Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 15. Introduction
We Shall Overcome

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963 brutally opened a decade that promised peace but yielded violence. His successor, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, took the oath of office on Air Force before flying to Washington.

Johnson continued many of the reforms planned for Kennedy's New Frontier. A strong advocate for the poor and minorities, Johnson pushed through a civil rights bill outlawing discrimination. Winning a landslide victory in 1964, he declared "unconditional war on poverty" and prodded Congress to enact many of the reforms of his Great Society, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Voting Rights Act. His acceleration of the war in Vietnam met with consistent and vocal opposition from protesters, especially on college campuses and in cities. His hopes for reelection were another casualty in this conflict, the longest war in United States history.

The civil rights movement scored significant and long-overdue victories. Under the leadership of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., peaceful demonstrations, marches, and other strategies of nonviolent resistance brought about legislative and social change. More militant voices of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and others challenged King's call to nonviolence. America's inner cities erupted in violence, and civil unrest increased with the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. Senator Robert Kennedy, brother of the slain president and candidate for the presidency, urged calm, but he, too, was silenced by an assassin.

The decade that began with idealism ended with disillusion, turmoil, and smoldering ruins in many inner cities. The death toll continued to mount in a war that would eventually claim 58,000 American lives. The American pursuit of liberty and justice for all seemed to have stalled in many areas of national life. But the dream would survive.

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