Activism and Service

The 1960s was a decade of social and political change as Americans questioned inequalities that existed for minority populations. Civil rights activists participated in marches and sit-ins, migrant farmworkers organized boycotts and strikes and feminist organizations pushed for rights in the workplace. In addition, the emphasis on humanitarian service, both local and worldwide, was instrumental in the pursuit of equality and freedom for all.

The Day They Marched, 1963
Published soon after the March on Washington, this book captures the spirit and unity of organizers and participants of the largest civil rights demonstration in the nation’s history. (Transfer from Smithsonian Libraries)

March on Washington program, 1963
August 28, 1963, was a day of speeches, songs, prayers, and protest on the National Mall. This program lists the order of events at the Lincoln Memorial on that historic day. (Gift of A. Philip Randolph Institute)

Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1962
Through her research and writings, biologist and author Rachel Carson raised public awareness of the toxic effects of chemical pesticides on the environment. (Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery)

Silent Spring, 1962
Although criticized as unscientific by chemical companies, Rachel Carson’s bestselling book warning of the dangers of the unrestricted use of chemical pesticides led to significant industry changes.

Time magazine, July 5, 1963
President John F. Kennedy encouraged Americans to serve their country by volunteering to work in developing nations to promote peace. He established the Peace Corps by executive order in 1961. (Transfer from the Peace Corps)

Medical kit, 1960s
Kits containing instructional health guides and basic first aid supplies and medicine were issued to Peace Corps volunteers in preparation for their service overseas. (Transfer from the Peace Corps)

United Farm Workers poster, Mid-1960s
UFW leader Cesar Chavez organized a nationwide boycott against California grape growers demanding higher wages and better living and working conditions for migrant farm workers.

Short-handled hoe, 1936
A goal of the 1960s farm workers’ movement was to improve working conditions. As a result of this activism, the use of back-breaking, short-handled hoes like this one, used by the Cesar Chavez family, was abolished in California in 1975. (Gift of Rita Chavez Medina)

Record album, 1964
Billy Graham, the well-known Christian evangelist, promoted the idea of the fifth dimension of the human spirit in his film and record presented at the 1964 New York World’s Fair pavilion.  (Bequest of Larry Zim)

“The Rev. Billy and Ruth Graham” medal, 1996
This medal recognizes the Graham North Carolina Children’s Health Center, inspired by Ruth Graham’s missionary father. It also memorialized the Graham family’s humanitarian work. (Government Transfer, U.S. Department of the Treasury, U.S. Mint)

The Feminine Mystique, 1963
Betty Friedan’s book was instrumental in the rise of a new wave of feminism in mid-20th century America by confronting beliefs and systems that limited women’s roles in society. (Gift of Patricia J. Mansfield)

NOW button, 1960–1970
The National Organization for Women, formally established in 1966, focused on equal rights and opportunities for women in education and employment and access to contraception. (Gift of Willna Uebrick-Pachel)