The 1960s Remembered: How National Events Shaped University of Omaha Students

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Swing into the 1960s

Living in an atomic age with the ideas of space travel, colonization, and nuclear weapons fueled the imaginations of 1960s students like Gail Cody. While Omaha University sought to address the financial crisis that the institution was encountering, the effects of the Civil Rights movement and assassination of President John F. Kennedy resonated with the University of Nebraska at Omaha community.  As students grappled with all of these changes, they turned to popular culture as both an escape and a way to understand their world.  Mathew chronicles some of the major cultural shifts students were experiencing during this time, including mass media themes, political events, and Omaha’s shifting population demographics.

Part One Pop Life

In the 1960s, the majority of pop culture found in television programming, movies, books, and newspaper ads was shaped by the idea that Americans were now living in the Atomic Age (Nebraska 1). This Atomic Age came with many technological advances and new goals, especially because of the idea of space travel and colonization. However, all of these new technologies came at a cost, because many other nations were also developing new technologies, such as nuclear weapons. This nuclear proliferation fueled another popular theme, the idea of a nuclear war (Nebraska 1). The Cuban Missile Crisis that occurred in October of 1962 is an example of a national event in which no nuclear conflict occurred, but many people all over the United States at that time feared that the end of days was near. The fear that shaped this crisis

Part 2 What a Time to be Alive: Politics in the 1960s

The 1960s were also shaped by an increasing number of political movements at the national level, including the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the Anti-Vietnam War protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s. These national movements and protests trickled down to Omaha and helped shape the political climate surrounding UO. 1963 was an extremely active year for civil rights protests in Omaha. In 1963, Omaha saw non-violent protests conducted by Herb Rhodes, Betty Jo Moreland, Dale Anders, and other NAACP Youth Council members, advocating for increasing and recognizing the civil rights of African American citizens in Omaha (Rea 110). The young protestors succeeded in opening up Omaha’s Peony Park swimming pool to African American youths and their families for the first time (Rea 110). Later, in 1963, 2,000 African American Omahans gathered

Part Three Who Are You People?: Major Population Changes

Civil rights issues were not the only major issue to change the UO campus and Omaha community-wide dynamics. From 1960 to 1970, the population of Douglas, Sarpy, and Pottawattamie counties increased from 310,249 inhabitants to 542,646 inhabitants (Rea 108-120). This dramatic increase in population also affected UO. In 1961, Cody’s incoming class of 1965 pushed enrollment records to a new high of 8,100 students (Gateway 1). In 1968, another record was set when 10,600 students enrolled at UO, and out of those students, more than 6,000 were full-time students (Gateway 1). This increased enrollment at UO/ UNO throughout the 1960s also meant that an increasing number of women were attending the university as compared to past generations. According to the Gateway, Cody’s 1965 graduating class had 904 students who received their degrees at the 56th Annual Commencement, with 98 of

Part Four JFK Assassination

One final “memorable” event of the 1960s, besides the financial distress of UO and Ms. Cody, was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22 1963. The Omaha community was obviously moved by this turn of events due to the front-page coverage of the JFK funeral in the Omaha World Herald in the days following the assassination. It is obvious that these images and news stories moved the students at UO, because many of the front-page clippings, including the images of JFK’s funeral and news reports from Washington D.C. November 23-26, were scrapbooked in the AFROTC/Angel Flight scrapbook (AFROTC Scrapbook 1964). UO also saw an outcry of emotion toward this tragedy.  In the editorial section of the December 6, 1963 issue of the Gateway, one of the letters to the editor eluded to the fact that the UO

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