Progress or Decline in America From 1960 to 1970 Term Paper

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America During the 1960's

The 1960's began well for America. President Kennedy appeared to have the social and economic aspects of the country under good control. After his assassination,

President Lyndon Baines Johnson took over and attempted to continue Kennedy's ideals. Policies such as the war on poverty as well as other implementations such as civil rights for all were to form part of Johnson's "Great Society." This appeared to improve things after the tragic death Kennedy. However, horrors such as the Vietnam War and the subsequent economic crisis brought about a decline in the short-lived prosperity. Other elements such as violence resulting from resistance to new civil rights laws also contributed to decline where better administration may have resulted in progress. Below these elements are considered to arrive at a conclusion about the degree of progress and decline in America during this time.

The Great Society

Johnson's presidency began well enough. The two major elements of the Great Society he wanted to establish were the Civil Rights Act and the war on poverty. This was seen to especially benefit those who were marginalized by average society, such as the African-Americans, people of other ethnic origins, as well as women. The writer Ralph Ellison in fact hailed this president as practically the best thing that could come on the path of the African-American (Schultz). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 contained elements that benefited women and minorities in terms of discrimination both in society and in the workplace. Equal opportunities were therefore guaranteed, and the civil rights movement was on its way. This seems to not quite have been enough however. Whereas integration as such was the initial focus of the Civil Rights Act, minorities still had few political rights. This is what particularly brought about the African-American struggle for freedom by means of political empowerment during the middle of the 1960's (Schultz).

Voting rights were for example a serious issue due to the extreme violence related to this. Selma, Alabama for example featured 15,000 eligible black voters, of which 335 was able to register for voting (Schultz). It is interesting that protestors for the right to vote were nonviolent until provoked by state troopers. This shows the inequality that was still very much part of African-American life despite rosy presidential promises to the contrary. It is also interesting that a traditional means of restricting black voters were literacy tests. Literacy was also more easily accessible to white people, whose children were allowed to go to quality schools, whereas the poor and minorities were not. Socially, all these elements are indicative of the deeply instilled belief that minorities were somehow not worthy and not as clever as those with the correct skin color. The president however attempted to bridge this gap by passing the Voting Rights Act in 1965 (Schultz).

The civil rights movement thus received another push forward. It appeared that the Great Society was truly becoming part of every American life. Everybody did not however agree about this. Religion played an important part in African-American spiritual life and thus also in political empowerment. Reverend Martin Luther King for example relied on the Christian tradition to motivate a nonviolent resistance (Schultz). Malcolm X however disagreed with him, depending on Islam to take a more active role in solving the problems experienced by African-Americans in United States society (Shultz). Malcolm X gained much ground in terms of both followers and fellow leaders. In fact the years from 1964-1968 saw increasing support for self-defense rather than the non-violent resistance preached by King. This resulted in a tear within the civil rights movement between those still holding on to the Christian ideal while others wanted to stand up and fight for what was theirs by law. Gradually however the ideal of "Black Power" came to take over from Christian ideals in the civil rights movement (Schultz).

The War on Poverty

Poverty was then, as it is now, an extremely pressing problem in American Society. In fact, later during the decade it was found that poverty and violence were directly related (Schultz). The War on Poverty was another way in which Johnson attempted to alleviate the country's problems, and to bring about the Great Society. This was done by various means. The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 for example included a variety of actions to initiate this war: They included work-study programs for university students; basic education and job training, which was…[continue]

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