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


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 had its roots in popular culture. The themes of the nuclear war, living in the Atomic Age, and space exploration can be observed in popular movies of the 1960s, including: “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962), “Seven Days in May” (1964), “Fail Safe” (1964), and “Dr. Strangelove…”(1964) (Nebraska 1).

Other media outlets, such as newspapers and newspaper ads, also reflected American’s fascination with living in an atomic/space age. One example of an Omaha advertisement playing on these space age themes is an L&M cigarette ad that ran in the September 29, 1961 issue of the Gateway, the UO student newspaper.

This nearly half-page ad features a cartoon poll of students. The most interesting poll question is whether or not college-aged students would “volunteer to man the first space station if the odds for survival were 50-50?” (and the majority, 63 percent, answered no) (Gateway 6). Another example of the atomic age mindset can be found in the letters to the editor later in the 1960s. In the September 27, 1968 issue of the Gateway, Rick Macy in his “A Peace We’ve Made” continues to talk about the themes of increasing technology and potential nuclear war. Finally, one of the most watched and talked about television news clips from the 1960s was the moon landing and walk on July 20, 1969, which was the realization of the Kennedy Space Program goal to have an American on the moon before the end of the decade. All of these images and themes would have reached students like Gail Cody via the Gateway and Omaha World Herald, as well as television programs and trips to the movie theater.

These Atomic Age themes helped shape 1960s students’ willingness to adapt to newer technology being used in classrooms today, such as digital grade books, and statewide examinations for school-age children on the computers. Although some educators like Gail Cody agree there are benefits that come with this technology, such as a parent’s ability to “check in often on their child’s grades,” digital technologies, such as computer-based standardized testing, can also be “misused” and cause unrest and fears of failing public schools (Cody Interview). According to Cody, most elementary school-aged children have limited experiences with computers, and most of those experiences are centered on playing computer games, as opposed to looking up information or writing papers (Cody Interview). Due to these experiences, young children have a difficult time taking a computer-based standardized test seriously, so their test scores may give an incorrect assessment of a child’s real academic skills and progress, as well as the teacher’s ability to teach (Cody Interview). This ability to accept new technologies while maintaining a critical perspective surely has some of its roots in the popular Atomic Age themes of the 1960s.


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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