United States and American History: Late 1961

About the history of the United States in late 1961, the Berlin Wall goes up, Marris breaks the home run record, America steps up Vietnam support, arrests in Montgomery, Alabama.


Summer The Berlin crisis. Soviet Premier Khrushchev gave Western powers an ultimatum: to sign a German peace treaty by the end of the year or else the U.S.S.R. would sign a separate treaty with East Germany not recognizing Western occupation of West Berlin. The U.S., France, and Britain reaffirmed their determination to stay in Berlin as both sides built up their armed forces. The U.S.S.R. backed down on the treaty, but on August 13 East Germany began to build the Berlin Wall, closing access from East to West Berlin and blocking the path of refugees to the West.

Oct. 2 Roger Maris of the New York Yankees hit his 61st home run in the 162nd and last game of the season, breaking Babe Ruth's 154-game 1927 record.

Nov. 13 Pablo Casals gave a recital at the White House at the special request of the President, highlighting Kennedy's efforts to promote government patronage of the arts. Previously cellist Casals had refused to play in the U.S. because of U.S. aid to Spain.

Nov. 16 The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art paid a record $2.3 million for Rembrandt's Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer.

Dec. 11 The 1st 2 U.S. military companies arrived in South Vietnam, including 32 helicopters and 4,000 men. They were assigned to Vietnamese units, but remained under U.S. order to fire only if fired on. In October and November the U.S. had accelerated its military aid to South Vietnam, on October 29 President Kennedy wrote South Vietnamese President Diem, "The U.S. is determined to help Vietnam preserve its independence, protect its people against communist assassins and build a better life."

Dec. 12-16 In Montgomery, Ala., 737 were arrested in a march on city hall protesting the trials of 11 Freedom Riders. Black groups organized a boycott of the city's white merchants. On December 18, the city and black groups reached a "peace agreement" in which public facilities were desegregated and charges reduced in return for ending the protests and boycott.

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