The Sixties: Moments in Time

This timeline offers a sample of newsworthy happenings from the 1960s. The events used in this interactive timeline were chosen on the basis of importance at the time, and continuing significance for American culture at the start of the 21st century.

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War & Peace

December, 1960

Viet Cong Emerge

An armed coalition of communists and insurgents emerge in South Vietnam.

December, 1961

U.S. Buildup Begins

White Paper advises increased U.S. presence in Vietnam.

February 14, 1962

U.S. Will Fire Back

Kennedy declares U.S. advisers in 'Nam will defend themselves.

December 2, 1962

$2 Billion Wasted

Kennedy hears from Senate leader after Saigon trip to see outcome of U.S. aid.

November, 1963

U.S. Gets Tough

New in office, President Johnson pushes for stiffer policies on Vietnam.

January 30, 1964

Coup in Saigon

South Vietnam military sets up third government in three months.

August 2, 1964

Gulf of Tonkin

The USS Maddox is on spy patrol 30 miles off the coast of Vietnam when it reports an attack by three enemy vessels. Another U.S. ship reports an attack on Aug 4. (Later inquiries will cast doubt on both reports.) On Aug 7, Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, allowing Pres. Johnson to wage war against North Vietnam without a formal Declaration of War.

April-June, 1964

U.S. Navy Arrives

After North Vietnam goes into Laos, U.S. moves 2 carriers offshore.

March 2, 1965

Operation "Rolling Thunder" Begins

Johnson approves Rolling Thunder in February, believing that a program of limited bombing in North Vietnam will deter support for Vietcong. Rolling Thunder continues for three years and eight months, involving 305,380 raids and 634,000 tons of bombs. Results include: 818 pilots killed and hundreds more captured; 182,000 civilians killed in North Vietnam.

March 24, 1965

First Anti-Vietnam War Teach-In

Anti-war faculty members and the SDS publicize and protest U.S. involvement in Vietnam. About 3,000 attend.

June 8, 1965

U.S. Goes on the Offensive

U.S. troops in Vietnam get permission to go on the offensive.

December, 1966

Martin Luther King Opposes War

Breaking with the President, Martin Luther King announces his opposition to the war.

December 31, 1967

385,300 U.S. Troops in 'Nam

More troops are on their way: 33,000 are stationed in Thailand; 60,000 sail offshore.

April 15, 1967

Protesters March to U.N.

400,000 march to U.N. building and hear speeches by Martin Luther King and Dr. Benjamin Spock.

October 21-22, 1967

March to Pentagon

Norman Mailer joins march to Pentagon; He recounts events in Armies of the Night for which he earns a Pulitzer.

November 29, 1967

Secretary of Defense Resigns

Robert McNamara is ousted following months of increasing conflict with the President and military leaders. McNamara's removal is precipitated by private communications with the President, and public remarks questioning Johnson's policies. Just weeks before, McNamara had testified in a Senate hearing that U.S. bombing raids against North Vietnam were not achieving their objectives, movement of supplies to South Vietnam had not been reduced, and that neither the economy nor the morale of the North Vietnamese had been broken.

January 30-31, 1968

Tet Offensive Launched by Vietcong

To the Vietnamese, Tet is a culturally important celebration of the Lunar New Year. U.S. planners and troops are unprepared when the North Vietnamese and Vietcong use festivities as cover, surging into Saigon and other key cities. Within days, U.S. forces retake most areas; an intense battle for Hue rages for 26 days. Retaking the area, U.S. troops discover mass graves containing the bodies of thousands of people who had been executed during the Communist occupation during and after Tet. The Offensive is a military disaster for the guerillas, with 37,000 dead. The U.S. lost 2,500 men, undermining public support for the war and giving the Vietcong a political victory.

February 27, 1968

Cronkite Urges Negotiations to End War

CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, known as America's "most-trusted man," files a special report from Vietnam. He experiences intensive combat in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive. Departing from accepted news style, Cronkite shares his personal feelings, telling viewers he is "more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate." Insiders see this as a key factor in Johnson's decision to offer negotiations and not seek re-election in '68.

March 16, 1968

My Lai Massacre

Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, is on a "search and destroy" mission in the hamlet of My Lai. Something goes horribly wrong, resulting in violent death for hundreds of unarmed civilians, including women, children, and the elderly. After one and a half years, the officer at My Lai, Lt. William Calley, is brought up on murder charges. News of atrocities at My Lai doesn't reach public media until November 1969. In March 1971, Calley is convicted and sentenced to life; he is paroled in September 1975 after serving three and a half years.

September 24, 1969

Chicago 7 Trial Begins

Charges are tied to rioting at '68 chicago convention. The defendants use the proceedings to put the War on trial.

October 15, 1969

Two Million Take Part in Peace Moratorium

A one-day nationwide action, the Peace Moratorium is the largest demonstration in U.S. history. Protestors include many first-time activists. Events include religious services, street rallies, public meetings, school seminars, and marches. Participants wear black armbands to signify opposition to the war and honor the dead. Washington, D.C., a natural focal point, draws 250,000 demonstrators.


May 1, 1960

U2 Plane Shot Down

Soviet Russia shoots down U.S. spy plane. Pilot Francis Gary Powers is detained for two years.

May 13, 1960

Students Protest HUAC Tactics

Students and teachers organize a protest the powerful (HUAC) in San Francisco. Police use fire hoses and clubs to remove demonstrators, injuring and arresting many.

September 26, 1960

First Televised Presidential Debate Airs

The debate between presidential candidates Kennedy and Nixon is broadcast nationally on all TV networks (only three networks exist in 1960), and on network radio. It is a Monday evening, and 70 million viewers are watching. On TV, Nixon is visibly pale and badly attired, while Kennedy appears tan and relaxed. Political campaigning is suddenly a new ballgame, and image can beat substance.

November 8, 1960

Kennedy Elected

John F. Kennedy wins presidency in tightest election since 1884.

April 16-25, 1961

Bay of Pigs: Failed Invasion of Cuba

CIA-backed Cuban exiles launch a failed attempt to remove Fidel Castro from power. An international embarrassment, the episode puts Kennedy's leadership in question.

May 25, 1961

U.S. Denies Soviet Control of Space

The battle for technological superiority is a central theme in the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia -- and space technology is especially valuable because of military applications such as nuclear missile systems. On April 12, 1961, the Soviets put the first man in space. In response, Kennedy delivers a televised speech on May 25, announcing a new vision for the U.S. in space. His goal is to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, and before the Soviets do. NASA is under pressure to produce rapid progress in the space program. On February 20, 1962, NASA's first effort, Friendship 7, carries astronaut John Glenn around Earth three times.

October 6, 1961

Kennedy Warns of Possible Nuclear Attack

President Kennedy advises citizens to be ready for nuclear attack, and build family bomb shelters.

October 29, 1961

USSR Tests Hydrogen Bomb

The Soviet Union fires a 50-megaton hydrogen bomb, the biggest explosion in history.

June, 1962

First SDS Convention

The convention yields a '60s student manifesto, the Port Huron Statement: Agenda for a Generation.

October 22-28, 1962

Cuban Missile Crisis

Photos by U.S. spy planes reveal the Soviets are positioning camouflaged nuclear missiles in Cuba. Kennedy orders a naval blockade of Cuba to prevent delivery of more missiles. The world holds its breath during a week of tense negotiations to resolve the standoff. The crisis ends when Russia agrees to remove the Cuban missiles, in exchange for the U.S. removing similar missiles from Turkey. It was a week that brought the world to the brink of mutual nuclear annihilation, and spurred one of the greatest quotes of the Cold War, when Secretary of State Dean Rusk observed, "We were eyeball to eyeball, and the other guy just blinked."

November 7, 1962

Nixon Loses Governor's Race

Nixon blames his California defeat on the media, saying, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."

August 30, 1963

"Hot-Line" Phones Installed

A pari of "hot line" phones are installed in the Oval Office and Kremlin, a direct result of the prior year's crisis in Cuba.

November 22, 1963

Kennedy Assassinated

President John F. Kennedy is shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Lyndon Johnson is quick sworn in as President.


Democrats Hire Ad Agency

Democrats hire a top-10 ad agency for the '64 campaign. Agency produces a number of hard-hitting spots, including the "Daisy Ad".

November 3, 1964

Johnson Defeats Goldwater

Receiving more than 60 percent of the popular vote, incumbent Democrat Lyndon Johnson easily defeats Republican Barry Goldwater. During the campaign, Goldwater is an overt hawk regarding the war in Vietnam, while Johnson takes a sharply contrasting stance, suggesting de-escalation. In fact, the war escalates dramatically during the next 4 years of Johnson's administration.

July 30, 1965

Johnson Signs Medicare Bill

The legislation establishes a health program for the elderly.

August 6, 1965

Voting Rights Act

The legislation ends discrimination at the polls.

November 8, 1966

Edward Brook Elected

The Republican from Massachusetts becomes the first African American Senator in 85 years.

August 30, 1967

Thurgood Marshall Confirmed

The U.S. Senate confirms Thurgood Marshall to the becomes first African American to sit on the U.S. supreme court.

June 6, 1968

Robert Kennedy Asassinated

Senator Robert Kennedy dies of gunshot wounds in Los Angeles, a day after winning the California Presidential primary.

November 5, 1968

Shirley Chisholm Elected to Congress

Shirley Chisholm becomes first African American woman elected to Congress.

August 25-29, 1968

Violence Scars Convention in Chicago

Turmoil and Robert Kennedy's death push the party toward chaos, while anti-war demonstrators are beaten by police. Prominent activists are charged with inciting the riots.

November 5, 1968

Richard Nixon Wins Presidency

Running on a platform of "law and order," Republican Richard Nixon and running mate Spiro Agnew narrowly defeat incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Nixon receives 43.4% of the popular vote, just seven-tenths of 1% more than Humphrey. Third-party segregationist candidate George Wallace receives about 15 percent of the popular vote. Nixon wins a second term in 1972, and resigns from office in 1974.

November 17, 1969

SALT I Negotiations Begin

The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) begin negotiations to curb nuclear capabilities of U.S. and USSR.

Pop Culture

March 23, 1960

Elvis Leaves Army

Sergeant Elvis Presley receives honorable discharge after two years in the Army.

May 16, 1960

First LASER is Demonstrated

Physicist Theodore Maiman uses a core of man-made ruby to create the first successful LASER (an acronym for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation). The invention has an immediate effect on pop culture, heavily promoted in science fiction books and movies. Inspired by the laser, scientists immediately begin work on fiber-optics technology. Four decades later, lasers are used as precision surgical tools and measurement devices, and also appear in everyday objects such as laser printers, or compact disc and DVD players.

December, 1960

"The Pill" is Born

Here is the first drug developed for social rather than medicinal purposes. At first, the Pill is only available to married women, but American culture rapidly adopts the new contraceptive choice. By 1965, over five million American women are on the Pill, even though many states still have laws prohibiting prescriptions for unmarried women and minors. The Pill does not cause the sexual revolution, but certainly enables it. The Pill also brings contraception out of the bedroom and into the living room. It becomes a common theme of magazine articles and books - and even co-stars with David Niven and Deborah Kerr in a 1968 movie: Prudence and the Pill.

April 11, 1961

Dylan's First Public Performance

Bob Dylan appears at Gerde's Folk City in his first billed performance.

May 9, 1961

TV Called A "Vast Wasteland"

In a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, Newton Minow, head of the FCC, criticizes broadcasters for not doing more to serve the public interest.


Ken Kesey Publishes "Cuckoo's Nest"

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is a grim satire is set among the patients and workers in a mental institution.

August 5, 1962

Marilyn Monroe Dies

Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe, 36, is found dead in her bedroom.

April 21, 1963

First Artificial Heart Implanted

Dr. Michael E. De Bakey implants artificial heart in human for first time at a Houston hospital. The Patient survives for only four days.

October 11, 1963

Vatican II Begins

Pope John XXIII opens Vatican II. The council holds four sessions and closes Dec. 8, 1965.

January 11, 1964

Smoking "Hazardous To Your Health"

The first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health is a landmark document, contradicting decades of tobacco advertising that suggest healthful benefits. The report contains powerful material, and intentionally leaves much to speculation. It is released on a Saturday morning to deter a knee-jerk reaction on Wall Street. Acting voluntarily, The New Yorker and other leading magazines start to refuse tobacco ads. Within months, Congress has passed the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965, requiring health warnings on packages and banning ads on broadcast media.

February 9 and 16, 1964

Beatles Appear on Sullivan Show

The Beatles [Hyperlink To Newsmakers] make two appearances on Ed Sullivan Show. Over 70 million people watch each show.


Nader Examines Auto Industry

Ralph Nader's book, Unsafe At Any Speed, questions motives of the auto industry.

September 5, 1965

The "Hippie" Comes Into Being

Michael Fallen starts a series of stories for the San Francisco Examiner, introducing the word "hippie" to readers. Fallen's articles describe the migration of beatniks from North Beach to Haight-Ashbury in search of cheaper rents, some popular hippie hangouts such as the notorious Blue Unicorn, and the generally bohemian lifestyle of the beatnik/hippie community. Fallen's articles are widely read, but "hippie" doesn't appear in mainstream language for two more years.

May 25, 1966

Cold War Satire Premiers

The film The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, tells the story of the comic chaos which ensues when a Soviet submarine runs aground near a small New England town.

September 8, 1966

Star Trek Debuts

For next three years, science fiction program goes where no TV series has gone before.

January 15, 1967

First Super Bowl

Forty million TV viewers watch the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs.

Summer, 1967

Summer of Love

Usually this description refers to 1967, in and around San Francisco when the "hippie movement" was in full flower. Particularly during the summer months, thousands upon thousands of young people flocked to the Haight-Ashbury to take part in a somewhat pale imitation of the true hippie experience. Many were drawn by the gentle lyrics of a song penned by John Phillips, member of The Mamas & the Papas. Phillips' song San Francisco (written in anticipation of the Monterey Pop Festival in June) romanticizes the era and atmosphere. Scott McKenzie's cover-version of the song is on the airwaves by May -- just in time for summer vacation.

If you're going to San Francisco,
be sure to wear some flowers in your hair...
If you come to San Francisco,
Summertime will be a love-in there.

November 9, 1967

Rolling Stone Magazine Premiers

The first issue of Rolling Stone, a new magazine devoted to music and popular culture, debuts featuring John Lennon on the cover.

September 7, 1968

Judi Ford is Crowned Miss America

Telecasts of the Miss America Pageant are among the most popular TV shows of the late '60s, regularly capturing two-thirds of the audience. Feminists realize this popularity means access to national media. In 1968, feminist protestors demonstrate on the Boardwalk outside the Pageant, crown a sheep, and throw symbols of female restraint into a "Freedom Trash Can." Media attention is immediate and generally positive, encouraging protestors to return in subsequent years. In the same city on the same day, the first Miss Black America Contest is held to protest the exclusively "white" Miss America Pageant. In the wake of these protests, Pepsi-Cola withdraws sponsorship of the Miss America Pageant, saying it no longer represents the values of American society.

June 22, 1969

Judy Garland Dies

The actress is killed by an overdose at age 47. Over 20,000 mourners attend her funeral.

July 20, 1969

One Small Step for Man

Along with Walter Cronkite, over half a billion people watch as the Apollo 11 lander settles on the lunar surface at 4:19 PM, EDT. News anchor Cronkite is almost speechless, exclaiming, "Man on the moon...oh, boy!" Six hours later, people are still riveted to the images from space as Neil Armstrong gently sets foot onto the powdery surface of the Moon at 10:56 PM. Buzz Aldrin also walks on the Moon, while the third member of the mission, Michael Collins, remains in orbit aboard the command module.

August 15-17, 1969

Woodstock: Three Days of Peace, Music & Love

An estimated audience of over 400,000 people gather for three days of music near Bethel, NY, swarming across the pastures of Max Yasgur's dairy farm. The festival is the brainchild of four men under age 26 (including one with a multimillion-dollar trust fund). Only 186,000 tickets are sold, so around 200,000 people are expected - but the amazing lineup of bands and musicians draws many more. Fences are pushed over and tickets become pointless. On opening night, sponsors declare free admission to all, and the word spreads like wildfire. Police estimate a million more people trying to reach Woodstock are stuck in traffic jams up to 50 miles away. In rain and mud, thousands listen to Janis Joplin, The Who, Canned Heat, the Grateful Dead, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and Country Joe & The Fish. On the last morning, guitarist Jimi Hendrix wakes the crowd with a riveting solo version of the national anthem. The final cost is $2.4 million. A film of the concert is released the following year.

October 29, 1969

First E-mail Message

The first computer transmission is carried by ARPANET at 10:30 PM on October 29 from a host computer at UCLA to another host computer at Stanford.

November 10, 1969

Sesame Street Debuts

Program is first broadcast on NET, predecessor to PBS.


February 1, 1960

First Sit-In Protests

A group of students launch protests against segregation at a "Whites only" lunch counter of the Woolworth store in Greensboro, NC.

April 15-17, 1960

SNCC Founded

In Raleigh, N.C., African American college students create the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to give young blacks a stronger role in the civil rights movement.

May 4, 1961

"Freedom Riders" Leave D.C.

An interracial group of protesters board buses and travel to the South to test President Kennedy's commitment to civil rights.

July, 1961

Ban-The-Bomb Protests

Anti-Nuclear Activists coordinate worldwide protests against nuclear weapons.


Silent Spring Published

Rachel Carson's book makes case for the urgent need to protect the environment.

October 1, 1962

James Meredith Registers at "Ole Miss"

On Sept 20, with the support a Supreme Court ruling, James Meredith arrives at the Univ. of Mississippi in Oxford, intending to enroll as the school's first black student. The state Governor physically blocks Meredith's progress on Sept 20, and again Sept 25. Talks between the White House and the Governor fail to produce a solution. The Kennedy administration orders federal marshals to Oxford. On Sept 30, rioting kills two students, and wounds 160 marshals. The next morning, Meredith officially registers as a transfer student; he graduates in 1963. Bob Dylan writes Oxford Town about Meredith's experiences.


The Feminine Mystique Published

Betty Friedan launches the modern feminist movement with her critique of the role of women in society.

June, 1963

Gloria Steinem Writes Playboy Bunny Article

As a freelancer for Show magazine, she writes an infamous undercover expose about harassment and injustices while pretending to be a Playboy bunny.

August 28, 1963

"I Have A Dream..."

During the Civil Rights March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. delivers one of his most impassioned and memorable speeches to an audience of 250,000. Speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial, King sets aside his prepared notes to describe his vision of an nation that will "rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.'" Later this year, King is named TIME's Person of the Year.

June 22, 1964

Freedom Summer Begins With Murder

The SNCC organizes Freedom Summer to increase voter registration and build a grassroots political party in Mississippi. Three young activists disappear on June 22: Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney. Their bodies are found on August 4, buried in an earthen dam. Investigation results in 21 arrests, and conspiracy convictions of seven Ku Klux Klan members in October 1967. Exactly 41 years after the murders, on June 22, 2005, Edgar Ray Killen is convicted on three counts of manslaughter for masterminding the killings.

July 2, 1964

Civil Rights Act

Legislation outlaws discrimination on basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

October 14, 1964

MLK Awarded Nobel Prize

Martin Luther King Jr. is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

February 21, 1965

Malcolm X Assassinated

The Nation of Islam leader is killed during while delivering a speech in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom.

August 11-16, 1965

Watts Race Riots

Six days of rage and riots in Los Angeles leave 34 dead and $200 million in damages.

June 16, 1966

Stokely Carmichael Takes Over at SNCC

Soon after taking charge at the SNCC Carmichael rejects nonviolence and invokes "Black Power".

June 30, 1966

NOW is Born

The National Organization for Women (NOW) is founded with the stated purpose of bringing "women into full participation in the mainstream of American society."

October 15, 1966

Black Panther Party Founded

Bobby Seale and Huey Newton found the Black Panthers in Oakland, CA. In stark contrast to the nonviolence endorsed by civil rights activists, the militant Black Panthers approve the use of violence for defense. The Black Panthers gain notoriety for patrolling streets in black berets and jackets, heavily armed with weapons. Their doctrine of self-determination and strength initially draws thousands of converts.

April 4, 1968

Abbie Hoffman Protest at Stock Exchange

Abbie Hoffman creates chaos on floor of the New York Stock Exchange by tossing (fake) currency from the gallery.

November 6, 1968

SSFU Student Strike

Five-month student strike begins at San Francisco University. The protests result in the creation of the nation's first ethnic studies program.

February, 1969

Wave of Campus Uprisings rolls over U.S.

Weeks of violent student uprisings begin with an extended student strike at U.C. Berkeley, and continue with takeovers and sit-ins at University of Massachusetts, Howard University, and Penn State.

June 27, 1969

Stonewall Riots

Judy Garland's funeral attracts gay mourners to the Stonewall Tavern in New York. A melee with police breaks out when someone resists arrest, launching the Gay Liberation Movement.

November 20, 1969

Native Americans Occupy Alcatraz

The protesters fail to gain title to the island, but inspire a native movement.