to Africa Movement and in the 1920s by Marcus Garvey
Black separatism was revived by a religious group known as the Black Muslims, an organization that stressed black pride, unity, and self-help and was hostile to whites.
  • The Black Muslims’ most charismatic figure,Malcolm X, advocated militant protest and separatism, although he condoned the use of violence only for self-defense.
  • Malcolm X eventually broke with the Nation of Islam and was assassinated by three Black Muslims while delivering a speech in Harlem in 1965.
A more secular black nationalist movement calling for black self-reliance and racial pride emerged in 1966 under the banner of “Black Power”; the same year, the Black Panthers organization was founded to protect blacks from police violence.
  • Among the most significant legacies of black power was the assertion of racial pride as exhibited by many blacks insisting on the usage of Afro-American rather than Negro and the adoption of African clothing and hairstyles to awake interest in black history, art, and literature.
Support for civil rights by white Americans began to erode when blacks began demanding immediate access to higher-paying jobs, housing, and education, along with increased political power, and when a wave of race riots began in 1964, primarily over the issue of police brutality.
  • The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Commission) released a 1968 report on the riots and warned that the nation was moving toward two separate and unequal societies: one black, one white
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, setting off an explosion of urban rioting in more than 100 cities; with his assassination, the civil rights movement lost the leader best able to stir the conscience of white America.
The legacies of the civil rights movement were that segregation was overturned, federal legislation ensured protection of black Americans’ civil rights, southern blacks were enfranchised, and black candidates entered the political arena, yet more entrenched forms of segregation and discrimination persisted.
the rights revolution
The Rights Revolution
  • The black civil rights movement provided an innovative model for other groups seeking to expand their rights.
  • The situation of Mexican Americans changed when the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) mobilized support for Kennedy and worked with other groups to elect Mexican American candidates to Congress.
Younger Mexican Americans rejected the assimilationist approach of their elders; in 1969, 1,500 students met in Denver to hammer out a new nationalist political and cultural agenda. They coined the term “Chicano” and organized a new political party, La Raza Unida (The United Race), to promote Chicano political interests.
Chicano strategists also pursued economic objectives; César Chávez organized the United Farm Workers (UFW), the first union to represent migrant workers successfully.
  • North American Indians suffered the highest levels of unemployment and poverty, the most inadequate housing, and the least access to education.
  • Some Indian groups became more assertive, taking the new label of Native Americans, embracing the concept of “Red Power,” and organizing protests and demonstrations. In 1968, the militant American Indian Movement (AIM) was organized.
As a method of protest, in 1969 Native Americans seized and occupied Alcatraz for over a year. Later, protesters occupied the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington.
  • In February, 1973, AIM activists began an occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, the site of an army massacre of the Sioux in 1890. The seventy-one-day siege, in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) killed one protestor and wounded another, alienated many whites, but it spurred government action on tribal issues.
1968 a year of shocks
1968: A Year of Shocks
  • The Johnson administration’s hopes for Vietnam evaporated when the Vietcong unleashed a massive assault, known as the Tet offensive, on major urban areas in South Vietnam.
  • The attack made a mockery of official pronouncements that the United States was winning the war and swung public opinion more strongly against the conflict.
Launched by the North Vietnamese in January 1968, the Tet Offensive took the war to major cities for the first time. NLF troops quickly occupied Hue, the ancient imperial city, and held it for nearly a month. Supported by aerial bombing, U.S. marines finally took back the city, street by street.
  • Nonetheless, the Tet Offensive was considered a psychological and propaganda victory for the Viet Cong, as it exposed the falsities previously set forth by General William Westmoreland and the Johnson Administration, and increased domestic opposition to the war.
Antiwar Senator Eugene J.McCarthy’s strong showing in the presidential primaries reflected profound public dissatisfaction with the course of the war and propelled Senator Robert Kennedy into the race on an antiwar platform.
  • On March 31, 1968, Johnson stunned the nation by announcing that he would not seek reelection; he vowed to devote his remaining months in office to the search for peace, and peace talks began in May 1968.
The year 1968 also witnessed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and its ensuing riots; students occupied several buildings at Columbia University; a strike by students and labor that toppled the French government; and the assassination of Robert Kennedy, which shattered the dreams of those hoping for social change through political action.
  • The Democratic Party never fully recovered from Johnson’s withdrawal and Robert Kennedy’s assassination.
At the Democratic convention, the political divisions generated by the war consumed the party; outside the convention “yippies” demonstrated, diverted attention from the more serious and numerous activists who came to Chicago as delegates or volunteers.
The Democratic mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, called out the police to break up the demonstrations. In what was later described as a “police riot,” patrolmen attacked protestors at the convention with Mace, teargas, and clubs as TV viewers watched, which only cemented a popular impression of the Democrats as the party of disorder.
Democrats dispiritedly nominated Hubert H. Humphrey and his running mate Edmund S.Muskie and approved a platform that endorsed continued fighting in Vietnam while diplomatic means to an end were explored.
  • The turmoil surrounding the civil rights and antiwar movements strengthened support for “law and order”; many Americans were fed up with protest and dissent.
  • George Wallace, a third-party candidate, skillfully combined attacks on liberal intellectuals and government elites with denunciations of school segregation and forced busing.
Richard Nixon tapped the increasingly conservative mood of the electorate in an amazing political comeback, winning the 1968 Republican presidential nomination.
  • On October 31, 1968, Johnson announced a complete halt to the bombing of North Vietnam; Nixon countered by intimating that he had a plan for the end of the war, although he did not.
On election day, Nixon received 43.4 percent of the vote to Humphrey’s 42.7 percent, defeating him by only 510,000 votes out of the 73 million that were cast, and Wallace finished with 13.5 percent of the popular vote.
The closeness of the 1968 election suggested how polarized American society had become, and Nixon appealed to the “silent majority.”