"It was the age of selfishness. It was the age of self-indulgence. It was the age of anti-authority. It was an age in which people did all kinds of wrong things."
- Ed Meese III, U.S. Attorney General, Reagan Administration
"It was absolutely exhilarating. It was the greatest time to be alive ever, for sure."
- Charles Kaiser, Author/Historian
It was a time when a generation rebelled and lost its innocence. From the Vietnam War to the struggle for racial equality to the birth of a counter-culture, the 1960s was a decade of change, experimentation and hope that transformed a nation. THE SIXTIES: THE YEARS THAT SHAPED A GENERATION traces the events of one of the most turbulent and influential periods of political and cultural change in the 20th century and the powerful impact forced on an entire generation. Airing on PBS Thursday, September 29, 2005, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET check local listings, the documentary features revealing interviews with prominent figures of the era, including Barbara Ehrenreich, Daniel Ellsberg, Jesse Jackson, Tom Hayden, Arlo Guthrie, Henry Kissinger, Norman Mailer, Robert McNamara, Ed Meese III and Bobby Seale.
There is disagreement even today over the failures and accomplishments that were born from the 1960s, but one thing is certain - there has never been a time quite like it. THE SIXTIES: THE YEARS THAT SHAPED A GENERATION highlights the tumultuous and exhilarating moments of a decade that continues to have a profound impact on our society today - from American foreign policy to the birth of the environmental and gay rights and women's liberation movements. The decade comes to life once again with a musical soundtrack featuring favorites from the 60s, including the music of Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Elvis Costello, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Chambers Brothers, the Doors and the Rolling Stones.
The decade had begun on a high note. Initially, Americans accepted the Vietnam War as a larger struggle against communism. Optimism grew as Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act in the mid-60s. A counter-culture movement was also taking root. Young people, in particular, were denouncing the traditions and norms of the establishment. For this affluent and educated set, drugs and music, rather than violence, would change the world. At Monterey Pop south of San Francisco, Jimi Hendrix electrified the crowd by smashing his guitar on stage and then setting it on fire - a dramatic gesture that would later come to symbolize the counter-culture movement itself.
In the African-American community, another transformation was taking place. As Professor Harry Edwards recounts, "There is nothing more exhilarating or seductive than a change in consciousness. And in the 1960s, blacks made a transition, especially on the college campus, from being Negroes, to being black, to being Afro-Americans. When they said, 'I'm black and I'm proud,' that meant something."
But frustrations over the class divide were emerging. The Black Panther Party was born in Oakland in an effort to advance the black lower class. But black communities in other cities were exploding in rage. In 1967, Detroit was engulfed in chaos and destruction. President Johnson sent in nearly 5,000 inexperienced National Guardsmen to end the disorder, but when it was over, 43 were dead, 33 of them black.
The images from Vietnam, the first televised war, were inescapable. By 1967, however, public opinion was beginning to shift. Americans were growing increasingly frustrated and began to speak out against the war and those in power. Dissatisfaction with the war culminated in Stop the Draft Week, a massive demonstration against the Pentagon.
Author Norman Mailer relates the view many held at the end of 1967: "Are we going to tear apart or will we mend this? Will we come together? Because at the moment, it really seemed like there was no reconciliation possible."
1968: The Pivotal Year
1968 is often described as "the year that changed the world." The Vietnam War had taken more than 15,000 American lives. With Johnson announcing his intentions to decline the Democratic Party nomination, it seemed that anything was possible. As the youthful hope and optimism of the earlier years faded away, rage and violence were now spreading to college campuses across the country and around the world. Student protests at Columbia University raised the scale of these conflicts. In France, workers joined with students in a general strike that nearly brought the government down. In Mexico City, students who challenged the authoritarian government were slaughtered in the worst single disaster of 1968.
The devastating assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. dealt a tremendous blow to the civil rights movement. Riots broke out in more than 100 cities around the country. As Tom Hayden recalls, "It seemed impossible to tell what country we were in and what was about to happen."
The assassination of Robert Kennedy a few months later dealt a further blow that would further damage what little idealism remained. Frank Mankiewicz, aide to Robert Kennedy, expressed the uncertainty shared by many after these tragic events. "I think an era ended with Robert Kennedy's death, and Martin Luther King's. An era in which we could have accomplished great things working together ... ."
1969: The Rage
Student activism continued through the end of the 60s - this time with the fight centered on identity. At San Francisco State University, students held a 134-day strike in an effort to draw attention to the university's diverse population and the need for ethnic studies departments. In the end, their struggle led to the creation of a black studies department, but at a cost of 700 arrested.
The counter-culture reached its high point with Woodstock, the largest and last rock festival of its kind. But the heavy experimentation of the decade would take its toll, leaving many feeling on the edge of despair and others fleeing to the respite of country life.
With the end of Nixon's first year in office, the American death toll in Vietnam continued to mount. Protests took place in every city around the country, calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. With over two million present, this became the largest one-day demonstration ever in a Western democracy. Nixon would be forced to rethink his plan for escalating the conflict.
The country was fractured beyond repair. In frustration, some activists turned to more radical methods to make their statements. Vietnam veterans returned from war shattered and disillusioned, with some returning their medals and calling on the Supreme Court to declare the war "unconstitutional."
Barry Melton, guitarist for Country Joe & The Fish, says at the end of THE SIXTIES, "It's important for the youth of a generation to feel that they can change the world because they really can ... that was a time of tremendous change, where youth were tremendously motivated. It would be good to see that happen again."
THE SIXTIES features interviews with:
Judge Robert Bork - Author, Slouching Toward Gomorrah
Fred Branfman - Author/Activist
Susan Brownmiller - Author/Activist
Patrick Buchanan - Nixon Speechwriter
Eric Burdon - Lead singer, The Animals
Reverend William Sloane Coffin - Anti-war activist
Peter Coyote - Activist/Actor
Walter Cronkite - CBS News Anchor
Harry Edwards - Professor of Sociology, UC Berkeley
Barbara Ehrenreich - Author/Activist
Daniel Ellsberg - Activist/Strategic Analyst, Pentagon
Carlos Fuentes - Author/Activist
Todd Gitlin - Professor of Sociology, NYU
Arlo Guthrie - Musician/Activist
Tom Hayden - Activist/California State Senator/Co-founder of Students for a Democratic Society(SDS)
Reverend Jesse Jackson - Aide to Martin Luther King Jr.
Charles Kaiser - Author/Historian
Henry Kissinger - Secretary of State, Nixon Administration
Reverend Samuel Kyles - Civil Rights Leader, Memphis
Norman Mailer - Author
Frank Mankiewicz - Aide to Robert Kennedy
Robert McNamara - Secretary of Defense, Johnson Administration
Ed Meese III - U.S. Attorney General, Reagan Administration
Barry Melton - Guitarist, Country Joe & the Fish
Robert Scheer - Author/Journalist
Bobby Seale - Co-founder, Black Panther Party
Roger Wilkins - Civil Rights Activist/Assistant Attorney General, Johnson Administration
Jules Witcover - Author, The Year the Dream Died: Revisiting 1968 in America
Feb 06, 2007, 09:02:06
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