United States and American History: Early 1966

About the history of the United States in 1966, Timothy Leary talks about LSD, Ralph Nader publishes Unsafe at Any Speed, anti-Vietnam sentiment grows, the move from Black rights to Black Power.


--Use of consciousness-altering drugs, particularly marijuana and LSD, gained national attention. In May, LSD was the object of Senate hearings and a Federal prohibition. In September, Dr. Timothy Leary, an early LSD researcher and later a proselytizer of its use, founded the League for Spiritual Discovery, trying unsuccessfully to legalize LSD and marijuana as religious sacraments. While accurate estimates on LSD use do not exist, Federal authorities put marijuana users at over 8 million by 1970.

--In 1966, a record 52,500 Americans died and 9 million were injured in traffic accidents. Ralph Nader, a young lawyer who published Unsafe at Any Speed late in 1965, was a leader in the fight for new safety regulations. General Motors hired investigators who questioned over 50 of Nader's friends and neighbors about his personal life in an effort to discredit him, but this served only to embarrass GM during Senate hearings.

Jan. 10 The Georgia legislature refused to seat Julian Bond, 25-year-old black pacifist and member of SNCC, for opposing U.S. Vietnam policy and expressing sympathy with draft resisters. He was reelected and on December 5, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled he must be seated since expressing his political views was his constitutional right.

Jan. 13 President Johnson nominated Dr. Robert Weaver to become the 1st black Cabinet member in U.S. history. Weaver, a Harvard graduate and head of the Housing and Home Finance Agency since 1961, became Secretary of the new Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) when, confirmed by the Senate January 17.

Apr. 19 Bill Russell was named coach of the Boston Celtics, becoming the 1st black coach of a major pro team. He led the Celtics to an NBA championship in 1967.

May Congressional opposition to the Vietnam War intensified as Senator Fulbright charged that the U.S. was "succumbing to the arrogance of power." President Johnson's 1st response was subdued, "not arrogance but agony"; but after another wave of antiwar protests, he called war critics "Nervous Nellies" and added, "If America's commitment is dishonored in Vietnam, it is dishonored in 40 other alliances we have made." Meanwhile, titular Republican leader Goldwater asked Fulbright to resign as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee for giving "aid and comfort to the enemy."

May 16 Stokely Carmichael was elected chairman of SNCC, beginning a shift from civil rights to "Black Power" in the black movement. The idea was for blacks to organize blacks into their own political groups--"to ask Negroes to get in the Democratic party is like asking Jews to join the Nazi party" (Carmichael)--and for whites to organize whites against racism if they wished. In July, CORE also endorsed "Black Power" and "self-defense," but the NAACP and the SCLC (Martin Luther King's group) rejected "Black Power" as a separatist movement.

June The U.S. escalated the Vietnam War by bombing Hanoi for the 1st time, bombing rail lines up to the Chinese border, and declaring that U.S. planes would pursue North Vietnamese planes into China. President Johnson said: "We must continue to raise the price of aggression at its source." Meanwhile, some students refused college degrees in protest to the war and 6,400 people, including 3,938 college faculty members, paid for a 3-page antiwar ad in The New York Times.

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