United States and American History: Early 1961

About the history of the United States in 1961, Cuba relations sour, the Bay of Pigs doesn't help, Kennedy forms the Peace Corps., first man in space, first plane hijacked, freedom riders ride.


Jan. 3 The U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Cuba after Cuba demanded the U.S. reduce its embassy staff to 11, claiming 80% of the staff were FBI and Pentagon spies. Two weeks later the U.S. forbade its citizens to travel to Cuba.

Feb. 7 Twenty-nine major electrical firms, including General Electric and Westinghouse and 44 of their executives, were convicted of rigging bids and fixing prices in the sale of $1.75 billion of heavy electrical equipment per year. The corporations were fined $1,787,000 and GE was successfully sued for almost $8 million by the Federal Government and New York State. Seven of the executives got 30-day jail terms, 23 received suspended sentences. Sentencing Judge Garvey said the defendants had, "flagrantly mocked the image of that economic system of free enterprise which we profess ... and destroyed the model we offer today as a free world alternative to state control and eventual dictatorship."

Mar. 1 By Executive Order, President Kennedy created the Peace Corps, sending American volunteers to meet "urgent needs for skilled manpower" in underdeveloped countries and to "live at the same level as the citizens of the countries they are sent to." Over 1,000 were on the job in the West Indies and Africa by September when Congress appropriated $40 million for the program.

Apr. 12 The U.S.S.R. put the 1st man in space, Yuri Gagarin--one orbit, 108 minutes.

Apr. 17 In an attempt to "liberate" Cuba, 1,500 Cuban refugees landed at the Bay of Pigs. All were killed or captured by the Cuban armed forces within 3 days. They had been trained and armed in Guatemala by the CIA since May, 1960; but, as Secretary of State Rusk testified, all U.S. agencies involved had unanimously recommended the attack. In December, 1962, Cuba released 1,113 invaders and 922 of their relatives in exchange for $53 million in medical supplies and baby food.

May In a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, Federal Communications Committee chairman Newton Minow called TV "a vast wasteland" and threatened not to renew licenses unless there was more programing in the public interest. "I do not think the public taste is as low as some of you appear to believe."

May 1 A National Airlines plane bound for Miami was "hijacked" to Havana by an armed passenger. On September 5, President Kennedy signed a bill making hijacking a Federal crime punishable by prison or death.

May 4 Thirteen "Freedom Riders" left Washington, D.C., for New Orleans to test the desegregation of public facilities along the way. Between May 15 and 20 the Freedom Riders, now 2 buses strong, were attacked in 3 cities in Alabama. One bus was firebombed in Anniston, the other was met in Birmingham by 40 "toughs" who beat the passengers with pipes for 10 minutes before police came. Continuing to Montgomery, the Riders were attacked by a mob of 1,000. A police commissioner watching from across the street said, "We have no intention of standing guard for a bunch of troublemakers coming into our city." That day President Kennedy dispatched 350 Federal marshals to protect the Riders as interstate travelers. On May 21, the National Guard was called in when a black church meeting was besieged by 1,000 whites. On May 23, 2 buses of Riders accompanied by marshals resumed their trip to Jackson, Miss., where all 27 were arrested for entering a "white" washroom and failure to obey officers.

The Freedom Ride movement grew with "Freedom Flights" and "Freedom Trains," and by the end of June, 163 Freedom Riders had been convicted in Jackson.

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