University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
The New Frontier Politics and Social Change
The decade of the 1960s is a link between the past and the future. The exciting images and events of the 1960s were traces and shadows of the previous two decades and at the same time served as the influences of the present. The same decade characterized the U.S. history with the emergence of new frontier politics and social change coming from famous personalities and notable events. What used to be just an inspirational slogan used by John F. Kennedy, the “new frontier” phrase became the domestic and foreign policy label or trademark by the 35th President of one of the most powerful nations in the world.
The colorful era of the 1960s saw the beginning of the new frontier, expansion of the civil rights movement, foreign frontiers, Lyndon Johnson and the great society, from civil rights to black power, the tragedy of Vietnam, and the sixties crescendo, all of which shaped not only the lives of the American people but of a lot of people around the world. Notwithstanding its success and failures, the 1960’s new disciplines and social changes indeed determined the people and events of the past and the present.
A Glimpse of New Frontiers: Politics and Social Change in the 1960s
In a document titled “New Frontiers: Politics and Social Change in the 1960s,” historians George B. Tindall, David E. Shi and Thomas Lee Pearcy told of John F. Kennedy as the 35th President of the United States in a decade that showed an active idealism. Based on the account of the three authors, the 1960s also attested a spectacular and fresh stage of the civil rights movement. The pictured Kennedy was one of the first nation presidents to acknowledge that the majority of the American people were not only entangled into poverty but also deprived of public awareness or consciousness. The three historian added that despite the fact that Kennedy himself was unwilling to battle racial discrimination in his country, the circumstances of the 1960s eventually drove him and the next President, Lyndon Johnson, to make civil rights their main business.
Actually, it was the time of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which saw the beginning and foundation of the national civil rights movement. Securing from the superior scheme of nonviolent civil disobedience, King grabbed the attention and sympathy of a ca self-satisfied country like the U.S. The same decade accounted for the formation by King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of SCLS. King and his organization compelled the national leaders to help and address needs of the victims of racial injustice.
This was done through a lot of protests. King’s burning dedication and morale-booster expressions ignited patriotism among both black as well as white Americans. His campaigns resulted in the enactment of major measures such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that specifically forbid racial discrimination in work force and public places. King’s efforts also led to the legislation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that superseded literacy examinations and other legal ways utilized by local registrars to refuse blacks’ right to voting. The cited events made King the recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace.
However, as the civil rights movement began to take part, its lawful and political profits failed to be turned into a fast economic and social improvement. Black-related incidents of crime and drug addiction, fatherless households, and intense frustration and alienation persisted in the country. Statistics showed the number of race riots, people that were killed and arrested. It was unfortunate that for a lot of urban blacks (African-Americans), civil rights movement resulted into less and real improvement in their lives. This is because in real life, these blacks actually suffered from prolong poverty, unemployment, decreasing housing and schools facilities, and cruelty by those in power.
The campaign for “Black Power” in the middle of 1960s was a result of the impatience of the young black militants with King’s leadership ability and his dedication to consolidate within the whites who are the majority of the society. This was spearheaded by Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown who resisted the peaceful civil rebellion of King and his organization. For them, “Black Power” became the rallying cry in the mid-1960s.
The “Black Power” idea came from the black custom of patriotism on the premise that black people such as those with African roots partake in a unique civilization and fate. It was based from the agitating dissatisfaction of the rate of social modifications among urban blacks. Malcolm X, who was the most powerful advocate of black patriotism, encouraged the blacks to even violently take charge in their communities.
Malcolm X was different with King because he was not fascinated in supporting consolidation with the whites. His aim was an isolated and independent black society in his country. In a turn of events before the mid-1960s, Malcolm X started to soften his position. He separated from the Black Muslims and started to speak of racial cooperation. For Malcolm X. this apparent abandonment resulted in his death perpetrated by the assassins from his own group.
The aggressiveness portrayed by Malcolm X continued among the younger “Black Power” supporters. It was in the summer of 1966 that Stokely Carmichael led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC to break away from its initial dedication to non-violent social alteration. He was replaced by H. Rap Brown who instructed SNCC members to arm themselves, put the cities on fire, and kill the whites. Another group led by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale supported these powerful campaign feelings and eventually formed the Black Panther Party that made insurgent activities against white leaders.
The summer from 1965 and 1968 sparked racial-related public violence in American municipalities. The number of killed and arrested people as well as the escalating rioting during 1967 compelled President Johnson to designate Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois as a special National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders.
The Kerner Commission Report, that determined the causes of the racial violence, went out the next year. It called for a “caring, solid and continuous” dedication to racial and social fairness to be supported by the most powerful and richest country in the whole world. Again in a tragic turn of circumstances and after a month that the Kerner paper was reported, King was assassinated that re-ignited eruption of racial-related violence in the U.S.
During the later part of the 1960s the cry for racial equality was complicated with other powerful events within American societies. These include antiwar resistance or protest actions as well as compelling feminist-related actions. The connection among these two forces, coupled with other campaigns, which were elicited with their traditional backfires, jeopardized and unscrambled U.S. towards the end of 1960s. For more and a detailed understanding of the cited new frontier politics and social changes, it would be helpful and important to note the Tindall, Shi and Pearcy documents that appeared in “The Essential America” (2001) and “America: A Narrative History” (2003).
The New Frontier
According to the similar documents that appeared in both books, the election, eventually victory and domestic as well as foreign policies for the nation characterized what President Kennedy called as the new frontier. Aside from these, the strong personality or character of Kennedy and his family had a much effect to the events of the 1960s. The three authors’ manifestation of the new frontier was traced from Kennedy’s wealthy family and from the President’s own portrayal of vigor, energy, and even his good or charming looks. His Catholicism was never a problem and impossibility. In fact, he was more noted for his youth and having a beautiful wife caught the American imagination (Tindall, Shi & Pearcy, 2001 & 2003).
The said Tindall, Shi and Pearcy materials documented the economic policies of the “New Frontier legislation” such as the gain in the minimum salary of the people and that of expenses incurred by the government expenditures that were intended for housing of poor Americans. The three authors, however, noted the tragic assassination of Kennedy that was accompanied by various conflicting conspiracy theories.
They added that this unfortunate end to the life of Kennedy and the other turn of events during the early 1960s failed to divulge some weaknesses and failures of the said regime. Specifically, Kennedy’s new frontier is all about Kennedy’s election; his style of administration; and his domestic records such as the tax-cut proposal and legislative victories because of foreign aid, Peace Corps, trade expansion, housing assistance, increased minimum wage, area development and space race (Tindall, Shi & Pearcy, 2003).
Civil Rights Movement
Tindall, Shi and Pearcy said that the fight for equal rights for Blacks actually started even before the decade of the 1960s. The three historians accounted that the Blacks’ rights to citizenship and vote were provided by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, respectively. For a short time and just before 1877, the Blacks actively took part in the American politics. This was cut off as the racists Whites restored their rule. This made it harder for Blacks to utilize their rights as provided by the Constitution. The Blacks have been continuously conscious of their country’s cry to battle dictatorship. However, it turned out that the rights that they fought for were always intended for others such as the Anglo Saxon. This was in contrast with the Whites who were associated with home, family and the country. The Blacks, who realized that they were always violated and ignored, eventually affirmed that they needed to fight and even die to protect their rights.
The fight for rights of the Blacks started with their sit-in protest organizations. These were done during lunch in various restaurants counters. In the event they were not serviced, the Black just stayed at their respective locations. Although some of these sit-ins were effective, the Blacks are usually faced with violence and the militants were even jailed. The sit-ins were later followed by boycott, marches, picketing and other forms of protests that turned out to be effective.
The freedom that the Black Americans enjoy today was the fruits of the campaigns made by a lot of former Blacks who just died giving up the fight. In particular, Tindall, Shi and Pearcy wrote that the growth of the civil rights movement included the mass movements, student participation, formation of the SNCC, and importance of 1960s’ music. This period was also marked by freedom rides and the Federal intervention particularly the integration of “Ole Miss,” Birmingham demonstrations, JFK’s changing position as well as his confrontation with George Wallace (Tindall, Shi & Pearcy, 2003).
According to the same Tindall, Shi and Pearcy documents, the foreign frontiers in the 1960s actually referred to Kennedy’s foreign policies. The invasion of Cuba proved to be both successful and failure for Kennedy administration. Just after taking his oath of office, Kennedy discovered a CIA strategy to invade Cuba and overrule President Fidel Castro with the utilization of Cuban exiles in the United States. Kennedy’s approval of the Bay of Pigs in April of 1961 turned out to be a disaster. This is because his decision to withheld critical air support at the last minute resulted to Soviet Union’s increased direct military aid to Cube thereby jeopardizing the American operation.
The hostilities between the communist USSR and the United States that were already in place because of the construction of the Berlin Wall in August of 1961 escalated in the last quarter of 1962. This was proven by aerial photographs which disclosed that the Russians were building medium-range missile sites in Cuba. The nuclear fiasco between the USSR and the United States was immediately acted upon by Kennedy when he instructed a naval barricade around Cuba.
This military action prevented the Soviet Union from bringing in any more missiles in Cuba and the Russians were also forced to dismantle and remove any missiles already placed in Cuba. History accounted this event as the Cuban missile crisis that actually brought the world to the edge of nuclear war. It was terminated four days after the Kennedy order when Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev surrendered to Kennedy’s requirements. The missiles were returned to the USSR while the United States committed not to invade Cuba and, in a more subtle decision, also removed its own missiles from Turkey (Tindall, Shi & Pearcy, 2001).
Thereafter, the relationship between America and Soviet Union improved as proven by the establishment of a “hot line” telephone link between Washington and Moscow that made communications between the superpowers easier. It was in August of 1963 that the Soviet Union, apparently worried over a possible threat from China, called on for Great Britain and the United States and the three nations later signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. This pact prohibited nuclear testing on the earth’s air and water areas. However, other nuclear-power countries such as France and China did not take part in the accord. Noticeably, the treaty with the USSR actually showed that Kennedy still safeguarded his country from communist expansion (Tindall, Shi & Pearcy, 2001).
Kennedy’s foreign policies also involved the country’s additional American military and personnel assistance to South Vietnam. By the end of 1963, there were 16,000 U.S. military personnel in the region. The increased presence of the communist Viet Cong in the provinces signaled the beginning of the Vietnam Wat with Kennedy supporting the South Vietnamese Army in overthrowing infamous President Ngo Dinh Diem.
However, the decision of the United States to recognize the new military government that succeeded Diem after his death proved to be a wrong foreign policy made by Kennedy. This is because the new government barely made an effort to put up even a show of democracy. Although Kennedy supporters claimed that the president was inclined to withdraw from Vietnam after the 1964 election, his critics believed that the withdrawal was an apparent acceptance of the domino theory that viewed Communism as a massive entity which is hard to reckon with (Tindall, Shi & Pearcy, 2001).
Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society
The Johnson administration was initially shocked by the Kennedy assassination. Despite the fact that the Kennedy regime was such a promise, Johnson had to move the country. He did this through his superior political skills and tactics and by making use as well as putting into actions what Kennedy was able to put in Congress legislation. Johnson’s programs included working for a better education system and school facilities, medical care for the elderly and ultimately to put a stop to poverty.
Johnson’s efforts were tested in influencing Congress to approve the Medicare and Medicaid measures. Aside from these, there were also other similarly important cases handled by the Supreme Court during the Johnson administration that helped formed the American society. Specifically, Johnson and what was called the Great Society was characterized by the President’s background and style, his early legislative achievements, the 1964 election, landmark legislations, civil rights movement and the development of Black power (Tindall, Shi & Pearcy, 2003).
From Civil Rights to Black Power
Civil Rights movement in the 1960s was followed by the Black Power when a lot of SNCC members such as Kwame Ture who were critical of the peaceful means to address racial equality. The progression of increasingly radical Civil Rights Movement was also followed by the increasing yet subtle rejection by the younger Blacks of the idea of appealing to the public’s morality and religious doctrines.
Black power proponents generally reasoned that their consolidation with the Whites actually steal them of their self-respect and inheritance. In present world, majority of Black Power proponents did not change their independence argument. This is because racial equality remains around the world and it is generally accepted that the Black Americans did not finally absorb into the American “mainstream” culture. In fact, the Blacks were more suppressed by their own race nowadays.
Tindall, Shi and Pearcy specifically identified that the civil rights movement included the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights of 1965 while the development of the Black Power was characterized by the riots of 1965 and 1966, the assessment of the urban black condition and the focus on Black Power (Tindall, Shi & Pearcy, 2003).
The Tragedy of Vietnam
What the Johnson administration aimed to stop the spread of Communism turned out to be disastrous for the administration primarily because of his critical decisions involving Vietnam War. As the war escalated, America’s assistance was not enough and the communist North Vietnamese gained control of more and more jurisdictions. This prompted Johnson to send additional military troops in South Vietnamese. This military action proved tragic for American war history and fatal for many American soldiers. It also jeopardized Johnson’s administration and later hurt the Nixon regime. It was perceived as the longest yet least successful war that America has entered into.
Tindall, Shi and Pearcy specifically identified that the sixties crescendo was composed of the twin tragedies of 1968 such as the assassinations of King and Kennedy as well as the convergence on the election of 1968. The 1960s significantly showed more than the above-cited events. The sixties crescendo manifested the young Americans’ refusal to accept the conventional norms of the 1960s society. This respite resulted to a counterculture that embraced the ideas of freedom and individuality. These ideas were seen with the young American’s experimentation of fresh kinds of dressing and music inclinations. This counterculture and pop culture not only tested how these young Americans would look like but also influenced their relationships with others. Aside from culture awakenings, the sixties crescendo was also marked by the promotion of the rights of the women. These included the passion for women’s liberation and feminism.
Much has been showed by the new frontier politics and social changes in the 1960s. It marked the success and failures of the administrations of at least three famous American presidents – Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. It also accounted for the emergence of the powerful personalities such as King and his successors. Nonetheless, all their works, achievements and misfortunes are now just a thing of the past. It would be fruitful, however, to note what they have done and what did the decade of 1960s taught not only the Americans but people worldwide. Simply put, there is no harm in learning from the accomplishments and mistakes of the past.
Tindall, G. B., Shi, D. E., & Pearcy, T. L. (2001). The Essential America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Tindall, G. B., Shi, D. E., & Pearcy, T. L. (2003). America: A Narrative History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.