The Year 1963


The year 1963 is considered a definitive year in the history of the civil rights movement.  It also saw the peak of the Cold War, the seeds of the feminist movement, the rise of the youth culture, and the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy.  Join Active Minds as we travel back in time to this key year in history to explore these and other important events.

Key Lecture Points

  • 1963 was a definitive year in the history of the civil rights movement.  Led by Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference launched a campaign in Birmingham, Alabama to put an end to the city’s municipal segregation laws with a series of lunch counter sit-ins, marches and boycotts of merchants.  Police Commissioner “Bull” Connor met the protests with police dogs and fire hoses, shocking the nation when images of this brutality were broadcast on TV and published on newspaper front pages across the country.   President Kennedy went on TV to call for civil rights legislation, bringing national attention to the issue.
  • Betty Freidan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, calling on women to pursue personal and professional identities beyond being wives and mothers.  The book is considered a major influence leading to the second feminist movement.
  • The Cold War was at its peak in 1963.  In June, President Kennedy visited Berlin, making his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, expressing support for the people of Berlin and signaling to the Soviet Union that the Allies would not leave West Berlin.  Two months after his visit, the Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed, banning all nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in space and underwater—the first of several Cold War disarmament agreements.  1963 also saw the installation of a “hotline” between Washington and Moscow, set up to be a safety valve and a means for the two superpowers to communicate more quickly in times of crisis.
  • 1963 also marked the key points in the development of youth culture in the US.  Triggered by postwar prosperity and adolescent defiance of authority, for the first time youth became a cultural and commercial force that was catered to, listened to and marketed to--making them catalysts for the social upheaval of the decade and major influencers on pop culture to include fashion, the arts and music.
  • 1963 ended with the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy.  His death continues to be felt in America because it marked the point when Americans turned to TV as their major source of news, gave rise to the “conspiracy era,” created a general distrust of the federal government and began the Johnson Administration with its escalation of the war in Vietnam and the progressive legislation of the Great Society.

Exploration Questions

  • Name three key events that took place in 1963 and describe parallels with events of today.
  • What is the significance of the year 1963 for the Civil Rights Movement?  For the Cold War?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you agree that 1963 was the year of the “youthquake?”  Why?  Why not?
  • What music do you remember from 1963?  What were your favorite groups from the 1960s?
  • What adjectives would you use to describe the 60s?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Sabato, Larry J. The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy.  Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2014. 633 pages.   The author re-examines the assassination and the extraordinary impact it has had on Americans of every generation and every President since.
    Click here to order
  • Herken, Gregg. The Georgetown Set:  Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington. Knopf Publishing Group, 2014. 494 pages.  This behind-the-scenes history of post-war Washington, DC paints a rich and colorful portrait of the close- knit group of journalists, spies and government officials who waged war over cocktails and dinner, showing all the drama of those years.
    Click here to order
  • Mathews, Francine.  Too Bad to Die.  Riverhead Books, 2015. 368 pages.  This historical thriller follows British Naval Intelligence Officer Ian Fleming as he foils a plot to assassinate Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt during WWII.
    Click here to order
  • Dylan, Bob.  Chronicles. Simon & Schuster, 2005. 293 pages.  In this memoir, Bob Dylan throws light on the influences of his life and career.
    Click here to order