In 1963 the country is racially divided. Americans are living through the height of the Cold War. They find hope in the words of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, then hopes are dashed when the president is assassinated.
It was a year filled with more than its share of memorable, remarkable moments. The population of the world was 3.2 billion, less than half what it is today. Postage stamps cost 5 cents and push-button phones were technologically advanced.
Looking back at this tumultuous year, here are a few high and low points:
Jan. 11: The Beatles release “Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why” in the United Kingdom, their second single to hit No. 1. Beatlemania may be a year away, but the band is now a household name.
April 3: The Birmingham Campaign is launched. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference join forces with Birmingham’s local movement in a massive direct action to attack segregation in the Alabama city, putting pressure on the city’s business owners during the busy Easter shopping season. Hundreds were arrested during lunch counter sit-ins, marches on City Hall and a boycott of downtown businesses.
April 12: King is arrested on Good Friday for protesting in Birmingham. Kept in solitary confinement for nine days, King pens the famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a backbone document of the civil rights movement. It defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism. King argues that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws.
May 15: The Mercury Atlas 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. It was the final manned space mission of the U.S. Mercury program and completed 22 Earth orbits before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
June 10: President John F. Kennedy delivers the commencement address at American University in Washington, D.C., describing his vision for world peace in an age of nuclear threats.
June 11: In an image made famous by a news photographer, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death on a Saigon street to protest alleged persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government.
June 11: The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door took place at the University of Alabama when Gov. George Wallace symbolically attempted to stop desegregation and keep his inaugural promise of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” President Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard, and 100 guardsmen escorted two black students, Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood, inside to register, after their commander issued the order to “step aside.”
June 12: Civil rights activist and veteran Medgar Evers, who was involved in efforts to overturn desegregation at the University of Mississippi, was shot and killed outside his home by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council.
June 26: President Kennedy gives his famous “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” speech in front of the Berlin Wall while visiting West Berlin. In the speech criticizing communism and the Soviets who controlled East Berlin, Kennedy said, “Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in.”
Page 2 of 2 - July 19: In a breakthrough in cardiac medicine, Dr. Michael Debakey installs the first artificial heart pump to assist a patient’s damaged heart in Houston. The patient died of complications four days later.
Aug. 5: After eight years of discussions, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union sign the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
Aug. 28: More than 250,000 black and white Americans gather on the National Mall for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a key moment in the growing struggle for civil rights. A joyous day of speeches, songs and prayers, the day climaxed with King’s soaring “I Have A Dream” speech.
Aug. 30: Kennedy becomes the first U.S. president to have a direct phone line to the Soviet Union. This “hot line” was designed to facilitate communication between the United States president and Soviet premier.
Sept. 15: Four little girls are killed and 22 injured when an explosion strikes Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church before morning services. Outrage over the horrific attack helps turn the tide of public support for civil rights. Four members of the Ku Klux Klan were named responsible for planting a box of dynamite under the steps of the church; three of the four were tried and convicted.
Oct. 11: National Security Action Memorandum No. 30 is signed, indicating a 1,000-man withdrawl from Vietnam. Historians point to this memo to show that JFK planned to withdraw from Vietnam at the time of his death.
Nov. 1: South Vietnam President Ngo Diem is deposed in a coup and executed the next day. The Kennedy administration knew about the coup, but did not try and stop it.
Nov. 22: President Kennedy is assassinated as his motorcade drives into Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald is accused of the crime. Two days later he is shot in the stomach and killed by nightclub owner Jack Ruby as he is being transferred through the underground garage of Dallas police headquarters. Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency of the United States.