66 Photos From The 1960s, The Decade That Rocked The World

Published October 28, 2016
Updated October 3, 2018

Whether it's the burning monk, the JFK assassination, or Woodstock, these images are still seared into the American consciousness 50 years later.

Che Guevara Photo
This now iconic image of Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara depicts him at the March 5, 1960 funeral for the victims of the La Coubre explosion. Guevara believed that the destruction of the French freighter in Havana harbor and the 75-100 resulting deaths were a deliberate act of sabotage on the part of the U.S. because of Cuba's new communist government following the revolution the year before.

Guevara helped carry out that revolution before attempting to foment similar uprisings elsewhere around the world, which helped make him an enemy of the U.S. Eventually, in 1967, C.I.A.-assisted Bolivian forces captured Guevara in Bolivia and executed him.
Alberto Korda/Wikimedia Commons

Avalon Ballroom Face Paint
A dancer, decorated in fluorescent body paint and with feathers in her hair, attends an event at San Francisco's Avalon Ballroom. 1967.Ted Streshinsky/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

King Mouth Open
Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at a rally for the Chicago Freedom Movement at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois on July 10, 1966. The movement, the largest civil rights campaign in the North, sought fair housing, healthcare, transportation, and so on for African-Americans.Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Execution
On Feb. 1, 1968, South Vietnamese General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executes Viet Cong Captain Nguyễn Văn Lém in Saigon. American photographer Eddie Adams' now iconic photo of the event helped the American people see exactly what their country was involved in, and thus helped turn the tide of public opinion against the Vietnam War.Eddie Adams/World Wide Photos via Wikimedia

Thich Quang Duc Burning Monk
Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc immolates himself in protest of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem's violent persecution of Buddhists. Saigon. June 11, 1963.Manhai/Filckr

Jfk Assassination
At 12:30 p.m. CST, on Nov. 22, 1963, the world was still moving. President Kennedy's uncovered 1961 Lincoln Continental four-door convertible limousine had just entered Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas.

Nellie Connally, the First Lady of Texas who was riding in the front seat of the president's car, turned herself around and said, "Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you."

President Kennedy's reply were his last words: "No, you certainly can't."

Seconds later, the fatal shot was fired.
Wikimedia Commons

The Beatles Arrive
The Beatles arrive in America for the first time, landing at New York's newly christened John F. Kennedy International Airport on Feb. 7, 1964.Wikimedia Commons

Newark Riots
While the 1960s brought extraordinary progress for civil rights, the decade also brought violent setbacks.

On July 12, 1967, an act of police brutality against an African-American man in Newark, N.J. sparked riots throughout the city that would last for six days and leave 26 dead and hundreds injured.
-/AFP/Getty Images

Altamont Brawl
Hells Angels members fight with pool cues during the Altamont Free Concert, for which the club was hired as security, in California on Dec. 6, 1969. One concertgoer was beaten and stabbed to death by a Hells Angels member during the infamous event.John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

On The Bus Further
The Merry Pranksters — the followers of author and LSD advocate Ken Kesey — travel across America in their specially painted bus known as Further.Ian Burt/Flickr

Chokehold
A police officer restrains a demonstrator on the San Francisco State campus on Dec. 3, 1968 amid a violent protest calling for wider ethnic representation in both courses offered and faculty hired.Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Scared Kids Running
Two terrified African-American girls flee police officers during a race riot in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, itself sparked by rioting over police brutality in nearby Harlem, on July 21, 1964.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Hippies Dancing Festival
Ecstatic fans give in to the music at the Isle of Wight festival. 1969. Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Fire Hose Blast
Firemen turn their hose on a group of African-Americans during an anti-segregation demonstration in Birmingham, Ala. on May 3, 1963.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Harlem 1964 Police Street
In late July 1964, police beat a man during the Harlem riots sparked by the questionable shooting of a 15-year-old African-American boy by a police officer. Dick DeMarsico/New York World Telegraph & Sun/Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix performs at California's Monterey International Pop Festival on June 18, 1967. This gathering of tens of thousands hippies and likeminded young music fans helped put the 1960s counterculture on the map.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Red Hair Hippie
A young hippie sits cross-legged in a New York City park. 1969.Lambert/Getty Images

Shampoo Test
Congress of Racial Equality trainees endure an "egg shampoo" exercise in preparation for remaining calm during nonviolent demonstrations. Location unspecified. August 11, 1963.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Young Girl In Car
A first-grade girl is escorted by U.S. Federal Marshals to a grade school that is being guarded by city police on the first day of school integration by order of the federal court. New Orleans, Louisiana. November 14, 1960.Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Tsar Bomba
On Oct. 30, 1961, the Soviet military successfully tested Tsar Bomba, the most powerful weapon ever detonated. Its blast was five miles in diameter with a yield of 50 megatons -- 25 times more powerful than all the munitions used in World War II (including the two atomic bombs dropped by the U.S.) put together.Wikimedia Commons

JFK With Marilyn Monroe
Rumors of an affair between President John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe persist to this day. Perhaps fueling the rumors more than any other incident was Monroe's sultry rendition of "Happy Birthday" sung to Kennedy at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962.

Pictured: Kennedy (right), Monroe, and Kennedy's brother Robert backstage just after Monroe's performance. This is one of the few photos of Monroe and Kennedy together.
Wikimedia Commons

Cuban Missile Crisis
For 13 days in the fall of 1962, it seemed as if the world was going to end. Known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, this tense period saw Soviet forces attempt to move nuclear missiles to Cuba, just 90 miles from the coast of Florida. The U.S. responded by blockading Cuba with its own military forces. It was the closest the Cold War ever came to all-out nuclear annihilation.

Ultimately cooler heads prevailed and both sides agreed to back their nuclear weapons farther away from the enemy's borders.

Pictured: A U.S. navy aircraft flies above a Soviet freighter carrying two bomber planes in late 1962.
Wikimedia Commons

1960s Photos
The following summer, President John F. Kennedy traveled to Berlin, Germany, the city that stood at the border of the communist and non-communist worlds, literally divided down the center by a wall.

In Berlin, Kennedy hoped to underline U.S. support for all people on the non-communist side of the world's great political divide, famously declaring "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a citizen of Berlin"), which many incorrectly mistranslated as Kennedy proclaiming himself to be a jelly doughnut.
AFP/Getty Images

March On Washington
At home, millions of Americans hoped to overcome racial divides. By 1963, despite fierce opposition, the civil rights movement had begun gaining momentum. In August, activists including Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which drew approximately 250,000 people to the nation's capital in an unprecedented show of support for the movement.Wikimedia Commons

Martin Luther King In Washington Min
Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech during the march.AFP/Getty Images

Dylan Baez
Joining activists and political leaders like King at the March on Washington were folk singers like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.

Artists like these had come to represent the voice of both the younger generation and highlight the plight of nation's oppressed through verse -- a trend that would only grow as the decade went on.
Wikimedia Commons

Lbj Oath
Jackie Kennedy (right), still wearing the suit stained with her late husband's blood, looks on as Lyndon B. Johnson takes the presidential oath aboard Air Force One in Dallas just two hours and eight minutes after the assassination.

The suit remained out of public view in the National Archives in Maryland, together with an unsigned note reading "Jackie's suit and bag worn Nov. 22, 1963" until 2103. Its precise location is kept a secret. It was never cleaned.
Wikimedia Commons

Jack Ruby Shoots Lee Harvey Oswald
Jack Ruby fatally shoots alleged Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald as Dallas police escort the latter to a transport vehicle the day after Kennedy's death.

Ruby told several witnesses immediately after shooting Oswald that he was trying to help the city of Dallas "redeem" itself in the public's eye, and spare "...Mrs. Kennedy the discomfiture of coming back to trial."
Wikimedia Commons

Malcolm Martin
On March 26, 1964, the decade's two most prominent civil rights leaders shared their only meeting.

As Martin Luther King Jr. (left) was leaving a news conference, Malcolm X (right) stepped out of the crowd, extended his hand, and smiled.

"Well, Malcolm, good to see you," King said.

"Good to see you," X replied.

The gaggle of photographers surrounding the men took photos to immortalize the historic moment that lasted all of about one minute.
Wikimedia Commons

1960s Dress
As was the case with music and politics, fashion also took a bold leap forward in the 1960s.

The famous 1965 Mondrian Collection by French designer Yves Saint Laurent took an innovative approach to fashion by combining classical Western forms with the aesthetics of modernist fine art.

Today, some of these dresses themselves are displayed at museums around the world.
AFP/Getty Images

1960s Flight Attendants
Sporting some of the decade's most distinctive fashions, flight attendants became emblematic of the era and symbols of modern womanhood.SDASM Archives/Flickr

More 1960s Flight Hostesses
Many saw flight attendants as evocative of a new "kind" of woman, one who traveled the globe and free from the gender-specific duties that had kept women at home in previous decades.Archives New Zealand /Flickr

Vietnam Plane
A U.S. helicopter pilot runs from his aircraft after Vietnamese forces shoot it down in early 1965.

The U.S. had just begun bombing operations and troop deployment in Vietnam, for the first time escalating in earnest the conflict that would make the 1960s a truly bloody decade.
AFP/Getty Images

Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali knocks out Sonny Liston after a one-minute-long championship match in Lewiston, Maine on May 25, 1965. Just seconds after the knockout, referee Joe Walcott, holds Ali back.

Ali's courage both in and out of the ring would come to define the decade.
-/AFP/Getty Images

Spacewalk
Ed White floats just outside the Gemini 4 capsule hatch on June 3, 1965. This made White the first American to ever perform a spacewalk, which lasted 23 minutes.NASA via Getty Images

Watts Riots
On Aug. 11, 1965, the Los Angeles Police Department pulled over an African-American man named Marquette Frye for drunk driving. His arrest soon evolved into a roadside scuffle and many quickly accused the officers of police brutality. Six days of riots followed in the city's predominantly African-American Watts neighborhood.

To contain the riots, the LAPD needed nearly 4,000 members of the California Army National Guard. In total, the riots resulted in 34 deaths and $40 million in property damage.
Wikimedia Commons

Lbj With Mlk
More than any other two people, Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson (meeting here in the White House on March 18, 1966) may have had the greatest impact on civil rights in the 1960s -- the former as the movement's de facto leader and the latter as the one who pushed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.

While they differed in approach, the two held each other in high esteem. As King later wrote of Johnson: "His approach to the problem of civil rights was not identical with mine — nor had I expected it to be. Yet his careful practicality was, nonetheless, clearly no mask to conceal indifference. His emotional and intellectual involvement was genuine and devoid of adornment. It was conspicuous that he was searching for a solution to a problem he knew to be a major shortcoming in American life."
Wikimedia Commons

Detroit Riots
That very month, an even worse race riot in Detroit proved to be the most destructive of the decade.-/AFP/Getty Images

National Guardsman During Detroit Riots
The trouble started when police raided an unlicensed bar in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. The ensuing confrontations between patrons and police lit the powder keg of racial unrest that had long threatened the city. Five days of rioting followed.-/AFP/Getty Images

American Soldier On Tank
Soon, President Johnson called in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to aid the overwhelmed police and quell the rioting. More than 8,000 National Guardsmen joined in as well. Many accused these men of using unnecessary force during the operation.Stringer/Getty Images

Race Riots In Detroit 1967
When it was all said and done, the riots resulted in 43 deaths, hundreds of injuries, more than 7,000 arrests, and about $50 million worth of damage.Stringer/Getty Images

James Earl Ray
The following year, on April 4, 1968, the civil rights movement took another devastating hit with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. at the hands of James Earl Ray (pictured).

After a failed career as a pornographer in Mexico, Ray had returned to the U.S. -- where he was wanted for escaping prison -- to take dance and bartending lessons before setting in motion his plan to kill King.

Ultimately, Ray's crimes earned him 99 years in prison, where he died in 1998 at age 70.
Wikimedia Commons

King Assassination
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. Pictured: Civil rights leader Andrew Young (left) and others standing on the balcony of Lorraine Motel point in the direction of the then unknown assailant just after the bullet struck King, who is lying at their feet.Joseph Louw/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

King Assassination Riots Soldier
King's assassination once again brought racial tensions to a head in more than 100 cities across the country.

Washington, D.C. (pictured) saw the worst of it. Over the five days following King's death, rioters burned more than 1,000 buildings, causing about $27 million in damage and prompting President Johnson to call in 13,600 federal troops.
Wikimedia Commons

Burning House In Vietnam
In early 1968, the violence intensified overseas as well, as fighting in Vietnam reached new heights with the communists' devastating Tet Offensive and the Americans' brutal My Lai Massacre.

Pictured: American soldiers burn a Viet Cong base in My Tho on April 5, 1968.
NATIONAL ARCHIVES/AFP/Getty Images

Viet Cong Holding Bazooka
A female Viet Cong soldier fires an anti-tank missile during a fight in the southern Cuu Long delta during the Tet Offensive.

The surprise attack on nearly 100 targets in South Vietnam marked a turning point in favor of the communists.
AFP/Getty Images

Soldiers Sitting At Frontlines
American soldiers at the frontlines during Operation Hue City in early 1968.NATIONAL ARCHIVES/AFP/Getty Images

Soldiers In Lotus Field
Viet Cong fighters take position in a lotus field as they prepare to ambush American troops stationed in South Vietnam.AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Interrogation Of Viet Cong Prisoner
American forces interrogate a Viet Cong prisoner near Thuong.Wikimedia Commons

White House Protest
With images and reports of the brutality in Vietnam making it back to the U.S., many Americans turned against the war -- and took to the streets to protest.

Pictured: Demonstrators rally outside the White House.
AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Protester Holding Flower
A female demonstrator offers a flower to military police on guard at the Pentagon during an anti-Vietnam demonstration.Wikimedia Commons

Protesters In Dc
Military police officers hold back protesters during their sit-in at the Mall Entrance to the Pentagon.Wikimedia Commons

Protester Dragged Away
U.S. Marshals remove a protester from demonstrations at the Pentagon.Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco Protest
Mounted policemen watch over protesters in San Francisco.Wikimedia Commons

Paris Protests 1968
Protests raged overseas as well, especially in Paris in May 1968 (pictured). These protests were driven by leftist students and striking workers who brought the country to a halt and to the brink of socialist revolution. Ultimately, the government called for new legislative elections and the protests quieted down.-/AFP/Getty Images

Tank In Prague
Elsewhere in Europe in 1968, liberal leadership in Czechoslovakia attempted to loosen overarching Soviet restrictions on human rights including free speech and travel. Clashes between protesters and Soviet forces reached a fever pitch when the latter invaded on August 20 and countless demonstrators took to the streets to fight back.

In the end, Soviet forces withdrew and granted Czechoslovakia some freedoms, but the country nevertheless remained under Soviet control, with future leaders tightening back up the restrictions that had been briefly loosened in 1968.
AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Bay Of Pigs
Taken in April 1961, this photo shows a group of Cuban counter-revolutionaries after their capture in Cuba. The members of this group, Assault Brigade 2506, were part of a failed C.I.A.-sponsored invasion of Cuba known as the Bay of Pigs operation.MIGUEL VINAS/AFP/Getty Images

Alan Shepard
Rear Admiral Alan Bartlett "Al" Shepard Jr. right before takeoff in May 1961.

Shepard became the first American, and the second person ever, to travel into space. He was also the first to manually control a spacecraft.
Wikimedia Commons

Rfk Assassination
On June 5, 1968, Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Senator Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles. The killer, a Palestinian/Jordanian immigrant, is believed to have carried out his plot in response to Kennedy's support of Israel in the country's Six-Day War with Egypt, Jordan, and Syria the year before.

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy five years earlier, many took the killing of his brother as a sign that, by 1968, the U.S. had truly reached its breaking point.
Wikimedia Commons

Black Power Salute
American athletes Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) raise gloved fists during the American national anthem just after receiving their Olympic medals in Mexico City on Oct. 17, 1968. The gesture, widely interpreted as a Black Power salute, was meant to express their opposition to racism in the U.S.-/AFP/Getty Images

Hair Musical
The cast of the musical production Hair rehearse at the Porte Saint-Martin in Paris on April 22, 1969.

Soon after debuting in 1967, the revolutionary production -- noted for its controversial use of rock music, its embrace of the sexual revolution, and portrayal of drug use -- became a cultural touchstone of the era whose legacy lives on to this day.
STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Stonewall Riots
Police clash with patrons following a raid on New York's Stonewall Inn, a bar well known for catering to the LGBT community, on June 28, 1969.

Decades of LGBT mistreatment helped fuel what transpired at Stonewall. Soon after the riots, activist groups formed in New York and around the country, and today the event is widely recognized as the start of the LGBT rights movement in the U.S.
Wikimedia Commons

Flag On The Moon
On July 20, 1969, following a space race that had pitted the world's superpowers against each other for more than a decade, the U.S. became the first and only country to put a person on the moon.

Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edward "Buzz" Aldrin (pictured) walked the surface of the moon for two minutes and 34 seconds -- and in that brief time, made history like few others before or since.
NASA/AFP/Getty Images

Aldrin On The Moon
Buzz Aldrin photographed on the moon's surface by Neil Armstrong, who is visible in the reflection of Aldrin's visor.Wikimedia Commons

Woodstock Hippies 1969
Perhaps the 1960s' most defining moment -- at least culturally -- came very near the decade's end.

The Woodstock Music & Art Fair ran from Aug. 15 to Aug. 18, 1969, but its impact reverberates to this day.
Wikimedia Commons

Crowd At Woodstock
What was supposed to be a music festival of no more than 50,000 people turned into a sprawling affair that brought together more than 400,000 — and helped define this tumultuous decade.Wikimedia Commons

It almost goes without saying that the 1960s were a time of tremendous upheaval. Vietnam, civil rights, the Cold War, changing fashions, the space race, Woodstock — certainly a lot to pack into one decade.

Not surprisingly, then, the 1960s is also one of the most commemorated and photographed decades ever. See 50 iconic photos that encapsulate this storied decade in the gallery above.


Next, stay in the 1960s with Woodstock photos that will wake you back to 1969 and amazing images of San Francisco at the height of hippie power. Then, discover the history of hippie culture.

All That's Interesting
All That's Interesting is a Brooklyn-based digital publisher that seeks out the stories to illuminate the past, present, and future.