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Myths of the 1960s

Myth 1: Social movements and protests were rebellious and meaningless, or were a phase that young people would eventually outgrow.

In fact, many of the movements of the 1960s resulted in profound social change. The movements brought awareness to issues such as racism, patriarchal privilege, and abuses of power on the institutional level. 1960s social movements also resulted in a number of cultural changes, including changes to music which are still prevalent today. 


Myth 2: The Black Panthers were all misogynistic and homophobic.

In truth, the Black Panthers were often supportive of feminism and gay rights. Although there were some chapters of the Black Panthers that emphasized traditional gender roles, this was certainly not true for all chapters of the Black Panthers. Often, the Black Panthers encouraged the involvement of women in their cause, and in some ways, the gay rights movement identified and united with the Black Panthers in their cause.


Myth 3: The Black Panthers were thugs.

Although the Black Panthers advocated for the use of militancy for self-defense, and often featured violent rhetoric in their newspaper, the Black Panthers also used nonviolent means to further their cause (see “Nonviolent Activisms”). Also, it has been argued that their rhetoric was a reaction to the militant voice of white supremacist groups and to the shootings of unarmed African Americans by police.


Myth 4: Racism ended because of the Civil Rights movement.

Although the Civil Rights and Black Power movements certainly achieved much progress in terms of social change regarding racism, there are still everyday instances of racism on both individual and institutional levels.


Myth 5: In the 1960s, everybody was a hippie.

While there certainly were a number of counterculturalists, there were also those who held “conservative” viewpoints and worked against the emerging movements. Hippies and other members of counterculture were reacting to traditional ideals and attempting to forge new pathways to change what they deemed to be oppressive social attitudes.


Myth 6: All drug users were hippies.

While counterculture largely involved the recreational and experimental use of drugs, there were many different kinds of participants. Some university professors were avid drug enthusiasts, contributing to the discourse of drug culture with academic writings. These scholars discussed the benefits of exploring human consciousness through the use of mind-altering substances.


Myth 7: All second-wave feminists were angry, bra-burning lesbians.

In fact, the female liberation movement was largely made of white, middle-class housewives and activists frustrated with the lack of women’s voices in other New Left movements. A new form of identity politics grew out of women sharing their experiences of being confined to the home or harassed in the work place.


Myth 8: Only white women participated in the feminist movement.

African American women and women of other ethnicities were marginalized and are often left out of historical narratives of second-wave feminism. However, that does not mean that black women were not actively working toward feminist goals. Black women in particular were fighting for their rights as both African Americans and women well before the women's liberation movement began. In fact, the Black Panther Party, as noted above, supported the advancement of black women, sometimes more than other New Left or Marxist movements led largely by white men.


Myth 9: Birth control led to sexual anarchy.

Although mainstream publications in the sixties certainly gave a lot of attention to birth control and its potential for disrupting traditional family structures and values, these texts explicitly marketed and discussed birth control as an option for family planning purposes only. While sexual mores may have opened up somewhat compared to earlier decades, there was more to sex in the sixties than simple anarchy. Movements that helped to develop sexual expression included the hippie movement, youth and protest culture, counterculture, the female liberation movement, and the drug movement.


Myth 10: "Negro" folk music is exclusive to the American South.

During this decade the Library of Congress released albums of folk music from Brazil and Venezuela.  In the liner notes that accompanied these productions, the primary performers of the folk art were denoted as “negro” and “negroe,” respectively, despite their national identities. This illustrates that the black contribution to folk music was not confined to sorrow-infused spirituals and work songs sung in the Mississippi Delta. Rather, black music was world music, and vice versa.


Myth 11: The psychedelic movement was motivated only by pleasure.

Mass drug-use reached epidemic proportions during the sixties. This uncontrolled drug experimentation was often depicted by mainstream media as dangerous and chaotic. This is only a half-truth. In reality, some drug advocates, such as Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, were Harvard professors who conducted scientific experiments on the benefits of drugs for the treatment and management of psychological and mental disorders, as well as for alleviating pain and depression in terminal patients.