America in the 1960s was the topic of two teacher institutes that Humanities Texas held in Austin and Houston in June 2014.
The institutes covered topics central to the state’s eleventh-grade social studies curriculum. Lectures and workshops addressed the 1960, 1964, and 1968 presidential elections, the Cold War, the Space Race, influential women of the period, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the protest movements of the 1960s, and the influence of the decade's music and writing.
Humanities Texas held the programs in partnership with the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin, the LBJ Presidential Library, and the University of Houston. These institutes were made possible with major funding from the State of Texas and ongoing support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Below are excerpts from faculty presentations delivered at "America in the 1960s."
The role of television in the four presidential debates [in 1960] . . . neutralized Kennedy's two biggest liabilities, which were his youth and his Catholicism. When you look at these four presidential debates, what you find is that the first debate was by far the most important. Many more people tuned into the first debate than any of the others. In that first debate, Richard Nixon looked sickly, he was not feeling particularly well, he wasn't made up well, and honestly he wasn't that well prepared. He simply believed that he had always been a good debater in the past, that he had used television effectively—for example his Checkers speech in 1952—and that he would basically put Kennedy in his place.
What is interesting is that a number of prominent Republicans told Nixon not to debate. He was leading in the polls; he had the experience gap having been Vice President for eight years. Why take the chance? The person who was most adamant in telling Nixon not to debate was President Eisenhower. He just thought it was a potential catastrophe, and that's what it turned out to be. Most people who saw [the first debate] on television thought Kennedy won. Most people who heard it on the radio thought it was a draw or even going somewhat in Nixon's favor. So the perceptions of what a person looked like on television, how that person handled himself, were very, very, important. What you see after the first debate is a real swing in public opinion. Kennedy had been behind, and suddenly he surges to the front. What you also see is this new energy in his campaign. Everyone who was following after the first debate says, my God, the size of the crowds is simply enormous now. It put John Kennedy on the map, and really did away with issues like youth and inexperience.
In 1960, we finally get the Republican Party of the 1960s. The party had been dominated by Wall Street and its corporate allies from 1940: Willkie, Dewey twice, Eisenhower twice. These were candidates of the Eastern wing of the Republican Party dominated by Wall Street. This Wall Street was a moderate Wall Street. It was in favor of keeping the gains in the New Deal. Like the Democrats, it was internationalist in outlook, and the truth of it was, this moderate Republican Party under this leadership didn't differ that much from the Democratic Party. . . . In 1960, this Eastern establishment dominated by Wall Street accepted Richard Nixon as its nominee. Not that they liked him. One of these things about Nixon [was that] nobody ever really liked him, but he looked like he would be a serviceable moderate. He came out of a background that was not respected by liberals. He was a professional anti-communist, an associate of McCarthy, but in the Eisenhower administration he emerges as a moderate. He accepts the New Deal. He is international in his outlook. He's the chairman of the committee to find jobs for African Americans in the administration and to enforce nondiscrimination in employment among government contractors, and he is a leading voice in the party for civil rights.
So he's going to go to Chicago, he's going to get nominated in 1960 on a moderate platform, everything seems to be fine, except on the Friday morning before the convention opened up, July of 1960 in Chicago, the platform committee finishes its work—it's a nice moderate little platform—and the Governor of New York, who is Nelson Rockefeller, elected in 1958, lets it be known he doesn't like it. He is a liberal in the party. He is critical of Eisenhower's leadership. He thinks that there should be economic policies to promote growth, that there should be a stronger civil rights plank, and above all like liberal Democrats, he hammered the administration, saying that Eisenhower was so devoted to the balanced budget that he cheated defense and we were about to lose the Cold War to the Russians. What Rockefeller was threatening was a floor fight on the platform in the convention, which Nixon considered a disaster. There on national TV, a leading Republican would be castigating the record of the Republican Party, which Nixon was going to have to defend because of Rockefeller. Rockefeller agrees to meet him. [Rockefeller] says, "If this is announced, you got to say you asked for the meeting. You got to come to my Fifth Avenue apartment. And if there's an announcement, a press release, I'm going to issue it." Rockefeller wanted to be president too.
Nixon agreed, and so on Friday night, without telling anyone in his staff and taking one aide, he went to Rockefeller's Fifth Avenue apartment and at three o'clock in the morning, they hammer out an agreement essentially ratifying the changes in the platform that Rockefeller wanted, and that meant there would be no floor fight. When the announcement came out Saturday morning before the convention, the platform committee was infuriated, and above all, so were the conservatives.
At this point, the conservatives find their leader. Barry Goldwater called a press conference and denounced "the surrender of Fifth Avenue" as it was called. Goldwater had been elected senator from Arizona in 1952, reelected in 1958. He was a conservative Republican who would have loved to have repealed the New Deal. . . . He had published a book in April of 1960, which became the bible of the conservatives in the 1960s, called The Conscience of Conservative. In his chapter on civil rights, he essentially says that the Supreme Court violated the Constitution when it voted for the Brown decision to desegregate public schools. This is your rock-ribbed conservative. He permits his name to be put in nomination on the floor on Wednesday of the convention. The result of that was the greatest demonstration of the entire convention. It turned out that the grassroots delegates out there loved Goldwater and they were a lot more conservative than the party leaders. Goldwater took the platform to call in the party to unite behind Richard Nixon but he also said this, "Let's grow up, conservatives. Let's take this party back." What happened in that convention was this: two possible paths lay ahead for the Republican Party. They could take the liberal path, which was the Rockefeller path, and challenge the Democrats on their own issues in the North. Or they could take the Goldwater path, which is to shift to the South, which is undergoing transformation.
It's impossible to understand the Space Race and the moon landing outside of its Cold War context. The only reason the United States went to the moon when it did [and] the only reason this happens on the time schedule that it does is because John F. Kennedy needed some kind of victory over the Soviet Union in 1961 when he proposes this moon landing.
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The Soviet Union stays ahead of the United States in the Space Race throughout the late fifties and really the first half of the 1960s. The Soviet Union sends the first satellite, they send the first dog into space, the first man into space, then the first woman into space. Up until about 1965 or so, the Soviet Union is ahead of the United States in the Space Race. The biggest of these feats is in April of 1961, when the Soviet Union sends the first man into orbit, Yuri Gagarin. This is the same week as the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba. Both of these together are an embarrassment for the new President. By this point, Kennedy is in office. This is where Kennedy is looking for any way, anything. Can we do anything to catch up or to beat the Soviet Union in the Space Race? [He really needs] a Cold War victory in the spring of 1961. So Kennedy fires off a somewhat hysterical memo to Lyndon Johnson—Lyndon Johnson is Vice President and is technically in charge of space affairs—"Can we beat the Soviet Union at anything? And when? And are we working on this twenty-four hours a day?" The answer comes back from Lyndon Johnson: "Yes, the one thing we can beat the Soviet Union in is landing on the moon." This is the birth of the Apollo project. [On] May 25, 1961, Kennedy proposes his moon landing by the end of the decade.
Historians continue to debate JFK's leadership as a Cold War president. Opinions run really across the spectrum from those who see him as the quintessential narrow-minded Cold Warrior, to others who believe that Kennedy actually thought in very creative ways about how to manage some of the fundamental problems that caused antagonism between the United States and the Soviet Union. . . . It's very helpful to think about the Cold War that greeted Kennedy and his aides as they took office in 1961. The Cold War had been enormously tense and dangerous all the way back to the first months and years after the Second World War, but the Cold War had eased somewhat during the mid-1950s. . . . During the 1950s, the United States could rely on vastly superior nuclear weapons. By the early 1960s though, there was some very important change. The Soviets are starting to close the gap. This closing of the gap, and the looming possibility [that] in another decade or so, the Soviets would totally close the gap, tended to heighten Cold War tensions.
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How did the Kennedy administration respond to this new and more dangerous Cold War that they inherited? . . . Fast forward to October 16, 1962. This was very early in the Cuban Missile Crisis. A few days earlier, U.S. intelligence had discovered that the Soviets were in the process of installing nuclear weapons in Cuba. The President called together a group of high-level advisors to consider how the United States should respond. The leading idea right off the bat was to launch a military attack against Cuba, at least to destroy the missile bases, and possibly to overthrow the Castro regime. But JFK's response was not to resort quickly to military action. He decided to implement a blockade against Cuba to prevent more missiles from reaching the island and to buy him time to mount a diplomatic campaign to confront the Soviets and to demand the removal of the missile equipment that was already in Cuba. . . . Fast-forward now to September 23, 1963, a year later. On that day, William Atwood, who was an official in the U.S. Embassy in the United Nations, met with the Cuban Ambassador to the United Nations, a guy named Carlos Lechuga. The two men secretly discussed the possibility of the U.S.-Cuban rapprochement, under which the United States would abandon its efforts to overthrow Castro in return for Castro's agreement to cut his ties to the Soviet Union and essentially to neutralize Cuba in the larger Cold War. This top-secret scheme, which Kennedy had approved of, had been underway in fact for several months, but gained significant momentum after Atwood's meeting. . . . Here is yet another glimpse of Kennedy the Cold War President. Here is that president who was looking for ways actually to solve, not just manage, the problems. Here is evidence of Kennedy the creative thinker, the risk taker, to resolve some of the core problems that were fueling Cold War tensions in this very, very dangerous period.
I remember the inauguration of John Kennedy. It was a cold January day. The study hall had a big television, first time ever, and we were allowed to go and watch the inauguration of President Kennedy. . . . John Kennedy stood up and spoke, and there are two memorable quotes from that speech that I was struck with. The first was, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." That was a challenge that struck the idealism of a generation of Americans. But it also resonated with those who had come back from World War II who had served their country in a distinguished way and were called the Greatest Generation, but who didn't want that service to end with the end of the war and had decided to make a commitment to public service, many of those in the Kennedy administration.
The second quote: Kennedy said, "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assume the survival and success of liberty." Now, that was a credo that was bound in time to get the United States in trouble. . . .
Flash forward three years, November 1963, and that young dashing president, who had challenged the country to serve their fellow person and who had laid out his ambitious foreign policy agenda, was himself struck down by an assassin's bullet in Dallas in November 1963. I was then a junior in college at Princeton. I was that day writing my junior paper on the Red Scare of 1919 in the United States, and I was working in a carrel three floors under the ground, in the university library. I'm working away, and somebody runs down the hall: "The president's been shot, the president's been shot!" My first reaction is, "Who would want to kill the president of Princeton?" That gives you a sense of how incomprehensible this act was, and how violating this act was. No, it's President Kennedy! I walked up to the first floor, across the street to the student center. By that time the student center was jammed. I walked in, got a seat. There was a radio on, and I think it was Walter Cronkite describing what was going on in Dallas, and he said, after what seemed like an hour of us sitting there, "It has been confirmed. The president is dead." And at that moment, a roomful of students, professors, administrative people, janitors, cooks, all stood in unison, and the national anthem played. A very moving, sober minute that brought everyone together in the country in a very special way, where divisions seemed superfluous. We were all Americans. Little did we know that that would be the first of a number of these kinds of experiences.
Johnson always had one foot firmly planted in the West. It helped his candidacy; it helped the credibility of his argument that he was born in the Hill Country. You know where the dividing line between West and East in Texas is? I-35. So if you get out there where small roads are ranch roads as opposed to farm roads you're in the West. So Johnson could make that argument because Johnson knew that a Westerner might be acceptable, but a Southerner, not. This is why Johnson accepted John Kennedy's offer for the Vice Presidency in 1960.
Most people who knew Johnson scratched their heads. Why are you giving up this powerful post in the Senate for [the Vice Presidency]? In earlier days in fact, the Vice Presidency had been akin to a witness protection program. People went there and were never heard from again. Why did Johnson do this? Now of course, the conspiracy theorists argue, "Well because he knew he was going to knock off John Kennedy and then become President." In fact, what [Johnson] hoped was for two terms, eight years of people thinking of him as Vice President of the United States. When he got introduced he would be "Vice President of the United States," rather than "senior senator from Texas." He had to run that Southern taint off of his reputation, and he knew if he could do that he might become President one day. That's why he took the job.
Now, much sooner than he thought, by an assassin's bullet, Johnson became President, and all of a sudden, Johnson discovered that he could do something that no other President could have done. This is where American history found itself—and Johnson appreciated it—found itself in a catch-22. As long as the Jim Crow system lasted, then the United States would not elect a Southern president. But the flipside of that was that until the United States had a Southern president, it couldn't eliminate the Jim Crow system Why? Because it was going to take presidential leadership to break that Southern blockade. It was going to require the credibility of somebody who could speak to the South as a Southerner.
This is where Johnson being from Texas is absolutely crucial. Johnson stood on the western side of I-35 while he was trying to become President, but once he became President, he leaped to the southern side of I-35 and spoke to the South as a Southerner. He told them, in essence, that it [was] time for our region to move to the twentieth century.
[The Great Society] was one of the great reform movements in United States history. If you think about the legislative achievements of 1964 through 1968, they basically establish the social and economic landscape in which we live. [The] Civil Rights Act of 1964, equal accommodations, nondiscrimination in employment, which extended not only to African Americans, but [also] to women. [In] 1965, [the] Voting Rights Act, the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the legislation of federal aid to education, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The federal aid to education had been stalled for decades. Medicare and Medicaid, which also had been stalled for decades. The Immigration Act of 1965 . . . The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the [Consumer Credit Protection Act]. Legislation creating public television and public radio, and legislation creating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Up until 1965, we were headed in a different direction.
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Johnson famously told his aides [that] Kennedy was too conservative before him. He wanted to enact Kennedy's legislative agenda, which Kennedy had not been able to get through Congress, which included Medicare, Medicaid, federal aid to education and the '64 Civil Rights Act. But he wanted to go beyond that, to create his own legacy, to fulfill the promise not only of the New Deal, but of the American reform movement as a whole from Populism to Progressivism. . . . Johnson was a master using Kennedy's death, his martyrdom. He made Kennedy to be the liberal that Kennedy never was. He told the American people, "How can you not support the '64 Civil Rights Act? How can you not support medical care for old people? How can you not support equal education for everybody, when your beloved leader was sacrificed on the altar of reform?" His bitter rivalry was the Kennedy legacy, and Bobby Kennedy specifically. He would complain about the Kennedys not leaving him alone and one of his aides told him, "Well, it's your fault. You made Kennedy to be this demigod that you're now complaining about competing with you for your place in history."
He used guilt. He talked about that explicitly. He said, "I knew that this country professed to be Judeo-Christian. I can't make people love each other, I can't make people embrace each other, but by God I can make them feel guilty if they discriminate. I can confront them with their own ideals." Which is what he did. He was also able to succeed particularly in the area of civil rights because he was a Southerner. He told Southern whites, "I am one of you, I feel your pain. But you have got to get over this. You've got to get past this. If you don't put the heritage of Jim Crow and the Confederacy behind you, the South will be a cultural and economic backwater for the foreseeable future. The Civil Rights Acts are for you as much as they are for black Southerners."
One of the reasons that LBJ got so much done is he knew how to get even the most reluctant person to say yes. He just knew what your MO was. Hubert Humphrey as Vice President talked about him as almost like being a psychologist—[Johnson] just understood what made people tick. Having that gift gave him the ability to know what it would get to make you say "yes" even to the most controversial reform, even to the thing that you wanted least. That explains his prodigious record of landmark laws. There is nobody, and I mean nobody, in my lifetime who has had as much of an effect on forging modern America than Lyndon Johnson. The cause of the sweeping reform he drove through Washington and through America . . . was legendarily known as the "Johnson treatment"—his ability to get people to say "yes" to bring them over to his side of things.
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Using every inch of his long six-foot three-inch frame to overcome his subjects, Johnson applied his unique brand of persuasion with all the subtlety of a Mae West come-on. "Lyndon Johnson just towered over me and intimidated me terribly," said Robert Strauss, who gained renown for his own political persuasiveness. "He's the one person who had my number all his life. He's the best I ever saw. Tragic, but the best I ever saw." I talked about Johnson's ability to get things done, and I think it's not only because he was so persuasive, so overpowering, but as I mentioned before, it's because he knew what you wanted, and he was willing to give it to you if you gave him what he wanted. This hearkens back to what is perhaps a bygone era, at least for now in Washington, when there was quid pro quo, when I scratched your back and you scratched mine. Sometimes that sausage-making process wasn't always pretty, but it worked.
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Johnson realizes he has a chance to [pass civil rights legislation] because he can seize the martyrdom of Kennedy to get lawmakers to do it in honor of their fallen leader. But his people say, "Don't do it now, wait till you're elected in your own right in 1964 and then do it." Johnson looks at them incredulously and said, "What the hell's the presidency for if you can't do something meaningful to your countrymen?" It is difficult to reconcile Lyndon Johnson, the profoundly imperfect man, with the estimable purity of the change he drove through Washington and swept into the nation with singular devotion. The beauty of his intention almost inevitably gets marred by the blemishes in his nature. Bill Moyers once posed the question of his former boss, "Why did a man as flawed as any human vessel as there ever was rouse a nation to reach beyond itself at such a time?" This is the core of the riddle that was LBJ. Flawed, yes. And not always good, but great.
[In] 1964, the heir presumptive of the Republican nomination is Nelson Rockefeller, an Eisenhower Republican, Eisenhower's first Under Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. The very first thing that Rockefeller does is create national healthcare. It, of course, doesn't pass, but it's entirely likely that Nelson Rockefeller, like Eisenhower, would have reached out and tried to create a much more just society, for various reasons. However, he didn't start with that at home, where he divorced his wife in 1962, remarried Happy Rockefeller in 1963, and she left her children in order to be with him, creating a crisis in the Republican Party. They tossed Nelson Rockefeller overboard. So Rockefeller crashes and burns, and when he crashes and burns in early 1964, the way is open for Goldwater to take the nomination. Goldwater takes the nomination in 1964 and gives this speech saying, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," et cetera. Goldwater wants to bring back Taft Republicanism.
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Critically, in 1964, that concept that the government would do nothing, including protect civil rights, makes a serious group of Democrats switch to the Republican Party, including Strom Thurmond, who in 1955 after Brown v. Board, said "We can't get on board the idea that the government is going to desegregate schools." He switches parties and becomes a Republican to support Goldwater. . . . Goldwater crashes and burns, but he does a couple of things. He convinces people that the grassroots are the way to go, that that's how you get votes and that's how you get money. He also convinces Republicans that they must keep civil rights out of the government.
The country is at a crossroads in the mid-1960s. Despite Johnson's record as the best legislative tactician to ever serve in the White House, Johnson never fully appreciated the shifting sands at work in the larger American political system. Johnson didn't necessarily understand the two-party system all that well, having come out of one-party, factionalized Texas. He didn't entirely get Republicans and Democrats as they function electorally. He got Republicans and Democrats in the House and in the Senate, but that's different from the way campaigns are run. That is one point to consider.
[Another point] to consider is the growing upsurge of conservatives—still a minority in the Republican Party, but very discontent with some baseline political issues in the country, very discontent with the legacy of the New Deal and the government activism associated with it, very discontent with the Cold War and the softness on communism of some in the Democratic Party, very discontent with the push for civil rights. And then the left in the Democratic Party is getting more liberal. They are equally discontent with the slow speed of Democrats to enact meaningful civil rights reform, meaningful health reform, et cetera. So there's a pulling on both poles that is at work, and you see that in this election and the politics that follow.
Johnson's defeat of Goldwater [in the presidential election of 1964] is something we need to care about because it provides us an opportunity to study these contrasts, and it exacerbates these transformations' intentions. Just think about some the slogans and concepts from the campaign in juxtaposition, "All the way with LBJ," and then one of Goldwater's slogans: "In your heart you know he's right." Then there was the Democratic rejoinder: "In your guts you know he's nuts."
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Daisies and nuclear destruction. New-style grassroots organizing versus smoky room campaign style. Mid-century liberalism, resurgent conservatism. Winners who lose and losers who win. These and other dichotomies from 1964 reverberated throughout the country.
What Truman is unable to do, and this is no criticism to Truman, is to figure out how the United States can manage a post-imperial Vietnam without the communists coming to power, without the French in control, and without the United States having to be in control. None of those are things he wants to see happen. Truman's effort is to have someone else deal with this. Those who are able to actually dominate the discussion within the western alliance become the French. They're in position to do that. One of the most important lessons of international politics is it's not always power that matters, it's often position. The French are positioned, even though the United States has the power. Then, with the most important conflict of the Cold War—the Korean War—the United States very quickly finds itself now supporting the French in Vietnam.
With the Korean War, the United States will increase its contributions to French activities in Vietnam because of the perception following June 25, 1950, that the communists are moving, and that unless we directly support the anti-communist forces, soon we will find the whole region overrun. What I tell my students always is, "no Korean War, no Vietnam War." The lesson in this is that American policy is not about American policy preferences—it's about reactions to circumstances. This civil war is brewing within Vietnam, and by the 1950s, the United States has to make some difficult choices. The French have been defeated. The United States has found itself reluctantly, almost against its interests, supporting French activities in Vietnam, and the question is what to do next. Ho Chi Minh is now receiving extensive support from the Chinese and the Soviets in the early 1950s, and he's building a state.
So at Geneva in 1954, an agreement is reached that divides Vietnam. [A] line is created to divide a North and a South Vietnam, with a promise of elections in 1956, elections which are never held because in fact neither side wants to hold elections. We're afraid that Ho Chi Minh will win. Ho Chi Minh doesn't want to hold elections because that would mean a power-sharing scheme for him. He doesn't want to do that, either. Two separate states therefore come into emergence. The North Vietnamese state under Ho Chi Minh, and the South Vietnamese state under Ngo Dinh Diem.
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In 1963, the policies of Ngo Dinh Diem have created internal issues that go beyond the problems that preexist in this civil war. . . . The rising tensions within South Vietnam will convince many people around John F. Kennedy, including Kennedy himself, that Ngo Dinh Diem should be removed, and in November, just weeks before Kennedy was assassinated, Ngo Dinh Diem will be removed in a coup that's supported by not necessarily the White House, but supported by important elements in the American embassy in South Vietnam. That will mark, before Johnson becomes president, the beginning of a direct American control over South Vietnam. Once you take away the leader who you yourself supported, and you are responsible now for creating the new regime, you have taken over this problem.
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The United States finds itself stepping into a civil war, seeking not simply to lead one side to win, but actually seeking to bring order to this situation. The American perspective is not, for Lyndon Johnson, that this is about the United States winning for one side. For Lyndon Johnson, it's about bringing a modern social order to Vietnam. What would look more, in Lyndon Johnson's terms, like the New Deal than it would like a civil war struggle between two different visions of politics. That's the image that Americans believe they're bringing, that's the approach they hope to bring on the ground.
There are many problems that arise immediately. The Americans who arrive are there with a plan that does not match the society they're operating in. We say "hearts and minds," but policy is not about hearts and minds, policy is about relationships. And there is an asymmetry that is never bridged, an asymmetry that comes from the amount of power, interest, and determination that Americans bring on the ground, and the different interests of the South Vietnamese. Many South Vietnamese did not want to live the way Americans wanted to live. Many of them believed, in fact, that there was an argument to be made by the Northerners, by the communists, but most of all, the biggest problem the United States had was that we were not seen as the saviors, we were just seen as one more player coming in, one more set of actors.
The early sixties in many ways did not really seem to be like what we think of as the much more turbulent and polarized and angry later sixties that we all remember. It's my view that this begins to change in 1964 and especially in 1965. I don't mean it was the most tumultuous year of the sixties. It was not. If you were to choose the most tumultuous year, it would probably be 1968, which in rapid fire featured the Tet Offensive, Johnson's decision not to run again, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the incredible Democratic convention of that year. . . . I want to start this talk by reading you parts of a talk that Lyndon Johnson gave at the ceremony of the lighting of the so-called national Christmas tree on the mall in Washington, DC in December 1964, sort of setting the stage for the year to come. He said, "These are the most hopeful times in all the years since Christ was born in Bethlehem. Today as never before, man has in his possession the capacities to end war and preserve peace, to eradicate poverty and share abundance, to overcome the diseases that have afflicted the human race, and permit all mankind to enjoy their promise in life on this earth."
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It really seemed that what Johnson was saying made sense to people in 1964, that the United States really was at a very promising time in its history so that all kinds of fantastic things could and would happen.
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This was the year of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which enabled LBJ in August of 1964 to acquire what he later used as justification, beginning in early 1965, for escalating the Vietnam War. No event of 1964 was more important than his gradual, for the most part surreptitious, escalation of the American military effort over there. This Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave [LBJ] carte blanche as Commander in Chief to deal with this problem, passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and [had] only two dissenting votes by senators in the Senate. Johnson never asked for or received a congressional declaration of war. In short, there were obviously events in 1964 and earlier that we can now see, with the advantages of hindsight, that laid a groundwork of some sort for the turbulent years of the later 1960s.
[In 1963,] we have the publication of a book that was a bombshell in the American publishing industry. I'm talking about Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963. In 1957, [Friedan] was asked by her alma mater, Smith College, to do a survey of women fifteen years after their college graduation to see just the status of things, how did they like their lives, what were they doing. She found a kind of general sense of uneasiness among her classmates from Smith. She thought, "Wow, this is amazing. We're the world's most prosperous economy, it's growing like gangbusters, and my classmates feel like I do. We don't feel like we have fully the kind of freedom that we should have in this amazing society. What's going on here?" She tried to publish this as an article in a women's magazine, but the editors said, "This isn't going to sell anything. No, we don't want to publish this."
She got rejected four times, and eventually she publishes her findings in book form five years later as The Feminine Mystique. When the book came out, it was absolutely the talk of the town. The Feminine Mystique made Friedan famous around the world. The book ultimately sold over three million copies, and she recalled at the time of publication, "Some people think I'm saying 'Women of the world, unite," like "Workers of the world unite, "'You have nothing to lose but your men!'" She said, "That's not true. You have nothing to lose but your vacuum cleaners!" That was her message, that there should be a kind of equality in marriage, and equality, freedom of opportunity in marriage.
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[Phyllis Schlafly believed] that freedom and equality are the product of individual initiative. Phyllis Schlafly is the architect in many respects of the modern conservative movement, and its libertarian strains are very much a part of this movement, except that she believes strongly in a very, very strong military defense. Schlafly was born in 1924. Her mother had to support the family when she was young, because her father was laid off during the Great Depression, as a lawyer. In World War II, Phyllis was a student at Washington University in St. Louis, and she worked nights at a bomber factory so she could go to class in the morning full time. She graduated early with Phi Beta Kappa honors at the age of nineteen. Indefatigable energy. She called the experience "the most wonderful two years of my life, a beautiful experience." She eventually marries John Schlafly [in] 1949. They have six kids together, and she becomes a political organizer and a writer.
In 1964, she helps Barry Goldwater win the presidential nomination for the Republican Party through a self-published book called A Choice, Not an Echo, which is a book that talks about the Eastern power elite controlling modern politics, and that we need a leader who is not beholden to the internationalist views of financiers and others, and Barry Goldwater is that man in her view. She thought all of the other Republican candidates out there were basically copies of each other. Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, not because he disagreed with civil rights, but because he felt that this was a matter that the states should decide. Schlafly agreed with him. She publishes 25,000 copies of the book. Her vast network of activists sells them. It goes on to another printing, and another and another and another, until by Election Day, 1964, it's sold three million copies. . . . She was ardent on national defense. She had stated that the atomic bomb was a marvelous gift from a wise God, and she supported this kind of muscular foreign policy, and in time she will become the leader of a very powerful anti-feminist movement in the 1970s.
You all [know] that image of Rosa Parks, that famous picture of her sitting with her bag on the bus. She's sitting like a nice old lady, right? Very demure, she was a seamstress, very well respected, all of that. But what you don't know is that Rosa Parks was not demure. She was well respected, but not the way that you were thinking. Rosa Parks was an investigator for the NAACP. . . . We think, "Oh, the Montgomery bus boycott happened because Rosa Parks was tired one day, and she refused to go to the back of the bus." No! It happened because women like Jo Ann Gibson Robinson and Rosa Parks had already formed the Montgomery Improvement Association that had been planning to boycott the buses. They were looking for the right test case. They had the whole thing planned out. These women passed out all these fliers, they organized how people were going to get places, but they needed a spokesperson. Nobody's going to listen to Rosa Parks. Nobody's going to listen to Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, even if she's a college professor. [They needed] somebody like Martin Luther King. [They needed] a man in front.
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If we shift gears and we go to the farmworkers, they had Dolores Huerta. There was "the dragon lady." Nobody wanted to negotiate with her. She and César Chávez were working together in an organization so that they could do something for the farmworkers. Together they cofound the United Farm Workers. But do you know her name? Maybe, because she's in the standards, right? But nobody else did. They all saw César Chávez. No, they don't see Dolores, who was out there negotiating, who is making a difference in terms of trying to, again, get people involved, and negotiating with the owners, who did not want to negotiate with her.
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[Gloria Stienem's] Ms. Magazine starts out as a way for women to talk about all different kinds of issues. [The woman on the cover of the first issue has] a telephone, someone screaming at her, she's got a baby rattle, she's got a car, she's got an iron, she's been raking the yard, she's frying up the bacon, she's typing, she's pregnant, and she's exhausted. Ms. [had] various conversations about issues that women faced that nobody talked about, that they didn't even know other people experienced. You have an article about raising kids without sex roles, and you have the very famous article on "The Housewife's Moment of Truth." Who knew that housework was political? They also talked about a bunch of experiences that began to be talked about in public for the first time. Sexual harassment. Rape. What was rape, and what wasn't rape. What you could do if you had experienced discrimination, which it turned out all of these women had and had never told anyone. You go back and you read the letters to the editor of Ms., and you find all of these women who said, "I thought I was the only person."
There were many activities all around the country for freedom struggles. In Montgomery, it was the work for people to be able to sit on a seat of the bus of their choice. It's safe to say that the majority of the people [who] used the buses from the African American community in the 1950s in Montgomery were African American women on their way to work in the suburbs for white families. When the effort was made to get people off the bus, that struggle was also led by women. They were successful, and they stayed off the bus for almost two years. The plan was to stay off the bus for one day, but the women said, "We're not going back on that bus." There were people who did not ride on the bus but wanted to support them.
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Daisy Bates is such a person. She was [President of the Arkansas Conference of NAACP Branches]. When the suggestion came that there would be a select few African American students to go to a school for desegregation, she said she would support that effort, and so she drove them in her car on a regular basis to school. On the first day, Elizabeth Eckford got separated from the group. When you see that picture of the girl walking across the campus, and people are pulling at her and spitting at her, that's the girl that got separated from Daisy Bates and the other eight [African American students].
By 1960, a movement swept across college campuses known as sit-ins. Sit-ins had occurred in other communities prior to 1960, in Albuquerque, New Mexico; in Wichita, Kansas; and in Oklahoma City as early as 1958, where a relatively-unknown black heroine by the name of Clara Luper, a local black teacher, like yourselves, led the sit-in movement there and would continue to work for opening up the schools, but also all areas of society in Oklahoma City. But the most dramatic sit-ins and the protests that received national attention occurred in 1960 when four young black freshmen at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College walked into a local Woolworth store, sat at a lunch counter, and demanded equal service with white patrons. . . . Their actions sparked the student phase—really the continuation of the student phase of the Civil Rights Movement—because within a matter of two months, the sit-in movement had spread to fifty-four American cities in nine separate states.
By April of 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known as SNCC, had formed in the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, to carry forward their struggle. Within one year of SNCC's founding, more than one hundred cities throughout the nation had engaged in some fort of desegregation of public facilities, in response to the student-led demonstrations. The events in Greensboro illustrated, among other things, that blacks would press for change, not wait for change to come to them, and that the pace of change would no longer be dictated solely by white Southerners. [Blacks] were willing to put their bodies on the line. Greensboro was also a grassroots movement. It was not a top-down movement, it was a bottom-up movement. Black students, in particular, grew increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of desegregation following the 1954 Brown decision.
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By 1963, SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] and SNCC began a concerted strategy to eliminate segregation in a number of targeted cities. Birmingham, Alabama, was selected because, as Dr. King stated, injustice was there. The campaign to integrate public accommodations in Birmingham is perhaps remembered by peaceful demonstrators being attacked by snarling police dogs, high-pressure water hoses, and club-swinging white policemen in full view of television cameras from around the world. President Kennedy, who was clearly no friend of civil rights, remarked that the sight of these beatings made him sick to his stomach. But it was also in Birmingham where SCLC officials made the controversial decision to use children in some of their demonstrations in order, in their words, "to fill up the jails and to prick the conscience of the nation." It was in Birmingham where Martin Luther King penned his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," one of the most profound statements on civil disobedience in the twentieth century and required reading in all of my classes. The demonstrations in Birmingham set the stage for the historic march on Washington in 1963.
[César Chávez] was quiet. He was small in stature. This is a man that was a hard worker, and he was a modest man. In some respects, many people have said when they first met him, not very impressive. Yet he belongs among the most important reformers in American history. During the second half of the twentieth century, he was without question quiet and fierce both at the same time. He had this type of determination that I hope will come through in my talk today. He was motivated by his family, his Catholic upbringing, his self-education, and a simple yet revolutionary idea that workers deserved fair pay for their work.
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It's important to understand that agricultural workers were among the worst paid, the least looked after, and almost completely neglected group of workers. By 1962, Chávez had had enough. He moves to Delano, California, with no money, with no idea of how to make it happen, but he has family and friends in Delano, so if he wants to start a union for Mexican American farmworkers, that was the place to start it. . . . He spent his first few months literally going door to door, talking to farmworkers, trying to get a sense of how best to move forward. With no labor organizing or collective bargaining rights, farmworkers [had] little faith in the possibility of change. In the fields where they worked, they lacked restroom facilities, drinking water, sufficient rest breaks, and—this was the biggest problem—their jobs did not fall under minimum wage laws or qualify for unemployment insurance of any form. With little attention and their rights severely limited, organizing farmworkers was a tremendous gamble. . . . Even with all of these obstacles, Chávez and [Dolores] Huerta managed to start what they called the National Farm Workers Association. . . . That knocking on doors, that providing hope, that having a conversation with people and talking to workers made quite a difference, because by 1964, only two years later, they had counted more than a thousand members.
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Scholars who have studied the success of the united farm workers movement have generally agreed that it was more than a traditional union. It exemplified the basic goals and strategies of the social movements of the stormy 1960s. Looking at the labor movement among Mexican Americans—these labor movements have always been inseparable from civil rights issues. When you talk about economic inequality, fair wages, you're talking racial injustice, you're talking segregation, you're talking the fight to organize and bring people together. Even those who criticized the united farm workers movement saw it as a legitimate and national civil rights movement.
The very first protest in the beginning of the 1960s was on February 1, 1960, when these four teenagers walked into [a] Woolworth store and bought some toiletries. Then they walked over and sat down [at a] counter that said, "Whites Only" and ordered a cup of coffee. The white waitress said, "No we don't serve you here." And they said, "Just a minute ma'am, you just did serve me right over there, and I bought those toiletries, and I want a cup of coffee." She said, "No, we don't serve you." When the store closed at 5:30 p.m., they said, "We will be back tomorrow." They were called the Greensboro Four. The next day, a dozen came back, and the next day after that, fifty, including some whites, came back and they took every single seat. They basically closed down that store. The big question was how do you change Jim Crow society? How do you change the culture? That's what every activist was asking. America was not living up to its promise. Here we have the Supreme Court ruling in 1954 [to] integrate schools. And what happened? Only one percent of Southern schools a year integrated. Martin Luther King said, "Well at that rate, my children will be in an integrated school in 2054." Virtually nothing happened. You have the courts on your side, but society doesn't change. So how do you change it? This is an example of an economic boycott. You take all of those seats, and the man who owns that store can't make any money because [he's] not serving anybody. These [boycotts] were the first examples of social activism and protest in the 1960s.
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In the South, [there is] another protest to change the system. They decide to put the Civil Rights Movement on wheels…in freedom rides all the way into the Deep South, to Jackson, Mississippi. Nothing happened until they got to Aniston, Alabama, [where] they were attacked by a white mob, many of them with baseball bats, some with iron, dragging these integrated freedom riders off the bus and setting the bus on fire.
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Then, of course, Birmingham, Alabama, 1963. Here you have a city that is so violent that the blacks call it "Bombing-ham." Here you have a city in which blacks paid taxes to the city and not one works for the government; not one is a fireman; not one is a policeman. Totally white. . . . The Children's Crusade in the spring of 1963 [was] to protest what [was] going on in Bombing-ham, and the response to that was vicious. John Kennedy watched that with his brother Bobby. John turned to his brother and said, "This is sickening." A senator said, "This is what would happen in South Africa. This is America?" The rest of the country watched that and said, "This is America?"
Literature was an amazing part of the conversation of democracy that flourished in the '60s. What is freedom? And how do we claim it for ourselves and for others, and what is our relation to authority, with authority as our parents, our religion, [our] government….
The Golden Notebook [by Doris Lessing was] one of the early feminist fictions, a kind of bible among the feminists. There were a lot of book groups that read this book about a woman discovering herself. This was 1962, and the women's movement began. It is a movement of liberation, of becoming free. It began to slowly inch its way up through the Civil Rights Movement, and then the anti-war movement, which oddly enough [is] not often presented as a freedom movement, but it was a freedom from war, from the concept of the kind of war which was anything but a defensive war. It was freedom from the draft. A lot of the Vietnam War protest was fueled by the draft, which we'd had since World War II, but which hadn't been used much. If you turned eighteen, you had to register for the draft. It meant if we were in World War II again, and there were a Hitler, you'd go to war very willingly. But this was a different thing, to be called up to go to a country you never even knew existed. How is it that the state could make you go someplace that you didn't care about, and you didn't believe in the war? There was a lot of rhetoric that connected the three movements.
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Let me hone in on one literary controversy of the '60s. The Confessions of Nat Turner. Nat Turner led a slave revolt in Virginia in 1831. It lasted thirty-six hours. About fifty or sixty whites were killed, men, women, children, infants. But right after that, the whites in a tremendous response, killed, they're guessing, around two hundred blacks, some free blacks, some slaves that hadn't been involved in the revolt at all, and, barbarically, put the heads of some of them on fence posts. Nat Turner was inspired by his reading of the Bible, his erudition in that regard. He was a kind of lay preacher, and he had a vision of blacks and whites, and the blacks were to kill the whites in this vision, and it was very much a slave revolt. Now, what Styron did was to try to understand Turner from within. He had conversations with James Baldwin, who persuaded him to do this. Now, Baldwin was living in the guest house by Styron, at the time that Styron was gestating this novel, and they would have dinner together, and sometimes talk all night. So Styron tried to speak from within Nat Turner's head, and he also psychoanalyzed Nat Turner, that is, he tried to figure him out.
The book was based on the one major historical piece we've got here, which is this lawyer, Thomas Gray, who, when Nat Turner was caught after two months, and in his cell waiting execution, Gray talked to him, and Turner comes out at the end as a very compelling figure. . . .
Styron [appeared] on the cover of Newsweek, in 1967 when this came out. "An act of revelation to a whole society. The most profound treatment of slavery in our literature," wrote C. Vann Woodward, historian. "A new peak, a masterpiece of storytelling, a first-rate novel, the best by an American writer in years, the foremost writer of his generation, a superb novel with immense understanding, one of the great novels." Could you get any better reviews than this? This is Arthur Schlesinger Jr.: "The finest American novel published in many years." James Baldwin on the back cover of the novel: "He has begun the common history of ours."
The next year, a different book came out. William Styron's Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond. And here are their criticisms: Turner's portrayed as an incompetent military commander. Turner's depicted as loving a white woman, when in fact, he had a black wife on another plantation. Turner had a grandmother, a father, and a mother—Styron's Turner has no grandmother, and a father who plays no role in his life. Turner had the confidence of the blacks in his neighborhood; Styron's Turner is a loner, and hates blacks. One of Turner's key allies in the slave revolt is depicted as having rape as a motive, rather than liberation. Styron psychologizes what was a liberation movement. The book is a reflection of Styron's own racial and sexual fantasies about black people.
So it raised the issue, to what extent can whites talk from within blacks? Who can speak for whom?
The presidential campaign of 1968, like the year itself, was a fitting finale for the '60s in that it amplified so many of the tumultuous forces of the decade and the backlash that those forces sparked. The election also marked a significant shift in the political landscape, redefining the balance of power in this country for decades. But to millions of Americans who lived through it, including Lyndon Johnson, 1968 was really a nightmare year. Almost every week brought bad news.
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[The Tet Offensive eroded public] confidence in the administration's conduct of the war and cast doubt on the administration's repeated assurances of progress. After all the troops and all the bombing and all of the billions invested in the war, we were, as Walter Cronkite told the nation, mired in a stalemate. As opposition to the war mounted, Johnson's approval ratings began to plummet. In March 1968, only twenty-six percent approved of his handling of the war, a huge contrast to his election three and a half years earlier when he had won sixty-one percent of the popular vote. Vietnam would become a central issue in the presidential campaign.
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The New Hampshire primary revealed LBJ's vulnerability and the unpopularity of his Vietnam policy. On March 31, the president announced his withdrawal from the race at the end of a national televised speech. He said that he would not seek, nor would he accept, his party's nomination for another term. Instead, he would concentrate his efforts on finding an end to the war in Vietnam. . . . [LBJ's] withdrawal from the race while remaining in the White House [created] a very complicated dynamic for the two major candidates, Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon.
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Humphrey's biggest burden was the albatross of Vietnam. Nixon offered the assurance that he would find "peace with honor" through a secret plan to end the war, a plan that he could not discuss until he became president. But of course, as we know, his Vietnamization plan would extend the conflict and all the controversies surrounding it beyond the tenure of Nixon in the White House, and result in another twenty thousand American casualties. Of course, Lyndon Johnson is still president for nine and a half months after his withdrawal, and he desperately wants to find a solution to Vietnam, one that will affirm the soundness of his course. But during this time, he insists on absolute loyalty from his Vice President, warning that any deviation on Vietnam could jeopardize delicate peace negotiations. Humphrey was very reluctant to alienate the president, but he ultimately concluded that his only chance to win was to separate himself from the president's policy. So in Salt Lake City, he announced that if elected, he would support a total bombing halt of North Vietnam as an acceptable risk for peace. The speech was a turning point that made Humphrey competitive. His support rose from twenty-eight percent in mid-September to dead even with Nixon. But the antiwar movement was slow to coalesce around Humphrey. McCarthy didn't even endorse him until the end of October, and LBJ of course was furious with Humphrey's declaration of independence. Yet LBJ would become even more irate with Nixon, and would finally do whatever he could to elect his Vice President.
American interest in the Beatles preceded their arrival on February 7 of 1964. Several weeks after Kennedy's assassination, CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite ran a story about the Beatles in the attempt to cheer up the mourning nation. The hit "I Want to Hold Your Hand" saturated the airwaves while youngsters mobbed record stores demanding the album Meet the Beatles. Not xenophobes, but culturally cosmopolitan Americans enthusiastically greeted the Beatles. Appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show two days after their arrival in the U.S., the Beatles wowed seventy million viewers. Beatlemania began. The release of their movie A Hard Day's Night that summer of 1964 and then the commencement of their first American tour in August fanned the flames. By the end of 1964, the Beatles were Britain's leading cultural export. Fifty million dollars worth of Beatles merchandise sold that year in the US, and this apparently included inflatable dolls. The British Invasion that the Beatles led included other bands, fashions, actors, and movies. Not only did the British Invasion herald cultural cosmopolitanism, it also pushed the second of our frames of reference—that is, counter-culture—into the mainstream.
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While the Beatles celebrated the power of love and advertising emphasized individuality, competitive sports provided the platform to protest inequality, indeed to insist upon equality. When we situate this important moment that you see pictured here in the history of civil rights, alongside the Beatles, alongside the creative revolution in advertising, alongside the jazz ambassadors, I think we can better understand the seismic shifts that American culture underwent in the 1960s. In a very short period of time, American culture moved from one of conformity to one of protest.
In many ways, the 1960s was a watershed not only for American popular music, but for the popular music industry as a whole. Across the 1960s, this is a time when youth music, pop music, becomes the bestselling music in the country. [That] hadn't happened in the 1950s with the rise of rock and roll. It happened with the Beatles later on. Adult music and non-pop music was still very popular. The top selling record of the entire decade: The Sound of Music soundtrack. When we think about the '60s, we have to think about the Beatles and the Stones and Dylan, but we also have to think about The Sound of Music, Sing Along With Mitch [Miller], The Music Man, and all of that kind of adult contemporary stuff that was going on. This was a time when the LP, the long play record, surpassed the 45. This has a lot of effects on how we understand the artistic statement. The concept album emerges. It's a time when, by the last part of the decade, FM radio begins to replace AM radio. AM radio is national networks playing the same song at the same time across the nation. FM radio was much more grassroots—small stations, localized stations, and freeform music. The DJ gets to pick what's played. A lot more different kinds of music got on the radio because of this FM shift. You have a diversification of the airwaves.
One of the major tensions that emerges with these technological shifts is a tension between collective music and commercial music. We're going to see the kind of protest music that emerged out of primarily collectives involved in civil rights activism shift to commercialized products put out by record labels. There's also a tension between commercial music and, for lack of a better word, art. And we're going to see pop music, which had been seen as kiddie music, take on the mantle of serious cultural political statements.
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Bob Dylan came up writing protest songs, what he called finger-pointing songs. One of his most famous, of course, and most long lasting, was "Blowing in the Wind." How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man? This is of course a reference to civil rights marches where African American men had been called "boy" by white Southerners, and they carried protest signs in the streets, "I am a man. How many roads must I walk down before you call me a man?" Sam Cooke, by the way, heard "Blowin' in the Wind," and said, "How the hell can a white guy write such a great protest song? I'm going to write 'A Change is Gonna Come.'" And he was directly influenced by "Blowin' in the Wind." By 1965, Bob Dylan had given up on what he called finger-pointing songs. He said, "This doesn't change anything. This doesn't do anything. These are simplistic songs, and I don't write simplistic songs."
He came out in 1965 with "Like a Rolling Stone." Very famously in August of 1965, he premiered it at the Newport Folk Festival, playing what? Electric instruments, right? Pete Seeger, it's said, tried to take an ax and chop the power cord to stop this intrusion of rock and roll into the pure folk scene. But even more important than this kind of debate between folk purity and rock and roll is this move away from direct address towards abstraction. "Like a Rolling Stone" makes no sense. It is not direct action; it is a mystery. Much of Dylan's reputation throughout the rest of the 1960s was because he wrote impenetrable lyrics that everyone kind of tried to figure out what they meant. On the one hand, this meant art. On the one hand, I think rock music in many ways took a step back from the political sphere into this kind of abstraction. So one of the great legacies of "Like a Rolling Stone" is stuff like ["Stairway to Heaven"], where rock begins to take itself quite seriously.