1961 (MCMLXI, in Roman numerals) was a common 20th century year that began on a Sunday, according to the Gregorian calendar. Its Sunday letter was A. Shrove Tuesday took place on February 14th and Easter Sunday on April 2nd. According to the Chinese horoscope, it was the year of the Ox, starting on February 15th.
World Year of the Seed.
January 3 – The United States cuts diplomatic ties with Cuba, two years after Fidel Castro assumed power on the island.
January 17 – Patrice Lumumba, Zaire's independence leader, is assassinated.
January 20 – John F. Kennedy is sworn in as President of the United States.
February 26 – A US emissary goes to Brazil to ask for support from President Jânio Quadros for military action against Cuba.
March 15 – The União dos Povos de Angola (UPA), led by Holden Roberto, carries out a tribal attack on farms and villages in northern Angola, leading to a massacre of white populations and black workers from other regions of Angola. These attacks start what would come to be known as the Portuguese Colonial War.
April 12 – Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man to go into space.
April 17 – Beginning of the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba by CIA-funded Cuban exiles; ended unsuccessfully two days later.
April 25 — Foundation of Eletrobras.
April 27 – Sierra Leone gains independence from the United Kingdom.
May 25 – US President John F. Kennedy announces the project to send a man to the Moon later that decade.
August 13 – The Berlin Wall begins to be erected.
August 25 – After crises, Jânio Quadros resigns as president of Brazil.
September 7 – João Goulart takes office as president of Brazil.
October 30 – USSR tests the Tsar Bomba, the largest atomic bomb to be detonated in history, in the Arctic Ocean.
November 23 – Aerolíneas Argentinas Flight 322 crashes after taking off from Viracopos Airport in Campinas, Brazil, killing 52.
December 17 – Tragedy of the Gran Circus Norte-Americano, arson in a circus leaves 500 dead in Niterói, Brazil; 150 animals also died.
December 19 – Indian Union troops occupy the Portuguese State of India.
July 1 – Diana, Princess of Wales (d. 1997)
August 4 – Barack Obama, President of the United States from 2009 to 2017.
August 21 – Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants (d. 2018)
November 19 – Meg Ryan, American actress and producer.
December 24 – Ilham Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan since 2003.
January 17 – Patrice Lumumba, Zaire's independence leader (b. 1925).
February 9 – Carlos Luz, Brazilian politician 19th President of Brazil in 1955 (b. 1894).
February 26 – Mohammed V, King of Morocco (b. 1909).
May 13 – Gary Cooper, American actor (b. 1901).
July 2 – Ernest Hemingway, American writer (b. 1899)
July 15 – Anselmo Alliegro, president of Cuba in 1959 (b. 1899).
September 17 – Adnan Menderes, Turkish Prime Minister ousted in a military coup
September 18 – Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize 1961. (b. 1905)
October 19 – Sergio Osmeña, president of the Philippines from 1944 to 1946 (b. 1878)
October 30 – Luigi Einaudi, president of Italy from 1948 to 1955 (b. 1874).
Physics — Robert Hofstadter, Rudolf Ludwig Mössbauer
Chemistry — Melvin Calvin
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – Georg von Békésy
Literature — Ivo Andric
Peace — Dag Hammarskjold
Epact and Moon Age