Society and Life in the 1960s

The 1960s were a decade of revolution and change in politics, music and society around the world. It started in the United States and the United Kingdom, and spread to continental Europe and other parts of the globe.

The 1960s were an era of protest. In the civil rights movement blacks and whites protested against the unfair treatment of races. Towards the end of the decade more and more Americans protested against the war in Vietnam. Many people in the United States thought that Americans had no reason to fight in war that was so far away from home.

Female activists demanded more rights for women, whose role in society began to change. The birth control pill and other contraceptives were introduced, making it possible for women to plan their careers and have babies when they wanted them.

The 1960s shattered American politics with the assassination of famous leaders. John F. Kennedy, who became the first Catholic President in American history, was gunned down in Dallas in 1963. When his brother Robert ran for president in 1968 he too was killed by an assassin’s bullet in California. A few months earlier, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, who had done more for African Americans than any other person before him, was killed in Memphis, Tennessee.

After World War II people all over the world started working hard and respecting the values they were brought up with. Especially in Europe, it was an era of recovery and rebuilding. In the 1960s many young people started doubting such values. They protested against society and everything that was mainstream. They had hair long and wore unusual and strange clothes.

 

hippies at the Woodstock festival in 1969

Hippies at the Woodstock festival - Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell

 

Social change was also reflected in the music of the decade. In the 1950s America and the rest of the world danced and sang to rock and roll music. A decade later Bob Dylan (Blowing in the Wind), Joan Baez and other protest singers composed lyrics that showed what was wrong in society .  The Beatles and the Rolling Stones started a new era of beat and pop music. In Europe pirate radio stations broadcast from ships in the North Sea.

Television dominated the decade as the most important entertainment medium.  By the end of the decade almost all homes in America had at least one TV set.

Towards the end of the 1960s hundreds of thousands of young music fans gathered at Woodstock, New York to celebrate the largest pop festival ever held.  All of the popular musicians of the time performed there: Jimmy Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Janis Joplin and others. Many of the young people there called themselves hippies. They took drugs, preferably marijuana and LSD, which allowed people to see a colorful, unreal world.  They believed in sexual freedom and often changed partners at random.

On the other side of the social scale, many people looked strangely at these protesters. They could not understand them and stuck to hard work and family values.

 

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Words:

  • activists = someone who does things in order to change something
  • assassin = a person who kills politicians  or other famous people
  • assassination = the killing of an important person
  • at random = without any plan or aim
  • birth control pill = a pill that stops you from getting a baby
  • broadcast = to send out radio  programs
  • bullet = small piece of metal that comes out of a gun
  • civil rights movement = a time when black people in America fought for more rights and equal opportunities
  • continental = on the continent ; here: Europe without England
  • contraceptive = medicine, object  or method of stopping a woman from getting a baby
  • decade = ten years
  • demand = want; fight for
  • doubt = to question, not sure about something
  • era = time
  • especially = above all
  • female = relating to women
  • gather = get together
  • globe = world
  • gun down = kill
  • hippie = a person of the 1960s who  was against war , wore unusual clothes  and had long hair
  • LSD = illegal drug that makes you see things as strange and beautiful
  • lyrics = words of a song
  • mainstream = normal ideas
  • medium = way of communicating information
  • perform = here: sing in front of many people
  • pirate radio station = illegal radio stations; they broadcast without permission by the  government
  • politics = activities and ideas about ruling and government
  • preferably = if you could choose
  • race = a group of people who have the same skin color
  • recovery = to return to a normal condition
  • reflect = show
  • respect = admire
  • rights = something that you are legally allowed to do
  • scale = range
  • sexual freedom = here: to be able to have sex with anyone you want to
  • shatter = break into pieces
  • society = people in general
  • spread = to move from one place to another
  • stick – stuck = to keep doing something
  • strange= unusual, odd
  • towards = near
  • treatment = to behave towards someone
  • unfair = not fair
  • value = idea