1960 – 1969: The Unsettled Years

The Aughts | 10′s | 20′s | 30′s | 40′s | 50′s | 60′s | 70′s | 80′s | 90′s


The United States

The apathy of the 1950′s disappeared in the 1960′s. When John F. Kennedy became President on January 21, 1961, a feeling of excitement and optimism permeated the country. His words “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” set the tome of idealism. People became so committed to causes that when the Peace Corps was created by executive order on March 1, 1961, more than eighteen thousand applied during the first year alone. The participation of Robert Frost in the inauguration ceremony, reading a poem he had written for the occasion, focused attention on the arts. The one thousand days of elegance and style at the Kennedy White Hose became known as Camelot. The New Frontier meant new opportunites and new freedoms. Change was in the air.

Then the unthinkable happened. On November 22, 1963, the charismatic young  President was assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas. People were horrified, and searched for an explanation. Assassination spread like a disease during the decade. On April 4, 1968, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed in Memphis; afterwards no single individual could unite the movement. The following June Robert Kennedy was hot while campaigning in Los Angeles. These senseless deaths robbed America of valuable leaders.

Lyndon Baines Johnson served as President from November 22, 1963, to January 20, 1969. A master politician who could get legislation through Congress, President Johnson set into motion the most ambitious program for social improvements since the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His Great Society included major civil rights  legislation and a war on poverty that included programs such as Headstart and Job Corps, but the mood of idealism was waning. Although President Johnson was swept back into office in 1964 by the largest plurality in American history, he choose not to run for reelection in 1968. The conflict that toppled a President was Vietnam.

President Kennedy

President Kennedy appeared in Miami on November 18, 1963,four days before his trip to Dallas. His campaign swing through the South also included a stop in Tampa. Photo courtesy of Florida State Archives

Anti-War activists called doves claimed that the conflict in Southeast Asia was a civil war; hawks supported the domino theory that if one country fell to Communism the entire area would fall. While President Truman had sent thirty-five military advisers to the area and Eisenhower had sent five hundred, President Kennedy had sent sixteen thousand men by 1962. After Congress gave President Johnson advance approval for action in Southeast Asia, he sent planes to bomb North Vietnam in 1964 in reaction to an attack on two U.S. destroyers. United States Marines became the first American combat troops in Vietnam numbered half a million men, and the war was costing the United States twenty-five billion dollars a year. Draft calls in 1966 were ten times higher that they had been in 1965, and blanket student deferments were abolished. Protests erupted on college campuses , and by 1968 ten thousand eligible Americans had emigrated to Canada. In anti-war rallies in Washington protesters chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many men have you killed today?” As the war dragged on and casualties mounted, a disheartened public realized that victory was unattainable. It seemed to be a war with no purpose and no end.

Other disturbing events in foreign affairs took place during this decade. In 1960 and American U-2 plane was shot down while spying over Soviet Union, and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev banged his shoe on the table at the United Nations to express his disapproval of America’s stand to bar communist China from that organization. In 1961 the communists erected a wall between East and West Berlin, and in June 1967 the Arab-Israeli war broke out. The problem closest to home, however, was that of Cuba. In 1960 Cuban Premier Fidel Castro strengthened Cuba’s ties with the Soviet Union. Alarmed by the existence of a communist-controlled country just ninety miles from Florid, the United Stats government broke off diplomatic relations in January  1961. In April it supported an attempt by Cuban exiles to liberate Cuba, the failed venture known as the Bay of Pigs. In 1962 the United States government discovered that Soviet missiles with nuclear warheads were being assembled in Cuba. President Kennedy refused to tolerate this threat, and for a week in October 1962, until Premier Krushchev agreed to remove the missiles, World War III was imminent. During the blockade of Cuba, naval bases at Key West, Jacksonville, and Pensacola were bristling with activity and secrecy. The country’s southernmost Strategic Air Command post located at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa stood ready alert, as did Florida’s National Guard. By November forty-two missiles had been removed from Cuba, but Americans wondered if there were more.


In the early 1960's,members of the NAACP marched on Tallahassee demanding equal rights. Although the crusade was based on nonviolence during the first part of the decade,after 1964 fifty-eight cities explode in riots. Photo courtesy of Florida State Archives

Domestic problems were also enormous. In August 1963 more than 200,000 people marched on Washington to demonstrate civil rights. The climax of this historic protest was Dr. Martin Luther King’s  ”I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. On July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act banning discrimination in public accommodations, jobs, and elections. At this time, under Dr King’s leadership, the crusade was one of nonviolence represented by sit-in’s and marches. Many blacks, however, were impatient for radical change, and in the second phase of the movement the leaders were angry men who advocated physical violence. In July of 1964 radical violence occurred in Harlem and Rochester, and in August of the next year 35 were killed and 883 injured in six days of rioting, looting, and burning in Watts, a black section of Los Angeles. In 1967 large areas of Newark and Detroit were destroyed, and order was not restored until National Guard troops were sent in. Between 1964 and 1967 fifty-eight cities exploded in riots, most of them spontaneous eruptions over some minor incident. The spirit of the movement had changed from “We Shall Overcome” to”Black Power.”

Two books of the decade had a major impact: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring launched the environmental movement, and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique  began the demand for the Equal Rights Amendment. Long hair for males and miniskirts were symbols of the flouting of the establishment. Haight-Ashbury became the capital of the hippie world, and marijuana a common drug. Sounds of the Beatles swept across America from 1963 on. From the bitter anti-war protest at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago to the peaceful love-in at Woodstock in 1969, Americans weathered turbulent times. The mood in the sixties moved from optimism to doubt to disenchantment, shifting between astonishing highs and shattering lows.

The success of the space program, however, provided respite from surrounding storms. In 1961 President Kennedy had said that man would reach the moon by the end of the decade, and his prediction came true on July 20, 1969. When President Nixon talked to Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin via satellite, he said, “For every American this has to be the proudest day of our lives.”



In the spring of 1960, Lakeland celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. The seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of the city was celebrated with a parade that included twenty-six bands and fifty-two floats, courier pigeons bringing messages from mayors in the vicinity, and a time capsule buried in Munn Park. The 1960 consensus reported Lakeland’s population as 41,350, and the 1970 consensus figure showed a population of 41,550. However, the population of the Greater Lakeland area, an extension of two miles from the city perimeter, increased from 61,350 in 1960 to 90,500 in 1970. Growth was in the suburbs. Even so, Lakeland still had a small-town atmosphere, and downtown was the place to be on Saturday mornings. Men would sit under trees and play checkers at Munn Park, and women would interrupt their shopping to by a hamburger at Harry’s on Pine Street. Shoppers at Publix knew everybody else in the store, and houses were left unblocked while families went to church. The area sotuth of the bowling alley on Florida Avenue was just pasture land, and the back road to Winter Haven was sand.

Some of Lakeland’s landmarks were changing. The railway passenger station, which had always been in the center of the town, was replaced in 1961 by a new terminal on the New Tampa Highway. Grove Park shopping center, with ten modern stores, had its grand opening on August 10, 1961, and Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando opened in 1962. Searstown was proposed in 1962, and in 1964 Attilio Puglisi started on the ten-thousand-square-foot tile mosaic called “The Garden of the World.” Laying the two and a half million hand-cut glass tiles took the artist six years.

In 1966 the public library moved to its new building on Lake Morton, a lot made vacant when Lake Morton Elementary School burned down in 1963. A faulty radiator caused the forty-nine-year-old school to be a total loss. In 1966 Joker Marchant Stadium was opened. It was named for the man who was director of Lakeland Parks and Recreation from 1946 to 1978, who accepted the dedication of the $412,000 stadium with these words: “Those of you who are eating peanuts, I sure hope you put the hulls in your pockets so we won’t have so much to clean-up.” On December 11, 1967, the Youth Museum opened with the exhibit ”Apollo- Manned Space Flight to the Moon, ” the old Peoples Bank building was on the corner of Main Street and Florida Avenue was obtained for the YMCA in 1968.

Joker Marchant Stadium

Joker Marchant Stadium opened in 1966 and became the spring training headquarters for the Detroit Tigers. From 1934 to 1966 the Tigers had played at Henley Field,sharing the facility with the Dreadnaughts and Florida Southern College. Photo courtesy of Lakeland Public Library

Two storms brought disaster to Lakeland during this decade. On September 9, 1960, Hurricane Donna, with winds clocked at 110 mph, smashed through Lakeland leaving an estimated $600,000 damage in the city and %6 million damage to the county. Winds howled for twelve hours, toppling trees and drowning electric lines. When electricity was restored eight days later, people ran into the streets cheering.Because of Donna, five days of school had to be made up. A killer tornado with winds estimated six hundred miles per hour ripped through Lakeland on April 4, 1966, leaving nine dead and more than one hundred injured in Polk County. Southeast Junior High School was so badly damaged that it could not re-open for a month. The roof was blown off the cafeteria, and the band portable was flipped over. Most of the injuries to students was caused by flying glass.

Lakeland did not escape the changes in race relations. In response to Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954, the Polk County school system increased expenditures on black schools were operated on a freedom of choice plan, but the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, newly created by President Johnson, threatened reduction of federal funds if integration did not proceed at an acceptable pace. School Superintendent Shelley B. Boone moved cautiously toward total integration, making many trips to the federal court in Tampa for progress evaluations. White and black teachers who had met separately before, met together. Black and white children interacted at a summer recreation program that included games, arts and crafts, and field trips. Although the federal judge ruled that Polk County’s plan was acceptable, most black residents did not agree. Even after the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, drinking foundations at Kress, McCrory, and J.C. Penney were still marked “White” and “Colored,” and restaurants were still segregated.

Drive-in restaurants

Drive-in restaurants were popular hang-outs in the sixties. Students cruised through attractions like Steak N Shake,Dog-n-Suds ,and A & W both to see and to be seen. Photo from Highlander

At Florida Southern the Fine Arts Series began in 1963, and George Jenkins Field House was dedicated in 1965.  The Lakeland Civic Symphony, later to be called Imperial Symphony Orchestra, was formed in 1965, the first city orchestra since Harry Mayhall’s public performances were discontinued in 1950. In the fall of 1964 a vocational school for high school students was opened at Bartow Air Force Base under the leadership on Maynard Traviss.  Students spent half the day at their local high school taking required courses and the other half in vocational program. In the 1960′s junior college program became popular in Florida because four-year schools were crowded to capacity. Polk Community College opened in 1965; by 1967 ninety thousand students were enrolled in Florida’s twenty-five junior colleges. Because of changes in the 1960′s, people in the Lakeland area had many more opportunities.


Lakeland High School

During this decade the enrollment at Lakeland High School grew from 1,640 in 1960-61 to more than 2,500 in 1969-70, an increase of more than fifty percent. No longer did all students attend the same junior high school.  With Southwest Junior High School opening during the 1956-67 school year and Crystal Lake in 1965, Lakeland High now had three feeder schools, including the old junior high school. Thus all students no longer knew each other, and many socialized with their friends from junior high. LHS had become a large institution. Even when the new Kathleen Senior opened in 1961, Lakeland High SChool was relieved of only 1962 in an effort to provide classroom space.

To accommodate the growing population, the administration set up a staggered starting schedule in the fall of 1960. Most seniors came to school at 7:30 a.m. to attend what was called zero period; they finished the school day at 12:30. Sophomores started first period at 8:30 and were the only group to have a study hall. Juniors started their five-period day at 9:30 and were dismissed at 3:00. No student was allowed on campus before his starting time. The following year administration were able to do away with zero period, but sophomores were the only group to have a six-period day. When the new cafeteria on the north side of campus with seating for 750 opened in 1965, administrators were able to schedule only two lunch periods instead of three, but conditions were still crowded. The most serious problem with overcrowding  occurred in 1969070 after Rochelle High School was closed and 251 black students were added to the already overcrowded conditions. That year the school resorted to staggered sessions. Upperclassmen went to school from 7:30 to 12:35 and the 950 sophomores went from 13:44 p.m. to 5:40 p.m.

The campus

The campus was so crowded that a staggered starting time was used at the beginning of the decade and double sessions at the end. In 1969-70 upperclassmen attended school from 7:30-12:35,and sophomores went to class from 12:44 to 5:40 p.m. Photo from the Highlander

Because the seating capacity of the gymnasium was limited to eighteen hundred students, not as many assemblies were held, and at those assemblies the behavior of the students was considered rude, according to editorials in the Bagpipe. Nevertheless, every fall there was a kickoff assembly for the Honor Crusade, a campaign against cheating waged during the entire decade. The goal was that every student make himself responsible for keeping both his own and the school’s honor. Another assembly dealt with smoking and lung cancer.  In the fall of 1961 students were informed that there would no linger be a smoking area on campus. No one could remember how an area for smokers got started; a few teachers thought it was to prevent students from going to their cars for a cigarette.

The routine of the school day was disrupted in 1961 and 1962 by the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1961 all Polk County teachers were required to take a civil defense course and many teachers got a chauffeur’s license so that more buses could be used for evacuation. In 1962 a procedure was established in case of a missile attack on MacDill Air Force Base. If there was a fifteen-minute warning of an attack on Tampa, students would leave on a pre-arranged  route. Sometimes in this drill hallways and roads were barricaded so that the students would have the challenge of finding another way home. If there was less than a ten-minute warning period, all students would stay. The school had enough food, water, and blankets to provide for the school community for three months. Many families built bomb shelters. By 1963, however, the worst fears were over.

In the spring of 1960 Lakeland High School prepared for the ten-year evaluation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. After a three-day observation period, the visiting committee declared that the overall program was rich in tradition and academics. They did recommend, though, that the office be enlarged, an assistant principal be hired, and teachers be given a planning period. On their last day, the committee members attended the senior class play, Teahouse of the August Moon. They said it was the best high school production they had ever seen.

In response to SACS recommendations and overcrowded conditions, a great deal of construction took place during the decade, most of it in 1964-65. In 1960 the school did get a new track designed by a coach from the University of Florida. By running a concession stand, the band raised two thousand dollars to air-condition its area. In the summer of 1964 construction was started on an administrative and guidance unit, a cafeteria, a science wing, and an addition to the library. The construction was to be finished in April, but by January progress came to a halt; the general contractor had declared bankruptcy. In the meantime, parking was a problem. The 1965 Highlander stated, “At the cost of $500,000 and disrupted classes, LHS is better prepared to meet the requirements of a technological world.” Construction was finished during the summer of 1965, and in the fall students were delighted with the air-conditioned additions. Later in the decade a social studies wing, agriculture building, and music building were added. The north parking lot was opened in 1965, and the driver’s education range in 1966. Despite all these additions, two more portables were added in 1968.

During the decade fifteen units in grades 10-12 were required for graduation: three in English, one in science, one in math, two in social studies, one in P.E., one-half in driver’s education, and for girls, one in homemaking. The legislature also required a non-credit course in Americanism vs. Communism. For six weeks seniors went to the Civic Center for one hour before the school day began to learn about the evils of communism. Eventually this course was incorporated into the the social studies curriculum. Some of the electives during the decade included four foreign languages (Latin, Spanish, French, and German), Bible literature, radio repair, and mechanical drawing. Honors classes were established in 1966 for academically talented students, but Advance Placement courses did not exist. In 1967, however, the first C.L.E.P. test was administered in the twelfth-grade honors English class, and a few students were able to “clep” six hours of college English, the first use of College Level Entry Program tests in the nation.

During this decade, many innovative programs were started in the social studies department. Miss Margaret Ward, department chairperson, added psychology to the curriculum in 1965. This was the first time it had been taught in Polk County. When space in the old cafeteria became available, she set up Studio 59 in conjunction with PBS, the first use of educational television in the county. This close-circuit system broadcast both PBS material and live programming that was student directed and edited. She also started Student Government Day, when students elected by their classmates assumed the role of city officials. During the first students-in-government day on November 8, 1966, Mayor John Woodall passed the gavel to Mayor James Turner, an LHS senior. Fifty-one other students participated in government that year, and more than one hundred in 1969. Miss Ward also took six greyhound busloads of students to the Kennedy Space Center each fall and as large a group in the spring to see the state legislature in action. Learning was not limited to the classroom.

The National Merit Scholarship program, founded by the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, started awarding scholarships to the most intellectually talented high school seniors in the country in 1955. Semi-finalists represented fewer than one percent of graduation seniors, and those whose test scores were so high that they became finalists represented the top one-half of one percent of high school seniors. Lakeland High School produced many winners in the 1960′s. During the 1960-61 school year LHS had six semi-finalists: Mary Love, Barnett Lewis, Joe Haseman, Larry McRae, Marilyn Smith, and Elizabeth White. In 1962-63 there were four: Howard Patrick, Ricky Stratton, Monty Williams, and Dick Kindred. During the 1965-66 school year Lakeland could boast five semi-finalists: Alan Biddle, Nelson Hoffman, David Matthews, John Moore, and Jon Middents. In 19666 there were five: Norwood Poland, Florence Hood, Justin Crom, Rick Steffen, and Donald Wood. The four semi-finalists in 1968-69 were Sara Fowler, Bitsy Prosser, Ed Vogel. and Rodney Williams. The 1969-70 school year produced five : Mary Ann Bellamy, Eric Berg, Wendell Kusnerus, Janice Neirman, and Douglas Walker. In 1966 the Honor Society started participating in Brian Brawl competition, and the library’s collection grew to 20,212 volumes. It was a good decade academically.

The popularity of clubs was firmly ingrained in life at Lakeland High School. In 1961 fourteen interest clubs such as Future Teachers and Art Guild, and ten service clubs, each having no more than thirty-five members, were on campus. The Latin Club was important and its Monday night movies popular. The service clubs made banners, ran Homecoming activities, decorated goal posts, sponsored dances, ushered for Lakeland Little Theater, and earned money for charities such as Cerebral Palsy Foundation. At the end of each year the achievements of the service clubs filled an entire page in the Bagpipe. Unfortunately, the service clubs were again resembling sororities and fraternities. New members were admitted by invitation only. Initiates were picked up in the middle of the night and subjected to some humiliation, such as being covered with raw egg and rolled in wet grass. The next day the initiate appeared at school in whatever condition the night had brought. These groups were secretive and clique-ish. During the decade some clubs passed quietly from the scene, and some were born. Governed by the Inter-Club Council, they were always important to the life of the school. Since few students had parttime jobs, there was a lot of time to participate in school events.

Classrooms were still not air conditioned. In the late spring students were sweaty and miserable. Conni Shelnut remembered that the lazy drone of fans spinning the sultry air lulled many into premature naps during sixth period, but the students would rally and go to Reececliff for a cherry coke right after school. She also remembered eating bag lunches on picnic tables in an orange grove east of the cafeteria. Each day at noon the same train and engineer would pass, the whistle being his signal. “We felt some sort of kinship with him and his train- we were all locked into a daily schedule we couldn’t escape.”

An important activity every year was the senior class play. Directed by Miss Hazel Haley until 1967, selections during this decade included Diary of Anne Frank and Mr. Roberts. These semi-professional productions established the drama program at LHS as a model for other schools around the state. In 1968 for the first time the school presented a musical, Annie Get Your Gun, directed by Mrs. Sue Livingston (Bridgers). The Calender Girl Contest was a prestigious event, with contestants judged on etiquette, personality, charm, poise, posture, and beauty. Girls were introduced to the judges at a formal tea at the Woman’s Club. The final judging was evening gown competition at the cafeteria. TWIRP Season was an annual event, a frantic two-week whirl culminating in the Sadie Hawkins Dance. One year there was a Grand Prix tricycle race, a fifteen-minute endurance contest with proceeds going to charity. Spring break increased in importance after the film Where the Boys Are was released in 1960. Although Clearwater was a favorite destination, Daytona became the most popular site after 1962. It was a time for fun, relaxation, and good memories.

The Teen Midway was inadequate to meet the needs of the growing youth population. Even after the Bamboo Room, a night club for teens, was opened in 1964, it was not as vital as it once had been. Many of the dances following football games were still held there, however. Friday night football games were a must, and a cruising through the parking lots at Grigg’s Steakette or Dog-n-Suds was a favorite activity. Reececliff had curb service, and at Steak N Shake the waitresses served on roller skates. To watch the “Submarine races,” students frequently parked around Lake Hollingsworth, which in the sixties had no sidewalk. Even though a carload of students could attend the Lakeland Drive-in for one dollar, many students still hid in the trunk. For most the weekend consisted of a Friday night movie, a Saturday night movie, and a church activity on Sunday.

Homecoming was the premier occasion of the fall. During the 1960′s it meant decorated cars for the parade and Drag Night with the skits to campaign for a candidate. The king and queen were crowded at Drag Night so that their reign would be longer. The dance was held at the Lakeland Mirror Civic Center, and the attire was church dress and big mum corsages, all corsages looking identical. The next major dance was the Snow Ball, usually with a theme of Winter Wonderland. Miss Merry Christmas and Mr. Happy New Year were crowned on this occasion, with the royalty selected by the senior class. This semi-formal ball was usually held at the Ordway Arts Building at Florida Southern College. The Sadie Hawkins Dance was held at the Lake Mirror Civic Center and was the culmination of Twirp Season. The most gala affair of the year, the one for which juniors canvassed the community selling magazines, was the Junior-Senior Reception in the Spring. The Ordway Arts Building was decorated by the juniors. In 1961 the theme was King Arthur’s Court. Flaming torches lit the way to the receiving line; guests then crossed a drawbridge and entered a long hall adorned with flags and pictures of knights. On the patio were three maypoles and an antique well. In 1962 the theme was An Oriental Teahouse, and in 1964 a Mardi Gras theme was used. Groups of students would have dinner until midnight, and then have breakfast between 12 and 2. It was not an all-night affair.

One scheduled dance never took place. On November 22, 1963, students were stunned to hear a voice over the intercom announce the fatal shooting of President John F. Kennedy. Students cried or sat quietly in disbelief. The 1964 Highlander reported, “What was meant to be a glorious Homecoming at LHS was by this tragedy turned into Black Friday.” Since it was too late to cancel, the football game was played, but evidently without enthusiasm, as the scored of that Plant vs. Lakeland game was 0-0. A long prayer preceded the game, and a somber crowd went home in a daze.

During the 1960′s the band was fortunate in having a talented director, Mr. Robert Blanton, formerly a Lakeland Junior High, who brought many of his students with him. When Crystal Lake Junior High opened, its band director, Mr. Tom MacDonald, was a Pied Piper in attracting new musicians. With band students coming from three feeder schools, the band consisted of more than ninety members each year. The LHS Band went to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C. in 1964 and the Mardi Gras festival in New Orleans in 1966. It did wonderful half-time shows at football games and participated in the Gasparilla parade. Mr. Blanton was a music educator who stressed music appreciation. His band won a Superior rating at district competition every year, but a Superior rating at the state level eluded him. The chorus, however, did receive Superior ratings in state competition. Under the direction of Mr. Robert Boulware, one hundred thirty students were members of either girl’s chorus, mixed chorus, male quartet, pop choir, or madrigal group.

The three publications continued to be award winning. The Tam O’Shanter received a First Class honor rating from the National Scholastic Press Association in 1961 and All-american rating in 1963 and 1964. In 1969 photography was included in the publication for the first time. In 1965 the Florida Scholastic Press Association chose the Bagpipe over one hundred ninety other Florida high school papers for superior achievement in high school journalism. In 1960 Susan Bryant used her Bagpipe press card to advantage: she and her sister Sally were able to shake hands with John F. Kennedy in Tampa and even get a picture. The Highlander, which won six top awards in the 1950′s, no longer was entered into national competition. During the 1960′s the price for this expanding volume increased from $4.50 in 1961 to $6 in 1969. In 1968 the Highlander was published in a larger format, and in 1969 one color picture was used in the front section.


1889 - 2016
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