Originally created 08/07/99

A look at the 20th Century: 1960



There was no warning that mild winter Friday of the things that lay ahead. The year 1960 dawned with unbridled optimism for peace and prosperity in Augusta and across the country. Before the year was out, however, it would bring events foreshadowing a decade marked as one of the most explosive times of social upheaval and radical change since the Civil War.

But on Jan. 1, 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, vacationing in Augusta, summoned his top budget officials here to talk about a possible $2 billion surplus despite the possibility that spending could increase to a peacetime record $81 billion that year.

In Moscow, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev suggested that his country begin dismantling its armed forces in a ploy to force the West to begin its own disarmament. Before the year was out, that hope would be dashed.

In the Orange Bowl, the University of Georgia Bulldogs -- led by All-American guard Pat Dye of Augusta with North Augusta standout Charley Britt -- crushed the University of Missouri Tigers 14-0.

That morning The Augusta Chronicle carried an editorial raising hopes that the "Frantic Fifties" be succeeded by the "Soaring Sixties." Augusta civic leaders -- from Mayor Millard A. Beckum to then-state senator and future governor Carl Sanders -- looked to a newly deepened Savannah River channel to bring in heavy industry.

"I believe we will see vast industrial development with industries lining the Savannah River, using the channel for receiving and distributing freight," Mr. Sanders said. Instead, a newly constructed "superhighway bridge" over the Savannah River connecting Augusta with Aiken County opening later that year would be the harbinger of industry to come.

In Washington, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy readied plans to announce his run for the presidency and a hard primary fight for the Democratic nomination. Before year's end, he would become its biggest story and renew hopes for a new golden age in America. And with Ike's last presidential visit on Dec. 9, Augusta would lose its status as "the vacation White House."

Industry was booming, however, as the Continental Can plant opened and hired hundreds. Georgia Gov. Ernest Vandiver broke ground on Port Augusta, a $500,000 state barge terminal to be completed in three years to take advantage of a newly dredged river channel. Both Medical College of Georgia and then-Augusta College were scheduled to undergo $800,000 building expansions.

The city and Richmond County governments signaled a new era of cooperation by working together to open the new $1 million home of the Augusta Library in the old City Hall building at Ninth and Greene streets. The new $1 million Butler High School also opened.

The city moved to begin its second urban-renewal program, expected to cost $1.275 million, and extended Walton Way from 13th Street to Calhoun Street.

The Gordon Highway "superhighway" bridge opened at a cost of $1.19 million. The county spent $5,600 to move toward fluoridating its water for the first time. Civic leaders ended the year hopeful for even more progress next year.

But international events overshadowed the local hubris and would presage trouble for years to come. While Khrushchev and Eisenhower met in a summit in Paris, a Soviet missile shot down an American U2 spy plane deep in the Soviet heartland.

The pilot, Francis Gary Powers, parachuted to safety but was captured, tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Khrushchev ended the peace summit with a tirade of table-thumping while an embarrassed Eisenhower limped back to Washington. Khrushchev would follow up his antics by pounding his shoe on his desk to interrupt a speech at the United Nations.

Even worse for American fortunes, Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro openly aligned himself with the Soviet Union and Communism, confiscating U.S. property in Cuba and turning the former island playground into a hostile force 90 miles from American shores.

Black college students began sit-ins at lunch counters across the South, protesting racial segregation laws. Despite taunts and occasional violence, their actions furthered the civil-rights cause that will also mark the greatest change in the decade.

Actor Clark Gable died in 1960 and his death was heralded as the end of an era.

It is Kennedy, however, who dominated the news at year's end. Despite being a Roman Catholic from the Northeast, he scored surprising wins in the West Virginia and California primaries, besting Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson at the Democratic convention and then accepting Johnson as a running mate.

The youthful, charismatic Kennedy provided a stark contrast to the savvy but charm-challenged Republican nominee, Vice President Richard Nixon. Their televised debates also signaled a watershed in American politics: Americans who watched the debates on television saw a dark-bearded, scowling Nixon and gave the edge to Kennedy; those who listened to the debates on radio thought Nixon won.

In an election decided by the narrowest of margins, Kennedy won and ended eight years of Republican rule. For the third election in a row, Augusta voted Republican and gave Nixon a 2,000-vote edge.

Tom Corwin can be reached at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.