Sixties at 50

Vanderbilt in the 1960s

The Sixties at 50 looks back at one of the most important decades in U.S. history through the rich collections of Vanderbilt’s libraries. Rocked by counterculture and jolted by assassinations, we found ourselves divided by our ideas about generation, race, gender, sexuality, war and politics. Despite abundant optimism for what could be, debates and protests sometimes led to riots.

Civil RightsEarly in the decade, one man orbited the earth and by the end, two men walked on the moon. The Beatles led the British invasion and Bob Dylan changed American music. To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, The Feminine Mystique and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test asked us to examine our lives. Our films (Mary Poppins, Cat Ballou, In the Heat of the Night, Midnight Cowboy) brought us both frothy entertainment and social commentary. Art in its pop and op forms influenced the world of design and even crept onto our clothing.

Televisions moved into our living rooms and made us witness to the day’s events—from the Vietnam War to the latest cultural trends. We laughed at the Flying Nun and Leave It to Beaver while Laugh-in, The Smothers Brothers and Peyton Place pushed the censors’ limits.

Our horizons also grew thanks to airlines and interstates that took us further from home, for work and play. The VW was a symbol of the decade, but Americans also saw the advent of the Mustang, Camaro and GTO.

From a half century’s distance, we remember a time when our nation reached for the stars and struggled to find the meaning of equality. At its best, it was a decade of creativity, innovation and courage. The Sixties at 50 ehibition offers a chance to experience this electrifying time. You’ll see major figures of the time as they spoke at Vanderbilt and witness the times that changed our nation.

Vanderbilt University drew a number of national politicians, celebrities and writers to the campus in the 1960s, many of whom were documented in film by students as part of IMPACT, a symposium that began in 1964 under the leadership of Chancellor Alexander Heard. The program was founded on the belief that it was important to bring discussion to the campus to generate awareness and debate in a changing world. From its beginning, IMPACT was challenging and thoughtful, but it reached a fever pitch in 1967 when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Allen Ginsberg, Strom Thurmond, and Black Panther Stokely Carmichael were invited to participate.

The exhibit includes clips from some of those student IMPACT videos along with film from President John F. Kennedy's 1963 visit to Vanderbilt and a speech by Winthrop Rockefeller from 1968 (who had participated in IMPACT '65). IMPACT is still active today, producing annual symposia on the Vanderbilt campus. For more information about these video clips and the IMPACT collections, visit the University Archives.

Exhibit closed August 14, 2011. View online: Sixties At 50: Vanderbilt in the 1960s