The 1960s were a time of cultural upheaval in the United States. In only 10 years, the country played host to a historically disproportionate number of events and movements that would have a lasting impact in the decades to come. It is because of these influential events that the decade is relevant to classes in United States history. Teachers can assign students a number of projects to enhance their instruction in this period.
The Vietnam War and Protests
The United States' war in Vietnam was the center of many of the defining conflicts of the 1960s. These included the conflict between the anti-war U.S. citizens and the government. While learning about the anti-war movement, students can make the psychedelic-colored shirts that became a lasting symbol of peace protesters--tie-dye shirts. Students can bring in plain white shirts and, under the teacher's supervision, wet the shirt, fold it into circular patterns, tie the shirt into the pattern with string or rubber bands, squirt the shirt with different-colored dye in different places, then let dyes soak into the shirt and dry.
Civil Rights Movement Strategies
The 1960s saw the civil rights movement, when African-Americans and other minorities began protesting for greater protection and equality under the law. The protests succeeded in prompting the passage of many new laws enshrining racial equality. However, the methods used to secure equality differed from group to group and leader to leader. Divide the class up and have them research different leaders and groups. These should include Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. Have the different groups tell the class about their assigned leader or group, including his goals and how he (or they) went about achieving them.
Music as 1960s History
One of the cultural progressions in the 1960s was the growth and development of existing genres, such as folk music and rock 'n' roll. Music and politics often clashed in this decade and many artists, such as Bob Dylan and the Beatles, left the decade as much different musicians than they entered it. Split the class into groups and assign each a major musician or musical group from the 1960s. The group will then prepare a presentation of how the group changed during the decade, how the historical events of the '60s influenced that development. They should also pick a song by the musician or group that is a commentary on the events they were living through--and play that song for the class.
Violence in the 1960s
One pervasive fact of the 1960s was violence--from military action globally, against minorities, against protesters and by protesters. Divide the class into groups and assign each to research a different kind of violence, such as violence committed by groups like the Weather Underground, violence against anti-war protesters, violence against civil rights activists and controversial groups like the Black Panthers. At the end, the class should work together to prepare a chart that visually depicts where particular violent methods were a commonality among groups and events, and where they were unique. The results will likely surprise the students.
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