In his first State of the Union address, President Johnson declares the “war on poverty.” The eradication of poverty – along with racial inequality – defined a set of programs that eventually became known as The Great Society. Crucially, Johnson argued that defeating poverty would require expanding the government’s role in education and health care.
The Beatles reached #1 for the first time in America when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” tops the chart.
February 25, 1964
In one of the greatest upsets in American sports history, Cassius Clay (who would later be known as Muhammad Ali) beats Sonny Liston in a boxing match in Miami Beach, Florida.
April 13, 1964
Sidney Poitier becomes the first black actor to win the Oscar for Best Actor, for his performance in Lilies of the Field. The next black actor to win Best Actor would be Denzel Washington in 2002 – 38 years later.
May 22, 1964
While giving the commencement speech at the University of Michigan, President Johnson mentions “The Great Society” for the first time.
Three civil rights workers disappear while attempting to register black voters in Mississippi. They are later found murdered, and their killers are eventually identified as members of the KKK. These murders are instrumental in facilitating the passage of the Civil Rights Act later that year.
August 2, 1964
In the Gulf of Tonkin, an American ship trades fire with several North Vietnamese boats. This causes such intense international tension that the U.S. Congress passes a resolution allowing President Johnson to use military force in Southeast Asia without a formal declaration of war, in the interest of halting the spread of communism. This directly leads to the escalation of the Vietnam War.
October 14, 1964
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. receives the Nobel Peace Prize.
March 7, 1965
To protest ongoing racial violence in Alabama – and especially the deadly shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson by a state trooper – a group of local black activists organize a march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery. They are assaulted by police, and the national outrage results in additional marches, with the third protected by the National Guard.
March 8, 1965
The United States begins its ground war in South Vietnam by sending 3,500 Marines to the region. By December, that number would increase to almost 200,000.
May 6, 1965
In a Florida hotel room, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones writes the guitar riff that will eventually become the backbone of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Rolling Stone will eventually declare it the second-best song of all time.
July 30, 1965
President Johnson signs the Social Security Amendment, which creates both Medicare and Medicaid.
Reaffirming a legislative quest for racial equality that reached at least as far back as the Enforcement Acts of the early 1870s, President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act. The law explicitly forbids racial discrimination in voting and is considered remarkably successful. Sections of the law continue to be debated and even revised, which underscores its ongoing importance in the American discourse on Civil Rights.
A hopeful cultural statement about America’s race divide, the film Patch of Blue is released. It stars Sidney Poitier and tells the story of a love affair between a black man and a blind white woman. The film is a massive success – even in southern cities like Houston and Charlotte – and will earn Shelley Winters an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
March 5, 1966
In defiance of antiwar sentiment, SSGt Barry Sadler reaches number one with “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” a piece of musical propaganda that extols of the virtue of the American military. The song will remain on top for five weeks – longer than any other single in 1966 – and become a symbol of the country’s deep divide about Vietnam.
June 30, 1966
In her first-ever Grand Slam victory, Billie Jean King wins the women’s singles tournament at Wimbledon. She’ll go on to become a trailblazing champion, defeating Bobby Riggs in the famous Battle of the Sexes and advocating for gender equality both in her sport and the world at large.
July 4, 1966
President Johnson signs the Freedom of Information Act. It requires that anyone who asks be given access to information and documents controlled by the United States government, and it is considered a vital element of the country’s democratic process.
July 28, 1966
Shortly after being arrested in Greenwood, Mississippi while marching on behalf of civil rights, Stokely Carmichael delivers the “black power” speech. He calls on black Americans to reject the notion of civil disobedience and instead work to overthrow systems that oppressed them.
December 31, 1966
There are over 385,000 American troops in Vietnam. 5,008 U.S. military personnel have died in action in the region in 1966 – an average of over 13 people per day.
January 15th 1967
The Green Bay Packers win the first Super Bowl played in California. The Kansas City Chief’s defeat is broadcasted on CBS and NBC.
January 17, 1967
Carol Channing performs in “Hello Dolly” at the White House.
President Johnson signs the Outer Space Treaty on behalf of the United States. Fifty-nine other nations sign the treaty, which allows for exploration of outer space by all States and prohibits the use of nuclear weapons in earth’s orbit, on the moon, or on other planets.
President Johnson appoints Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. Marshall is the first African American to hold that office.
November 7th 1967
President Johnson signs the Public Broadcasting Act, which lead to the establishment of PBS and NPR.
March 31st 1968
President Johnson appears on national television to announce steps limiting the Vietnam war, as well as his decision not to seek re-election.
April 4th 1968
Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots erupt across the country.
April 11th 1968
President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968 in an effort to end racial discrimination associated with the sale, rental, and financing of housing. In addition, this act gave federal protection to civil rights workers.