Originally created 08/08/99

A look at the 20th Century: 1961



At age 43, John F. Kennedy became the youngest president of the United States and the first Roman Catholic ever to hold that office.

His youth and personal elegance, and his glamorous wife, captivated Americans and the rest of the world. His promise to send an American to the moon by the end of the decade and the overall sense of expectation that he fostered furthered his popularity.

It was 1961 and many said Kennedy's timing was perfect.

Studies of the graduating class of 1961 described a population possessed of an emerging impatience and a yearning for adventure.

The Kennedy administration in 1961 achieved accomplishments and made mistakes.

The president successfully appealed to young people by forming the Peace Corps of Young Americans, in which volunteers went abroad to aid developing countries in fields such as education, agriculture and health care.

In April, President Kennedy assumed full responsibility for the unsuccessful invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs by about 2,000 Cubans who had gone into exile after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.

The invaders believed they would have U.S. air and naval support and that the invasion would cause the people of Cuba to rise up and overthrow Castro's Communist regime.

The Eisenhower administration planned the Bay of Pigs attack -- training anti-Castro Cubans in Guatemala and obtaining permission from Nicaraguan leader Anastasio Somoza to launch the invasion from Puerto Cabezas on Nicaragua's coast. After taking office in January 1961, President Kennedy allowed the plan to go forward.

A few days after the invasion, Kennedy admitted it was a mistake. He refused to negotiate a settlement of America's differences with the Castro regime.

1961 proved to be a year of political turmoil and technological advances.

The Soviets won the man-in-space race April 12 by launching a young air force officer, Maj. Yuri Gagarin, into orbit aboard a space ship and bringing him back safely.

Less than a month later, America's first astronaut, Cmdr. Alan B. Shepard Jr., leaped 115 miles into space aboard a spacecraft named Freedom 7.

On July 21, astronaut Virgil "Gus" Grissom survived after his Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft splashed down in the ocean and sank in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Canaveral, Fla. The loss of the space capsule was a blow to scientists who had counted on a study of the complicated instruments on board.

After the Bay of Pigs disaster, tension mounted between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President Kennedy over Communist expansion. A Vienna conference in June 1961 raised questions about nuclear disarmament and a nuclear test ban.

Khrushchev embarked upon a series of challenges to Kennedy, including the testing of new and more destructive Soviet nuclear devices. The next year, Khrushchev would placed nuclear missiles in Cuba, aimed directly at the United States.

In August, East German police began building the 29-mile Berlin Wall to stop the tide of 1,000 refugees per day escaping from East Berlin to West Berlin. The wall was opened near the end of the Cold War as East Germany ended travel and emigration restrictions in 1989.

The United States proposed the Alliance for Progress to assist friendly Latin American countries and stem Communist influence.

The trial in Israel of accused German war criminal Adolf Eichmann made headlines. He was found guilty of being a key figure in the slaying of six million Jews in German death camps in World War II and later hanged.

Back home, civil rights leaders fought for racial integration of public facilities.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated interstate bus terminals were unconstitutional, a group of civil-rights activists calling themselves Freedom Riders traveled through the South in two buses challenging segregation of waiting rooms and restrooms in bus terminals between Washington and New Orleans.

On May 14, they were attacked by a mob outside Anniston, Ala. The first bus was set on fire and as passengers left the burning vehicle; some were beaten.

U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy -- the president's brother -- ordered police escorts for the riders and they continued to other cities.

Rioting erupted in Athens, Ga., when black students Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter -- who had just won a court battle for admission -- enrolled at the University of Georgia.

Despite protests, U.S. District Judge W.A. Bootle ordered the university to allow black students into all facilities at the University of Georgia.

Meanwhile, Augusta enjoyed prosperity in 1961.

Local retailers enjoyed a 2.4 percent gain in sales over 1960, nearly double the national average.

Tragedy struck Augusta on April 3, when fire ravaged the second floor of Augusta Museum on Telfair Street, destroying priceless relics, irreplaceable exhibits and precious records.

The Bon Air Hotel closed and there was talk of the Walton Way landmark becoming a retirement home.

Augusta lost many important public figures in 1961. They included baseball great Ty Cobb, 74, who lived in Augusta for 25 years. Judge Henry Hammond, a fixture in the community, died at 92.

Notable deaths around the world included U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was killed in a plane crash while en route to a meeting with Moise Tschombe, governor of the rebel province of Katanga in the Congo.

Author Ernest Hemingway committed suicide July 3 and actor Gary Cooper died May 13.

Diana, Princess of Wales, was born in 1961. So was actor Laurence Fishburne, who is originally from Augusta.

Popular songs were Love Makes the World Go Round, Moon River and Where the Boys Are.

The Oscars were given out in the spring for performances in 1960 films, with Elizabeth Taylor winning best actress for her role in Butterfly 8, and Burt Lancaster winning the best actor award for Elmer Gantry. Joseph Heller's Catch 22 was published, along with J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey.

Gary Player won the Masters Tournament after beating Arnold Palmer by a stroke. Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Golf Association Amateur. The New York Yankees defeated Cincinnati to win the World Series.

Coca-Cola Co. introduced Sprite to compete with 7-Up; Johnson & Johnson Co. introduced Tylenol, and Ray Kroc bought out the McDonald brothers to take over the McDonald's hamburger restaurant chain.

Time line

Jan. 4:

The United States severs relations with Cuba under new head of state, Fidel Castro.

Jan. 7:

A federal judge orders immediate racial integration of the University of Georgia.

Feb. 5:

Blanchard & Calhoun Real Estate Co. announces plans for a $1 million shopping center to be built at Washington and Berckmans roads.

Feb. 13:

Butler High School is dedicated on Lumpkin Road in Augusta.

April 3:

Fire destroys a portion of Augusta Museum on Telfair Street.

April 12:

The Soviet Union becomes the first nation to send a man into space by launching a rocket into Earth orbit carrying a young air force officer, Maj. Yuri Gagarin.

May 14:

The Freedom Riders are attacked by a mob outside Anniston, Ala. The first bus was set on fire and as passengers left the burning vehicle; some were beaten.

May 26:

President John F. Kennedy calls for America to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

July 3:

Author Ernest Hemingway, who wrote The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms commits suicide.

July 18:

Former Augusta resident Ty Cobb, who played professional baseball, dies at age 74.

Aug. 28:

More than 10,000 people attend the dedication of Augusta's new municipal docks at Fifth Street. It was announced in December that local port facilities would be doubled at a cost of $500,000.

Oct. 1:

Baseball star Roger Maris hit home run No. 61 to beat the legendary Babe Ruth's home-run record of 60.

Katie Throne can be reached at (706) 823-3332 or katie.throne@augustachronicle.com.