Login | Register
Member List | Publish
Heritage Education Blog Home


Teachers and community members can help young community members explore and contribute to their cultural heritage by arranging learning expeditions that include the ALERT processes.

The Heritage Project is an educational initiative that began as a partnership between the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, the Montana Historical Society, and the Montana Office of Public Instruction. Teachers work with these cultural agencies and with their communities to conduct learning expeditions that explore large and enduring questions through the medium of local knowledge.

About Michael L. Umphrey

Most recent entries


Table of Contents

Organized by Topics



Advanced Search



The Sixties Expedition

Ask  Listen  Explore  Reflect  Tell

Placemaking | TeacherLore | Field Notes | Veterans History Project | Montana Literature
Heritage Online (Student Writing) |

Monday, December 27, 2004

A global communications storm
   How was America changed by the sixties?

A Global Communications Storm: How the Sixties changed America

Essential Question: Are there rules that ought to govern the way we communicate with each other?

Readings: Buddhists learn that to travel the Noble Path they must learn Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Right Speech includes abstaining from lying, harsh or malicious speech, gossip and tale-bearing. Judeo-Christian scriptures teach that communities cannot prosper unless members avoid gossip, slander, backbiting, evil speaking, and contention. Organizational consultants travel the land giving workshop after workshop about the trouble organizations get into when people use communication to deceive or conceal. In recent years, many universities adopted controversial codes forbidding hate speech.

Concerns about when and how and what we communicate are ancient. As long as there have been societies, there have been debates about the ethics of communication.

Questions about communications become even more urgent in a world where people can communicate across vast distances instantly.

What standards should those who have access to vast audiences meet? What about those audiences? Should they maintain standards about what they will watch or listen to? If yes, who should set those standards? Individual consciences (change the station)? The market (boycott the offenders)? Government regulators (pass a law)?

Where millions of people might become aware at once of the words or actions of a single person or small group? Is the ancient wisdom about communication still valid? Or do the old rules still make sense? Is a movie producer culpable when people say they were influenced by his movie to commit violent acts? Are the rules different for artists? For business people? For international relations? For military leaders at war?

The expedition depends upon members reading the primary documents that are linked, and then discussing them with one another. The approach follows that outlined by Kieran Egan in The Educated Mind. His idea is that difficult concepts be introduced by telling stories that heighten the awareness of what is at stake by clarifying what is opposed.

At 12.39 pm, Central Standard Time, newspaper editors around the world heard five bells to signal that an important story was coming. Then their UPI teletype machines began clacking at sixty words per minute: “DALLAS,NOV.22(UPI)--THREE SHOTS WERE FIRED AT PRESIDENT KENNEDY’S MOTORCADE IN DOWNTOWN DALLAS.â€? It was November 22, 1963, and the world had changed, though nobody yet understood what that meant.
Television journalists read the news off their teletype machines and began scrambling. Within a half-hour ABC, CBS, and NBC had suspended their regular programming to cover the story from Dallas. About a half hour after that, America knew that John F. Kennedy, their handsome young president, was dead.
CBS announced that it would not resume normal programming until after the funeral, and shortly later the other two networks announced similar plans.
They were going to stay on the air, covering the events as they unfolded. No such thing had ever been attempted by the networks before. The first challenge for NBC was simply to get a telephone line from Washington to Dallas. Television cameras were huge and heavy, connected to enormous wires and cables, and it took two hours to warm one up enough for it to transmit. Without satellites, video signals needed to be transmitted via cables and microwave relay towers.
Nonetheless, engineers and technicians made connections and reporters rushed to get information and to patch together instant documentaries from file footage. Across the nation, people watched hour after hour as journalists stayed on the air, often with nothing new to report, grabbing interviews with anyone who would talk to them. When Air Force One landed back in Washington with Lyndon Johnson, the newly sworn in president, cameras were there. Americans caught glimpses of Jacqueline Kennedy, with bloodstains on her dress. Johnson stepped to the cameras and addressed the nation from the runway. “I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help--and God’s.”
Two days later, the networks cut from coverage of the funeral preparations in Washington back to Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy’s assassin, had been shot to death on camera while being moved from the city jail to the county jail.
No one who saw the images during those days in November ever forgot them. The important and the powerful were getting their information at the same time and in the same way as the poor and humble–by watching television. According to Nielsen, 93% of televisions in the nation were tuned to the coverage. Over the four days from Kennedy’s assassination till his funeral, the role of television in American life was transformed. We were wired.
The Kennedy assassination was the first time an ongoing historic event was experienced simultaneously by people watching television across the nation. It would not be the last.
By 1968–the year in which JFK’s brother Bobby was assassinated; civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated; the North Vietnamese overran American army posts through Vietnam in the Tet Offensive; student radicals in Chicago overwhelmed the Democratic National Convention and rioters in Paris nearly brought down the French government–people expected to see the news as it happened.
Though we usually think of communication as good, anyone who has ever suffered from malicious gossip or been the victim of a conspiracy knows that information can be destructive. The sixties provide us important opportunities to examine and think about how modern society is affected–in both good ways and bad ways–by new communication technologies. We now live in a world in which what we say or do can be communicated around the world in a flash. How should that affect what we say and do?
It’s a question that has as much to do with our future as with our past. Writing in The Nation, Robin Blackburn argued that the processes that nearly led to a collapse of national governments “are far more advanced today than they were in 1968.� Though enemies today are culturally resistant to each other, they are “now within the same global communications space. All this persuades me that there is a greater potential today for a type of ‘global storm’. . .So perhaps, as we used to say, 1968 was just a rehearsal.�(Feb 9, 2004 v278 i5 p30).
Though groups and individuals through the sixties were separated by political, cultural and religious ideas, they were increasingly sharing the same communications space. Their words and actions were rapidly communicated around the world.. This expedition into the sixties uses the metaphor of a “communications storm� as one way to explore the question of how American was changed by the sixties.
As you read texts and look at photos or video clips, think about events were formed through communications–both what was communicated and how it was communicated. Relate what you learn to the changes in communications that are going on today.

ASK:  The essential question for the Sixites Expedition is “How was American changed by the sixties?â€?

Are there principles that ought to govern the way we communicate with each other? What are they?

For example, if you agree that our speech should be governed by the principle “Tell the truth� are there other principles that are more important than that? So if the Gestapo knocks on your door and asks whether you are hiding any Jews, and you are, are you obligated to tell the truth? If not, what principle do you think is more important that truth speaking?

Certainly the media was important, but the media mattered as much as it did in large part because the stories that were communicated mattered as much as they did. Two big stories lie at the center of the sixties: the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, including the protests against that war.
The Vietnam War was one episode in a much larger story–the global struggle between the rival ideologies of communism and democracy–that had its beginnings in the nineteenth century but that came to dominate world politics after World War II. The period between World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 is called the Cold War. Vietnam was a key episode in the Cold War. American leaders said we were fighting in Vietnam to prevent the spread of communism.
As the war escalated, people began to question its effectiveness and its necessity. Some began to question whether or not America was on the right side.
The Civil Right Movement also had its origins long before the 1960s. We had fought a Civil War over what should be the right relationship between the races, and arguments over slavery had been among the most difficult to resolve by the leaders who framed the American Constitution. After the Civil War many states, particularly southern states, passed laws to segregate African Americans from whites. This legal structure of discrimination was referred to as Jim Crow.
By the late 1950s the contradiction between our creed that “all men are created equal� and the unjust treatment of African Americans had led extreme tension between the races in many parts of the nation. People of both races discussed and argued about how to proceed. Some, such as Alabama’s governor George Wallace, wanted to keep things as they were. Some, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., wanted negotiation and change. Some, such as Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, believed violent confrontation was necessary.
In 1954 the Supreme Court abolished Jim Crow. In the early 1960s Congress passed civil rights legislation to promote greater equality. Throughout the sixties, riots and violent confrontations between Africans Americans and authorities broke out in hundreds of American cities.
Historians Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin recently published a book with the subtitle: “the Civil War of the 1960s.â€? The protests and riots in America were related to those occurring in other nations as well.  Riots occurred in London, Berlin, Rome and other cities. European radical students were able to forge connections with mass socialist/communists movement. In May, 1968, rioters in Paris joined forces with communist-controlled labor union strikers and nearly succeeded in overthrowing the government of Charles de Gaulle.

Essential Questions for the Vietnam War and the Anti-War Movements

How did mass media change political protest?
What are the limits of our duty to obey authority? When is it right for an individual to rebel against legitimate authority?
What makes authority legitimate?

Intermediate Questions for the Vietnam War

Why did America get involved with the government of South Vietnam? What were its goals?
What was the policy of containment?
What was the Vietnam War about? Politics? Economics? Ideology?
How did the media affect perceptions of the war?
Did America achieve its goals in Vietnam?

Intermediate Questions for the Anti-War Movements

What lessons did anti-war activists learn from the Civil Rights movement?
What was the relationship between the anti-war movement in America and similar movements in other nations?
Were student activists taking a side in the Cold War?
Are there lasting effects from the protests against the war?

Questions for local research

What were people in Montana thinking and doing in the 1960s? Montana Historical Society research historian Dave Walter says that this is a rich area for research because we don’t really know. Although a tremendous amount of information has been gathered nationally, very little work has yet been done in Montana. This provides an exciting opportunity for expedition members to do research in local newspapers, including editorials and letters to the editor, to find out what people were saying. It also provides an excellent opportunity for oral history interviews. Question sets for interviews with people who were in Montana rather than in the military during the sixties are available on our website:

Essential Questions for the Civil Rights Movement

What is justice? How do we establish justice? How should we respond to injustice?
What were the effects of the images of racial violence broadcast from such places as Birmingham and Selma on the various audiences who saw them?
What are ends and means, and to what extent can the ends justify the means?

Intermediate questions

What were Jim Crow laws and how were they applied?

What was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s strategy for undoing the injustice of Jim Crow laws?
What tactics did King and his associates use to change conditions for African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama?
What part did the mass media play in King’s strategy and tactics? In what way was the media different in 1963 than it had been in 1960?
From King’s point of view, who was the intended audience for the images broadcast from his protest marches?
What strategies and tactics were urged by Malcolm X?
Why did Congress pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but not the Civil Rights Act of 1966? How did the 1966 bill differ from the earlier bills? How did beliefs and attitudes in Congress in 1966 differ from attitudes in 1964?

Questions for local research

What experiences have people in this community had with authorities they disagreed with? How did they handle the disagreements?
Are disagreements handled differently in small groups than in large groups? In small towns than in big cities?
How did newspapers in your hometown respond to the tensions of the 1960s, particularly in the editorial pages and the letters to the editor?
How was the issue of justice framed in discussions about reservations, civil rights, and treaty rights?
What issues were being discussed on or near Indian Reservations in Montana? How were these influenced by national events?
In what ways were the situations of Native Americans similar to those of African Americans? In what ways were they different?

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 12/27 at 09:29 PM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalinkPrinter-FriendlyEmail this page
Page 1 of 1 pages


Most Recent Entry: 08/28/2013 02:16 pm
Most Recent Comment on: 09/10/2009 10:50 pm
Total Members: 71
Total Logged in members: 0
Total guests: 11
Most Recent Visitor on: 09/21/2018 07:14 pm
The most visitors ever was 409 on 06/06/2012 02:12 am


State Heritage Projects

Support for Expeditions

Landmarks for Schools

The Digital Classroom (National Archives)

A Biography of America with Primary Documents (Annenberg)

A Chronology of U.S. Historical Documents (University of Oklahoma School of Law)

Words and Deeds in American History Chronological list of primary documents (Library of Congress)

Civics Timeline American history timeline with primary documents (National Endowment for the Humanities)

American Journeys Eyewitness accounts of historical expeditions by the Wisconsin Historical Society and National History Day

Expeditions (National Geographic)

Radio Documentaries American RadioWorks

Education Blogs and Sites

Edutopia (George Lucas Foundation)

Edublog Insights

Many to Many a group weblog on social software



Internet Time Blog

We the Media

Kairosnews a weblog for rhetoric, technology, and pedagogy

Stephen's Web

Michelle Lamberson

Educause Review


Advanced Distributed Learning

Instead of Thinking an educational jargon generator

Heritage Online


Proving Up