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Discuss the impact of the Civil Rights movement on other movements for social change in the 1960s.

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What cultural conflicts emerged in the 1990s?
What were the major events in the civil rights movement of the early
What were the major crises and policy initiatives of the Kennedy presidency?
What were the purposes and strategies of Johnson’s Great Society
How did the civil rights movement change in the mid-1960s?
How did the Vietnam War transform American politics and culture?
What were the sources and significance of the rights revolution of the late
In what ways was 1968 a climactic year for the Sixties?
n the afternoon of February 1, 1960, four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a black college in
Greensboro, North Carolina, entered the local Woolworth’s department store. After making a few purchases, they sat down at the lunch counter,
an area reserved for whites. Told that they could not be served, they remained
in their seats until the store closed. They returned the next morning and the
next. As the protest continued, other students, including a few local whites,
joined in. Demonstrations spread across the country. After resisting for five
★ 983
months, Woolworth’s in July agreed to serve black customers at its lunch
The sit-in reflected mounting frustration at the slow pace of racial change.
White Greensboro prided itself on being free of prejudice. In 1954, the city
had been the first in the South to declare its intention of complying with the
Brown decision. But by 1960 only a handful of black students had been admitted to all-white schools, the economic gap between blacks and whites had not
narrowed, and Greensboro was still segregated.
More than any other event, the Greensboro sit-in launched the 1960s:
a decade of political activism and social change. Sit-ins had occurred before,
but never had they sparked so massive a response. Similar demonstrations soon took place throughout the South, demanding the integration
not only of lunch counters but of parks, pools, restaurants, bowling alleys,
libraries, and other facilities as well. By the end of 1960, some 70,000 demonstrators had taken part in sit-ins. Angry whites often assaulted them. But
having been trained in nonviolent resistance, the protesters did not strike
Even more than elevating blacks to full citizenship, declared the writer
James Baldwin, the civil rights movement challenged the United States to
rethink “what it really means by freedom”—including whether freedom
applied to all Americans or only to part of the population. With their freedom
rides, freedom schools, freedom marches, and the insistent cry “Freedom now,”
black Americans and their white allies made freedom once again the rallying
cry of the dispossessed. Thousands of ordinary men and women—maids and
laborers alongside students, teachers, businessmen, and ministers—risked
physical and economic retribution to lay claim to freedom. Their courage
inspired a host of other challenges to the status quo, including a student movement known as the New Left, the “second wave” of feminism, and activism
among other minorities.
By the time the decade ended, these movements had challenged the 1950s’
understanding of freedom linked to the Cold War abroad and consumer choice
at home. They exposed the limitations of traditional New Deal liberalism. They
forced a reconsideration of the nation’s foreign policy and extended claims
to freedom into the most intimate areas of life. They made American society
confront the fact that certain groups, including students, women, members of
racial minorities, and homosexuals, felt themselves excluded from full enjoyment of American freedom.
Reflecting back years later on the struggles of the 1960s, one black organizer
in Memphis remarked, “All I wanted to do was to live in a free country.” Of the
movement’s accomplishments, he added, “You had to fight for every inch of it.
Nobody gave you anything. Nothing.”
984 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
What were the major events in the civil rights movement of the early 1960s?
The Rising Tide of Protest
With the sit-ins, college students for the first
time stepped onto the stage of American history as the leading force for social change. In
April 1960, Ella Baker, a longtime civil rights
organizer, called a meeting of young activists
in Raleigh, North Carolina. About 200 black
students and a few whites attended. Out of
the gathering came the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC), dedicated
to replacing the culture of segregation with a
“beloved community” of racial justice and to
empowering ordinary blacks to take control
of the decisions that affected their lives. “We
can’t count on adults,” declared SNCC organizer Robert Moses. “Very few . . . are not afraid
of the tremendous pressure they will face. This
leaves the young people to be the organizers,
the agents of social and political change.”
Other forms of direct action soon followed the sit-ins. Blacks in Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi, engaged in “wade-ins,”
demanding access to segregated public
beaches. Scores were arrested and two black
teenagers were killed. In 1961, the Congress
of Racial Equality (CORE) launched the Freedom Rides. Integrated groups traveled by
bus into the Deep South to test compliance
with court orders banning segregation on
interstate buses and trains and in terminal
facilities. Violent mobs assaulted them. Near
Anniston, Alabama, a firebomb was thrown
into the vehicle and the passengers beaten
as they escaped. In Birmingham, Klansmen
attacked riders with bats and chains, while
police refused to intervene. Many of the Freedom Riders were arrested. But their actions
Greensboro, N.C.,
Young Americans for Freedom founded
Bay of Pigs
Freedom Rides
Berlin Wall constructed
Port Huron Statement
University of Mississippi
Rachel Carson’s Silent
Cuban missile
Betty Friedan’s The
Feminine Mystique
King’s “Letter from
Birmingham Jail”
March on Washington
Kennedy assassinated
Freedom Summer
Civil Rights Act
Gulf of Tonkin resolution
Great Society
Voting Rights Act
Watts uprising
Hart-Celler Act
National Organization for
Women organized
Tet offensive
Martin Luther King Jr.
American Indian movement
Richard Nixon elected
TH E CI VI L R I G H T S R E V O L U T I O N ★ 985
led the Interstate Commerce Commission to
order buses and terminals desegregated.
As protests escalated, so did the resistance
Woodstock festival
of local authorities. Late in 1961, SNCC and
Roe v. Wade
other groups launched a campaign of nonviolent protests against racial discrimination in
Albany, Georgia. The protests lasted a year, but
despite filling the jails with demonstrators—
a tactic adopted by the movement to gain
national sympathy—they failed to achieve their goals. In September 1962, a
court ordered the University of Mississippi to admit James Meredith, a black
student. The state police stood aside as a mob, encouraged by Governor Ross
Barnett, rampaged through the streets of Oxford, where the university is located.
Two bystanders lost their lives in the riot. President Kennedy was forced to dispatch the army to restore order.
Police raid on Stonewall
The high point of protest came in the spring of 1963, when demonstrations
took place in towns and cities across the South, dramatizing black discontent
over inequality in education, employment, and housing. In one week in
June, there were more than 15,000
arrests in 186 cities. The dramatic culmination came in Birmingham, Alabama, a citadel of segregation. Even
for the Deep South, Birmingham was
a violent city—there had been over
fifty bombings of black homes and
institutions since World War II. Local
blacks had been demonstrating, with
no result, for greater economic opportunities and an end to segregation by
local businesses.
With the movement flagging,
some of its leaders invited Martin
Luther King Jr. to come to Birmingham.
While serving a nine-day prison term
in April 1963 for violating a ban on
Civil rights demonstrators in Orangeburg, South
demonstrations, King composed one
Carolina, in 1960.
of his most eloquent pleas for racial
986 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
What were the major events in the civil rights movement of the early 1960s?
A fireman assaulting young African-American demonstrators with a high-pressure hose
during the climactic demonstrations in Birmingham. Broadcast on television, such pictures
proved a serious problem for the United States in its battle for the “hearts and minds” of
people around the world and forced the Kennedy administration to confront the contradiction between the rhetoric of freedom and the reality of racism.
justice, the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Responding to local clergymen who
counseled patience, King related the litany of abuses faced by black southerners, from police brutality to the daily humiliation of having to explain to their
children why they could not enter amusement parks or public swimming
pools. The “white moderate,” King declared, must put aside fear of disorder and
commit himself to racial justice.
In May, King made the bold decision to send black schoolchildren into the
streets of Birmingham. Police chief Eugene “Bull” Connor unleashed his forces
against the thousands of young marchers. The images, broadcast on television,
of children being assaulted with nightsticks, high-pressure fire hoses, and attack
dogs produced a wave of revulsion throughout the world and turned the Birmingham campaign into a triumph for the civil rights movement. It led President Kennedy, as will be related later, to endorse the movement’s goals. Leading
businessmen, fearing that the city was becoming an international symbol of
brutality, brokered an end to the demonstrations that desegregated downtown
stores and restaurants and promised that black salespeople would be hired.
TH E CI VI L R I G H T S R E V O L U T I O N ★ 987
But more than these modest gains, the events in Birmingham forced white
Americans to decide whether they had more in common with fellow citizens
demanding their basic rights or with violent segregationists. The question
became more insistent in the following weeks. In June 1963, a sniper killed
Medgar Evers, field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi. In September, a
bomb exploded at a black Baptist church in Birmingham, killing four young
girls. (Not until 2002 was the last of those who committed this act of domestic
terrorism tried and convicted.)
The March on Washington
On August 28, 1963, two weeks before the Birmingham church bombing,
250,000 black and white Americans converged on the nation’s capital for the
March on Washington, often considered the high point of the nonviolent civil
rights movement. Organized by a coalition of civil rights, labor, and church
organizations led by A. Philip Randolph, the black unionist who had threatened
a similar march in 1941, it was the largest public demonstration in the nation’s
history to that time. Calls for the passage of a civil rights bill pending before Congress took center stage. But the march’s goals also included a public-works program to reduce unemployment, an increase in the minimum wage, and a law
barring discrimination in employment. These demands, and the marchers’ slogan, “Jobs and Freedom,” revealed how the black movement had, for the moment,
forged an alliance with white liberal groups. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered his most famous speech, including the words, “I have a dream
that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:
‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
The March on Washington reflected an unprecedented degree of blackwhite cooperation in support of racial and economic justice. But it also revealed
some of the movement’s limitations, and the tensions within it. Even though
female activists like Jo Ann Robinson and Ella Baker had played crucial roles in
civil rights organizing, every speaker at the Lincoln Memorial was male. The
organizers ordered SNCC leader John Lewis (later a congressman from Georgia)
to tone down his speech, the original text of which called on blacks to “free
ourselves of the chains of political and economic slavery” and march “through
the heart of Dixie the way Sherman did . . . and burn Jim Crow to the ground.”
Lewis’s rhetoric forecast the more militant turn many in the movement would
soon be taking.
“Seek the freedom in 1963 promised in 1863,” read one banner at the March
on Washington. And civil rights activists resurrected the Civil War–era vision
of national authority as the custodian of American freedom. Despite the fact
that the federal government had for many decades promoted segregation,
988 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
What were the major crises and policy initiatives of the Kennedy presidency?
blacks’ historical experience suggested that they had more hope for justice
from national power than from local governments or civic institutions—
home owners’ associations, businesses, private clubs—still riddled with racism. It remained unclear whether the federal government would take up this
John F. Kennedy served as president for less than three years and, in domestic
affairs, had few tangible accomplishments. But his administration is widely
viewed today as a moment of youthful glamour, soaring hopes, and dynamic
leadership at home and abroad. Later revelations of the sexual liaisons Kennedy obsessively pursued while in the White House have not significantly
damaged his reputation among the general public.
Kennedy’s inaugural address of January 1961 announced a watershed in
American politics: “The torch has been passed,” he declared, “to a new generation of Americans” who would “pay any price, bear any burden,” to “assure the
survival and success of liberty.” The speech seemed to urge Americans to move
beyond the self-centered consumer culture of the 1950s: “Ask not what your
country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” But while the sitins were by now a year old, the speech said nothing about segregation or race.
At the outset of his presidency, Kennedy regarded civil rights as a distraction
from his main concern—vigorous conduct of the Cold War.
Kennedy and the World
Kennedy’s agenda envisioned new initiatives aimed at countering communist
influence in the world. One of his administration’s first acts was to establish the
Peace Corps, which sent young Americans abroad to aid in the economic and
educational progress of developing countries and to improve the image of the
United States there. By 1966, more than 15,000 young men and women were
serving as Peace Corps volunteers. When the Soviets in April 1961 launched a
satellite carrying the first man into orbit around the earth, Kennedy announced
that the United States would mobilize its resources to land a man on the moon
by the end of the decade. The goal seemed almost impossible when announced,
but it was stunningly accomplished in 1969.
Kennedy also formulated a new policy toward Latin America, the Alliance
for Progress. A kind of Marshall Plan for the Western Hemisphere, although
involving far smaller sums of money, it aimed, Kennedy said, to promote both
“political” and “material freedom.” Begun in 1961 with much fanfare about
T H E K E N N E D Y Y E A R S ★ 989
alleviating poverty and counteracting the appeal of communism, the Alliance
for Progress failed. Unlike the Marshall Plan, military regimes and local elites
controlled Alliance for Progress aid. They enriched themselves while the poor
saw little benefit.
Like his predecessors, Kennedy viewed the entire world through the lens
of the Cold War. This outlook shaped his dealings with Fidel Castro, who had
led a revolution that in 1959 ousted Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Until
Castro took power, Cuba was an economic dependency of the United States.
When his government began nationalizing American landholdings and other
investments and signed an agreement to sell sugar to the Soviet Union, the
Eisenhower administration suspended trade and diplomatic relations with the
island. The CIA began training anti-Castro exiles for an invasion of Cuba.
In April 1961, Kennedy allowed the CIA to launch its invasion, at a site
known as the Bay of Pigs. Military advisers predicted a popular uprising that
would quickly topple the Castro government. But the Bay of Pigs invasion
proved to be a total failure. Of 1,400 invaders, more than 100 were killed and
1,100 captured. Cuba became ever more closely tied to the Soviet Union.
The Kennedy administration tried other methods, including assassination
attempts, to get rid of Castro’s government.
The Missile Crisis
Meanwhile, relations between the two “superpowers” deteriorated. In August
1961, in order to stem a growing tide of emigrants fleeing from East to West
Berlin, the Soviets constructed a wall separating the two parts of the city. Until
its demolition in 1989, the Berlin Wall would stand as a tangible symbol of the
Cold War and the division of Europe.
The most dangerous crisis of the Kennedy administration, and in many
ways of the entire Cold War, came in October 1962, when American spy planes
discovered that the Soviet Union was installing missiles in Cuba capable of
reaching the United States with nuclear weapons. Rejecting advice from military leaders that he authorize an attack on Cuba, which would almost certainly
have triggered a Soviet response in Berlin and perhaps a nuclear war, Kennedy
imposed a blockade, or “quarantine,” of the island and demanded the missiles’
removal. After tense behind-the-scenes negotiations, Soviet premier Nikita
Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles; Kennedy pledged that the United
States would not invade Cuba and secretly agreed to remove American Jupiter
missiles from Turkey, from which they could reach the Soviet Union.
For thirteen days, the world teetered on the brink of all-out nuclear war. The
Cuban missile crisis seems to have lessened Kennedy’s passion for the Cold
War. Indeed, he appears to have been shocked by the casual way military leaders
990 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
What were the major crises and policy initiatives of the Kennedy presidency?
spoke of “winning” a nuclear exchange in which tens of millions of Americans
and Russians were certain to die. In 1963, Kennedy moved to reduce Cold War
tensions. In a speech at American University, he called for greater cooperation
with the Soviets. That summer, the two countries agreed to a treaty banning
the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere and in space. In announcing
the agreement, Kennedy paid tribute to the small movement against nuclear
weapons that had been urging such a ban for several years. He even sent word
to Castro through a journalist that he desired a more constructive relationship
with Cuba.
Kennedy and Civil Rights
In his first two years in office, Kennedy was preoccupied with foreign policy.
But in 1963, the crisis over civil rights eclipsed other concerns. Until then, Kennedy had been reluctant to take a forceful stand on black demands. He seemed
to share FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s fear that the movement was inspired
by communism. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the president’s brother,
approved FBI wiretaps on King. Despite promising during the 1960 campaign
to ban discrimination in federally assisted housing, Kennedy waited until the
end of 1962 to issue the order. He used federal force when obstruction of the
law became acute, as at the University of Mississippi. But he failed to protect
civil rights workers from violence, insisting that law enforcement was a local
Events in Birmingham in May 1963 forced Kennedy’s hand. Kennedy
realized that the United States simply could not declare itself the champion
of freedom throughout the world while maintaining a system of racial inequality at home. In June, he went on national television to call for the passage of
a law banning discrimination in all
places of public accommodation, a
major goal of the civil rights movement. The nation, he asserted, faced
a moral crisis: “We preach freedom
around the world, . . . but are we to say
to the world, and much more importantly, to each other, that this is a land
of the free except for Negroes?”
Kennedy did not live to see his civil
rights bill enacted. On November 22,
New York City train passengers reading the news
1963, while riding in a motorcade of President Kennedy’s assassination, Novemthrough Dallas, Texas, he was shot ber 22, 1963.
and killed. Most likely, the assassin
T H E K E N N E D Y Y E A R S ★ 991
was Lee Harvey Oswald, a troubled former marine. Partly because Oswald was
murdered two days later by a local nightclub owner while in police custody,
speculation about a possible conspiracy continues to this day. In any event,
Kennedy’s death brought an abrupt and utterly unexpected end to his presidency. As with Pearl Harbor or September 11, 2001, an entire generation would
always recall the moment when they first heard the news of Kennedy’s death.
It fell to his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, to secure passage of the civil rights
bill and to launch a program of domestic liberalism far more ambitious than
anything Kennedy had envisioned.
Unlike John F. Kennedy, raised in a wealthy and powerful family, Lyndon Johnson grew up in one of the poorest parts of the United States, the central Texas
hill country. Kennedy seemed to view success as his birthright; Johnson had to
struggle ferociously to achieve wealth and power. By the 1950s, he had risen to
become majority leader of the U.S. Senate. But Johnson never forgot the poor
Mexican and white children he had taught in a Texas school in the early 1930s.
Far more interested than Kennedy in domestic reform, he continued to hold
the New Deal view that government had an obligation to assist less-fortunate
members of society.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
When he became president, nobody expected that Johnson would make the
passage of civil rights legislation his first order of business or that he would
come to identify himself with the black movement more passionately than any
previous president. Just five days after Kennedy’s assassination, however, Johnson called on Congress to enact the civil rights bill as the most fitting memorial
to his slain predecessor. “We have talked long enough about equal rights in this
country,” he declared. “It is now time to write the next chapter and write it in
the books of law.”
In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited racial
discrimination in employment, institutions like hospitals and schools, and
privately owned public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, and
theaters. It also banned discrimination on the grounds of sex—a provision
added by opponents of civil rights in an effort to derail the entire bill and
embraced by liberal and female members of Congress as a way to broaden its
scope. Johnson knew that many whites opposed the new law. After signing
it, he turned to an aide and remarked, “I think we delivered the South to the
Republican Party.”
992 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
What were the purposes and strategies of Johnson’s Great Society programs?
Freedom Summer
The 1964 law did not address a major concern of the civil rights movement—
the right to vote in the South. That summer, a coalition of civil rights groups,
including SNCC, CORE, and the NAACP, launched a voter registration drive
in Mississippi. Hundreds of white college students from the North traveled to
the state to take part in Freedom Summer. An outpouring of violence greeted
the campaign, including thirty-five bombings and numerous beatings of
civil rights workers. In June, three young activists—Michael Schwerner and
Andrew Goodman, white students from the North, and James Chaney, a local
black youth—were kidnapped by a group headed by a deputy sheriff and murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Between 1961 and 1965, an estimated
twenty-five black civil rights workers paid with their lives. But the deaths of
the two white students focused unprecedented attention on Mississippi and on
the apparent inability of the federal government to protect citizens seeking to
enjoy their constitutional rights. (In June 2005, forty-one years after Freedom
Summer, a Mississippi jury convicted a member of the Ku Klux Klan of manslaughter in the deaths of the three civil rights workers.)
Freedom Summer led directly to one of the most dramatic confrontations
of the civil rights era—the campaign by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic
Party (MFDP) to take the seats of the state’s all-white official party at the 1964
Democratic national convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. With blacks
unable to participate in the activities of the Democratic Party or register to
vote, the civil rights movement in Mississippi had created the MFDP, open to
all residents of the state. At televised hearings before the credentials committee, Fannie Lou Hamer of the MFDP held a national audience spellbound with
her account of growing up in poverty in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta and of the
savage beatings she had endured at the hands of police. Like many other black
activists, Hamer was a deeply religious person who believed that Christianity rested on the idea of freedom and that the movement had been divinely
inspired. “Is this America,” she asked, “the land of the free and home of the
brave, where . . . we [are] threatened daily because we want to live as decent
human beings?” Johnson feared a southern walkout, as had happened at the
1948 party convention, if the MFDP were seated. Party liberals, including Johnson’s running mate, Hubert Humphrey, pressed for a compromise in which two
black delegates would be granted seats. But the MFDP rejected the proposal.
The 1964 Election
The events at Atlantic City severely weakened black activists’ faith in the
responsiveness of the political system and forecast the impending breakup of
the coalition between the civil rights movement and the liberal wing of the
LY N D O N J O H NS O N ’ S P RES I DEN CY ★ 993
Democratic Party. For the moment, however, the movement rallied behind
Johnson’s campaign for reelection. Johnson’s opponent, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, had published The Conscience of a Conservative (1960), which sold
more than 3 million copies. The book demanded a more aggressive conduct of
the Cold War (he even suggested that nuclear war might be “the price of freedom”). But Goldwater directed most of his critique against “internal” dangers to
freedom, especially the New Deal welfare state, which he believed stifled individual initiative and independence. He called for the substitution of private
charity for public welfare programs and Social Security, and the abolition of
the graduated income tax. Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights Act of
1964. His acceptance speech at the Republican national convention contained
the explosive statement, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”
Stigmatized by the Democrats as an extremist who would repeal Social
Security and risk nuclear war, Goldwater went down to a disastrous defeat.
Johnson received almost 43 million votes to Goldwater’s 27 million. Democrats swept to two-to-one majorities in both houses of Congress. But although
few realized it, the 1964 campaign marked a milestone in the resurgence of
American conservatism. Goldwater’s success in the Deep South, where he carried five states, coupled with the surprisingly strong showing of segregationist
governor George Wallace of Alabama in Democratic primaries in Wisconsin,
Indiana, and Maryland, suggested that politicians could strike electoral gold by
appealing to white opposition to the civil rights movement.
One indication of problems for the Democrats came in California, with the
passage by popular referendum of Proposition 14, which repealed a 1963 law
banning racial discrimination in the sale of real estate. Backed by the state’s
realtors and developers, California conservatives made the “freedom” of home
owners to control their property the rallying cry of the campaign against the
fair housing law. Although Johnson carried California by more than 1 million
votes, Proposition 14 received a considerable majority, winning three-fourths
of the votes cast by whites.
The Conservative Sixties
The 1960s, today recalled as a decade of radicalism, clearly had a conservative side as well. With the founding in 1960 of Young Americans for Freedom
(YAF), conservative students emerged as a force in politics. There were striking parallels between the Sharon Statement, issued by ninety young people
who gathered at the estate of conservative intellectual William F. Buckley in
Sharon, Connecticut, to establish YAF, and the Port Huron Statement of SDS of
1962 (discussed later in this chapter). Both manifestos portrayed youth as the
cutting edge of a new radicalism, and both claimed to offer a route to greater
994 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
What were the purposes and strategies of Johnson’s Great Society programs?
freedom. The Sharon Statement summarized beliefs that had circulated among
conservatives during the past decade—the free market underpinned “personal
freedom,” government must be strictly limited, and “international communism,” the gravest threat to liberty, must be destroyed.
YAF aimed initially to take control of the Republican Party from leaders
who had made their peace with the New Deal and seemed willing to coexist
with communism. YAF members became Barry Goldwater’s shock troops in
1964. Despite his landslide defeat in the general election, Goldwater’s nomination was a remarkable triumph for a movement widely viewed as composed of
fanatics out to “repeal the twentieth century.”
Goldwater also brought new constituencies to the conservative cause. His
campaign aroused enthusiasm in the rapidly expanding suburbs of southern
California and the Southwest. Orange County, California, many of whose residents had recently arrived from the East and Midwest and worked in defenserelated industries, became a nationally known center of grassroots conservative
activism. The funds that poured into the Goldwater campaign from the Sunbelt’s oilmen and aerospace entrepreneurs established a new financial base for
conservatism. And by carrying five states of the Deep South, Goldwater showed
that the civil rights revolution had redrawn the nation’s political map, opening
the door to a “southern strategy” that would eventually lead the entire region
into the Republican Party.
Well before the rise of Black Power, a reaction against civil rights gains offered
conservatives new opportunities and threatened the stability of the Democratic
coalition. During the 1950s, many conservatives had responded favorably to southern whites’ condemnation of the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision
as an invasion of states’ rights. The National Review, an influential conservative
magazine, referred to whites as “the advanced race” and defended black disenfranchisement on the grounds that “the claims of civilization supersede those of
universal suffrage.” In 1962, YAF bestowed its Freedom Award on Senator Strom
Thurmond of South Carolina, one of the country’s most prominent segregationists. During the 1960s, most conservatives abandoned talk of racial superiority and
inferiority. But conservative appeals to law and order, “freedom of association,” and
the evils of welfare often had strong racial overtones. Racial divisions would prove
to be a political gold mine for conservatives.
The Voting Rights Act
One last legislative triumph, however, lay ahead for the civil rights movement.
In January 1965, King launched a voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama, a city
where only 355 of 15,000 black residents had been allowed to register to vote. In
March, defying a ban by Governor Wallace, King attempted to lead a march from
LY N D O N J O H NS O N ’ S P RES I DEN CY ★ 995
Selma to the state capital, Montgomery.
When the marchers reached the bridge
leading out of the city, state police
assaulted them with cattle prods,
whips, and tear gas.
Once again, violence against nonviolent demonstrators flashed across television screens throughout the world,
compelling the federal government to
take action. Calling Selma a milestone
A sharecropper’s shack alongside Jefferson Davis
Highway, the route followed from Selma to Montin “man’s unending search for freedom,”
gomery, Alabama, in 1965, by marchers demanding
Johnson asked Congress to enact a law
voting rights. The photograph, by James “Spider”
securing the right to vote. He closed
Martin, who chronicled the march, suggests the
his speech by quoting the demonstradeep-seated inequalities that persisted a century
after the end of the Civil War.
tors’ song, “We Shall Overcome.” Never
before had the movement received so
powerful an endorsement from the federal government. Congress quickly passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which
allowed federal officials to register voters. Black southerners finally regained the
suffrage that had been stripped from them at the turn of the twentieth century.
In addition, the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the Constitution outlawed the
poll tax, which had long prevented poor blacks (and some whites) from voting
in the South.
Immigration Reform
By 1965, the civil rights movement had succeeded in eradicating the legal
bases of second-class citizenship. The belief that racism should no longer
serve as a foundation of public policy spilled over into other realms. In 1965,
the Hart-Celler Act abandoned the national-origins quota system of immigration, which had excluded Asians and severely restricted southern and eastern
Europeans. The law established new, racially neutral criteria for immigration,
notably family reunification and possession of skills in demand in the United
States. On the other hand, because of growing hostility in the Southwest to
Mexican immigration, the law established the first limit, 120,000, on newcomers from the Western Hemisphere. This created, for the first time, the category
of “illegal aliens” from the Americas. Indeed, since the act set a maximum
annual immigration quota of 20,000 persons for every country in the world, it
guaranteed that a large part of Mexican immigration would be unauthorized,
since labor demand for Mexican immigrants in the United States far exceeded
that number. Establishing the same quota for Mexico and, say, Belgium or New
Zealand made no sense. The act set the quota for the rest of the world at 170,000.
996 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
What were the purposes and strategies of Johnson’s Great Society programs?
However, because of special provisions for refugees from communist countries,
immigration soon exceeded these caps.
The new law had many unexpected results. At the time, immigrants represented only 5 percent of the American population—the lowest proportion
since the 1830s. No one anticipated that the new quotas not only would lead to
an explosive rise in immigration but also would spark a dramatic shift in which
newcomers from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia came to outnumber
those from Europe. Taken together, the civil rights revolution and immigration
reform marked the triumph of a pluralist conception of Americanism. By 1976,
85 percent of respondents to a public-opinion survey agreed with the statement, “The United States was meant to be . . . a country made up of many races,
religions, and nationalities.”
The Great Society
After his landslide victory of 1964, Johnson outlined the most sweeping proposal for governmental action to promote the general welfare since the New
Deal. Johnson’s initiatives of 1965–1967, known collectively as the Great Society, provided health services to the poor and elderly in the new Medicaid and
Medicare programs and poured federal funds into education and urban development. New cabinet offices—the Departments of Transportation and of Housing
and Urban Development—and new agencies, such as the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission, the National Endowments for the Humanities and
for the Arts, and a national public broadcasting network, were created. These
measures greatly expanded the powers of the federal government, and they
completed and extended the social agenda (with the exception of national
health insurance) that had been stalled in Congress since 1938.
Unlike the New Deal, however, the Great Society was a response to prosperity, not depression. The mid-1960s was a time of rapid economic expansion, fueled by increased government spending and a tax cut on individuals
and businesses initially proposed by Kennedy and enacted in 1964. Johnson
and Democratic liberals believed that economic growth made it possible to
fund ambitious new government programs and to improve the quality of life.
The War on Poverty
The centerpiece of the Great Society, however, was the crusade to eradicate poverty, launched by Johnson early in 1964. After the talk of universal affluence
during the 1950s, economic deprivation had been rediscovered by political
leaders, thanks in part to Michael Harrington’s 1962 book The Other America.
Harrington revealed that 40 to 50 million Americans lived in poverty, often
in isolated rural areas or urban slums “invisible” to the middle class. The civil
LY N D O N J O H NS O N ’ S P RES I DEN CY ★ 997
rights movement heightened the
urgency of the issue, even though, as
Harrington made clear, whites made
up a majority of the nation’s poor.
During the 1930s, Democrats had
poverty to an imbalance of
Black, Latino, Asian, and
economic power and flawed economic
Native American
institutions. In the 1960s, the administration attributed it to an absence of
skills and a lack of proper attitudes and
work habits. Thus, the War on Poverty
did not consider the most direct ways
of eliminating poverty—guaranteeing
an annual income for all Americans,
creating jobs for the unemployed,
promoting the spread of unioniza0
1959 1961 1963 1965 1967 1969
tion, or making it more difficult for
businesses to shift production to the
*The poverty threshold for a non-farm family of four
was $3,743 in 1969 and $2,973 in 1959.
low-wage South or overseas. Nor did
During the 1960s, an expanding economy and
it address the economic changes that
government programs assisting the poor prowere reducing the number of well-paid
duced a steady decrease in the percentage of
manufacturing jobs and leaving poor
Americans living in poverty.
families in rural areas like Appalachia
and decaying urban ghettos with little
hope of economic advancement.
One of the Great Society’s most popular and successful components, food
stamps, offered direct aid to the poor. But, in general, the War on Poverty concentrated on equipping the poor with skills and rebuilding their spirit and motivation. The new Office of Economic Opportunity oversaw a series of initiatives
designed to lift the poor into the social and economic mainstream. It provided
Head Start (an early childhood education program), job training, legal services,
and scholarships for poor college students. It also created VISTA, a domestic
version of the Peace Corps for the inner cities. In an echo of SNCC’s philosophy
of empowering ordinary individuals to take control of their lives, the War on
Poverty required that poor people play a leading part in the design and implementation of local policies, a recipe for continuing conflict with local political
leaders accustomed to controlling the flow of federal dollars.
Percentage below poverty level
F I G U R E 2 5 . 1 P E R C E N TA G E
Freedom and Equality
Johnson defended the Great Society in a vocabulary of freedom derived from
the New Deal, when his own political career began, and reinforced by the civil
998 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
How did the civil rights movement change in the mid-1960s?
rights movement. Soon after assuming office in 1963, he resurrected the phrase
“freedom from want,” all but forgotten during the 1950s. Echoing FDR, Johnson
told the 1964 Democratic convention, “The man who is hungry, who cannot
find work or educate his children, who is bowed by want, that man is not fully
free.” Recognizing that black poverty was fundamentally different from white,
since its roots lay in “past injustice and present prejudice,” Johnson sought to
redefine the relationship between freedom and equality. Economic liberty, he
insisted, meant more than equal opportunity: “You do not wipe away the scars
of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, do as you desire,
and choose the leaders you please. . . . We seek . . . not just equality as a right
and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.”
Johnson’s Great Society may not have achieved equality “as a fact.” But it represented the most expansive effort in the nation’s history to mobilize the powers
of the national government to address the needs of the least-advantaged Americans, especially those, like blacks, largely excluded from the original New Deal
entitlements such as Social Security.
Coupled with the decade’s high rate of economic growth, the War on Poverty succeeded in reducing the incidence of poverty from 22 percent to 13 percent of American families during the 1960s. It has fluctuated around the latter
figure ever since. The sum spent, however, was too low to end poverty altogether or to transform conditions of life in poor urban neighborhoods. Today,
thanks to the civil rights movement and the Great Society, the historic gap
between whites and blacks in education, income, and access to skilled employment has narrowed considerably. But with deindustrialization and urban decay
affecting numerous families, the median wealth of white households remains
ten times greater than that of blacks, and nearly a quarter of all black children
still lives in poverty.
Even at its moment of triumph, the civil rights movement confronted a crisis as it sought to move from access to schools, public accommodations, and
the voting booth to the economic divide separating blacks from other Americans. In the mid-1960s, economic issues rose to the forefront of the civil rights
agenda. Violent outbreaks in black ghettos outside the South drew attention to
the national scope of racial injustice and to inequalities in jobs, education, and
housing that the dismantling of legal segregation left intact. Much of the animosity that came to characterize race relations arose from the belief of many
whites that the legislation of 1964 and 1965 had fulfilled the nation’s obligation
TH E CH A N G I N G B L A C K MO V E ME N T ★ 999
to assure blacks equality before the law, while blacks pushed for more government action, sparking charges of “reverse discrimination.”
The Ghetto Uprisings
The first riots—really, battles between angry blacks and the predominantly
white police (widely seen by many ghetto residents as an occupying army)—
erupted in Harlem in 1964. Far larger was the Watts uprising of 1965, which
took place in the black ghetto of Los Angeles only days after Johnson signed the
Voting Rights Act. An estimated 50,000 persons took part in this “rebellion,”
attacking police and firemen, looting white-owned businesses, and burning
buildings. It required 15,000 police and National Guardsmen to restore order,
by which time thirty-five people lay dead, 900 were injured, and $30 million
worth of property had been destroyed.
By the summer of 1967, violence had become so widespread that some
feared racial civil war. Urban uprisings in that year left twenty-three dead in
Newark and forty-three in Detroit, where entire blocks went up in flames and
property damage ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The violence led
Johnson to appoint a commission headed by Illinois governor Otto Kerner to
study the causes of urban rioting. Released in 1968, the Kerner Report blamed
the violence on “segregation and poverty” and offered a powerful indictment
of “white racism.” It depicted a country in danger of being torn apart by racial
antagonism: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one
white—separate and unequal.” But the report failed to offer any clear proposals
for change.
With black unemployment twice that of whites and the average black
family income little more than half the white norm, the movement looked
for ways to “make freedom real” for black Americans. In 1964, King called for
a “Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged” to mobilize the nation’s resources to
abolish economic deprivation. His proposal was directed against poverty in
general, but King also insisted that after “doing something special against the
Negro for hundreds of years,” the United States had an obligation to “do something special for him now”—an early call for what would come to be known as
“affirmative action.” A. Philip Randolph and civil rights veteran Bayard Rustin
proposed a Freedom Budget, which envisioned spending $100 billion over ten
years on a federal program of job creation and urban redevelopment.
In 1966, King launched the Chicago Freedom movement, with demands
quite different from its predecessors in the South—an end to discrimination
by employers and unions, equal access to mortgages, the integration of public
housing, and the construction of low-income housing scattered throughout the
region. Confronting the entrenched power of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s political
1000 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
How did the civil rights movement change in the mid-1960s?
machine and the ferocious opposition of white home owners, the movement
failed. King’s tactics—marches, sit-ins, mass arrests—proved ineffective in the
face of the North’s less pervasive but still powerful system of racial inequality.
King’s language became more and more radical. He called for nothing less than
a “revolution in values” that would create a “better distribution of wealth” for
“all God’s children.”
Malcolm X
The civil rights movement’s first phase had produced a clear set of objectives,
far-reaching accomplishments, and a series of coherent if sometimes competitive organizations. The second witnessed political fragmentation and few
significant victories. Even during the heyday of the integration struggle, the
fiery orator Malcolm X had insisted that blacks must control the political and
economic resources of their communities and rely on their own efforts rather
than working with whites. Having committed a string of crimes as a youth,
Malcolm Little was converted in jail to the teachings of the Nation of Islam, or
Black Muslims, who preached a message of white evil and black self-discipline.
Malcolm dropped his “slave surname” in favor of “X,” symbolizing blacks’ separation from their African ancestry. On his release from prison he became a
spokesman for the Muslims and a sharp critic of the ideas of integration and
nonviolence, and of King’s practice of appealing to American values. “I don’t
see any American dream,” he proclaimed. “I see an American nightmare.”
On a 1964 trip to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Islam’s spiritual home, Malcolm X
witnessed harmony among Muslims of all races. He now began to speak of the
possibility of interracial cooperation for radical change in the United States.
But when members of the Nation of Islam assassinated him in February 1965
after he had formed his own Organization of Afro-American Unity, Malcolm X
left neither a consistent ideology nor a coherent movement. Most whites considered him an apostle of racial violence. However, his call for blacks to rely
on their own resources struck a chord among the urban poor and younger civil
rights activists. His Autobiography, published in 1966, became a great best-seller.
Today, streets, parks, and schools are named after him.
The Rise of Black Power
Malcolm X was the intellectual father of Black Power, a slogan that came
to national attention in 1966 when SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael used it
during a civil rights march in Mississippi. Black Power immediately became
a rallying cry for those bitter over the federal government’s failure to stop
TH E CH A N G I N G B L A C K MO V E ME N T ★ 1001
violence against civil rights workers, white attempts to determine movement
strategy (as at the Democratic convention of 1964), and the civil rights movement’s failure to have any impact on the economic problems of black ghettos.
A highly imprecise idea, Black Power suggested everything from the election
of more black officials (hardly a radical notion) to the belief that black Americans
were a colonized people whose freedom could be won only through a revolutionary struggle for self-determination. In many communities where black parents felt that the local public education system failed to educate their children
adequately, it inspired the establishment of black-operated local schools that
combined traditional learning with an emphasis on pride in African-American
history and identity. But however employed, the idea reflected the radicalization of young civil rights activists and sparked an explosion of racial selfassertion, reflected in the slogan “Black is Beautiful.” The abandonment of the
word “Negro” in favor of “Afro-American” and the popularity of black beauty
pageants, African styles of dress, and the “natural,” or “Afro,” hairdo among both
men and women signified much more than a change in language and fashion.
They reflected a new sense of racial pride and a rejection of white norms.
Inspired by the idea of black self-determination, SNCC and CORE repudiated their previous interracialism, and new militant groups sprang into existence. Most prominent of the new groups, in terms of publicity, if not numbers,
was the Black Panther Party. Founded in Oakland, California, in 1966, it became
notorious for advocating armed self-defense in response to police brutality. It
demanded the release of black prisoners because of racism in the criminal justice system. The party’s youthful members alarmed whites by wearing military
garb, although they also ran health clinics, schools, and children’s breakfast
programs. But internal disputes and a campaign against the Black Panthers by
police and the FBI, which left several leaders dead in shootouts, destroyed the
By 1967, with the escalation of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, the War
on Poverty ground to a halt. By then, with ghetto uprisings punctuating the
urban landscape, the antiwar movement assuming massive proportions, and
millions of young people ostentatiously rejecting mainstream values, American society faced its greatest crisis since the Depression.
Old and New Lefts
To most Americans, the rise of a protest movement among white youth came
as a complete surprise. For most of the century, colleges had been conservative institutions that drew their students from a privileged segment of the
1002 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
How did the Vietnam War transform American politics and culture?
population. During the 1950s, young people had been called a “silent generation.” If blacks’ grievances appeared self-evident, those of white college students were difficult to understand. What persuaded large numbers of children
of affluence to reject the values and institutions of their society? In part, the
answer lay in a redefinition of the meaning of freedom by what came to be
called the New Left.
What made the New Left new was its rejection of the intellectual and political categories that had shaped radicalism and liberalism for most of the twentieth
century. It challenged not only mainstream America but also what it dismissively
called the Old Left. Unlike the Communist Party, it did not take the Soviet Union
as a model or see the working class as the main agent of social change. Instead
of economic equality and social citizenship, the language of New Deal liberals,
the New Left spoke of loneliness, isolation, and alienation, of powerlessness in
the face of bureaucratic institutions and a hunger for authenticity that affluence could not provide. These discontents galvanized a mass movement among
what was rapidly becoming a major sector of the American population. By 1968,
thanks to the coming of age of the baby-boom generation and the growing number of jobs that required post–high school skills, more than 7 million students
attended college, more than the number of farmers or steelworkers.
The New Left was not as new as it claimed. Its call for a democracy of citizen
participation harked back to the American Revolution, and its critique of the
contrast between American values and American reality, to the abolitionists.
Its emphasis on authenticity in the face of conformity recalled the bohemians
of the years before World War I, and its critique of consumer culture drew inspiration from 1950s writers on mass society. But the New Left’s greatest inspiration was the black freedom movement. More than any other event, the sit-ins
catalyzed white student activism.
Here was the unlikely combination that created the upheaval known as
the Sixties—the convergence of society’s most excluded members demanding full access to all its benefits, with the children of the middle class rejecting
the social mainstream. The black movement and white New Left shared basic
assumptions—that the evils to be corrected were deeply embedded in social
institutions and that only direct confrontation could persuade Americans of
the urgency of far-reaching change.
The Fading Consensus
The years 1962 and 1963 witnessed the appearance of several pathbreaking
books that challenged one or another aspect of the 1950s consensus. James
Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time gave angry voice to the black revolution. Rachel
Carson’s Silent Spring exposed the environmental costs of economic growth.
VI ETN A M AN D T H E N E W L E F T ★ 1003
Members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in a University of Delaware yearbook
photo. Despite their raised fists, they appear eminently respectable compared to radicals
who emerged later in the decade. The group is entirely white.
Michael Harrington’s The Other America revealed the persistence of poverty
amid plenty. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs, criticized
urban renewal, the removal of the poor from city centers, and the destruction
of neighborhoods to build highways, accommodating cities to the needs of
drivers rather than pedestrians. What made cities alive, she insisted, was density and diversity, the social interaction of people of different backgrounds
encountering each other on urban streets.
Yet in some ways the most influential critique of all arose in 1962 from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), an offshoot of the socialist League for
Industrial Democracy. Meeting at Port Huron, Michigan, some sixty college students adopted a document that captured the mood and summarized the beliefs
of this generation of student protesters.
The Port Huron Statement devoted four-fifths of its text to criticism of
institutions ranging from political parties to corporations, unions, and the
military-industrial complex. But what made the document the guiding spirit
of a new radicalism was the remainder, which offered a new vision of social
change. “We seek the establishment,” it proclaimed, of “a democracy of individual participation, [in which] the individual shares in those social decisions
determining the quality and direction of his life.” Freedom, for the New Left,
1004 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
How did the Vietnam War transform American politics and culture?
meant “participatory democracy.” Although rarely defined with precision, this
became a standard by which students judged existing social arrangements—
workplaces, schools, government—and found them wanting.
The Rise of SDS
By the end of 1962, SDS had grown to 8,000 members. Then, in 1964, events at
the University of California at Berkeley revealed the possibility for a far broader
mobilization of students in the name of participatory democracy. A Cold
War “multiversity,” Berkeley was an immense, impersonal institution where
enrollments in many classes approached 1,000 students. The spark that set
student protests alight was a new rule prohibiting political groups from using
a central area of the campus to spread their ideas. Students—including conservatives outraged at being barred from distributing their own literature—
responded by creating the Free Speech movement. Freedom of expression,
declared Mario Savio, a student leader, “represents the very dignity of what a
human being is. . . . That’s what marks us off from the stones and the stars. You
can speak freely.” Likening the university to a factory, Savio called on students
to “throw our body against the machines.”
Thousands of Berkeley students became involved in the protests in the
months that followed. Their program moved from demanding a repeal of the
new rule to a critique of the entire structure of the university and of an education geared toward preparing graduates for corporate jobs. When the university gave in on the speech ban early in 1965, one activist exulted that the
students had succeeded in reversing “the world-wide drift from freedom.”
America and Vietnam
By 1965 the black movement and the emergence of the New Left had shattered the climate of consensus of the 1950s. But what transformed protest into
a full-fledged generational rebellion was the war in Vietnam. The war tragically revealed the danger that Walter Lippmann had warned of at the outset
of the Cold War—viewing the entire world and every local situation within
it through the either-or lens of an anticommunist crusade. A Vietnam specialist in the State Department who attended a policy meeting in August 1963
later recalled “the abysmal ignorance around the table of the particular facts
of Vietnam. . . . They made absolutely no distinctions between countries with
completely different historical experiences. . . . They [believed] that we could
manipulate other states and build nations; that we knew all the answers.”
Few Americans had any knowledge of Vietnam’s history and culture. Viewing Asia through the lens of Cold War geopolitics, successive administrations
VI ETN A M AN D T H E N E W L E F T ★ 1005
reduced a complex struggle for national independence, led by homegrown communists who enjoyed widespread support throughout their country in addition
to Soviet backing, to a test of “containment.” As noted in the previous chapter,
the Truman and Eisenhower administrations cast their lot with French colonialism in the region. After the French defeat, they financed the creation of a proAmerican South Vietnamese government, in violation of the Geneva Accords
of 1954 that had promised elections to unify Vietnam. By the 1960s, the United
States was committed to the survival of this corrupt regime.
Fear that voters would not forgive them for “losing” Vietnam made
it impossible for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to remove the United
States from an increasingly untenable situation. Kennedy’s foreign policy
advisers saw Vietnam as a test of whether the United States could, through
“counterinsurgency”—intervention to counter internal uprisings in noncommunist countries—halt the spread of Third World revolutions. Despite the
dispatch of increased American aid and numerous military advisers, South
Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem lost control of the countryside to the
communist-led Viet Cong. Diem resisted American advice to broaden his government’s base of support. In October 1963, after large Buddhist demonstrations against his regime, the United States approved a military coup that led
to Diem’s death. When Kennedy was assassinated the following month, there
were 17,000 American military advisers in South Vietnam. Shortly before his
death, according to the notes of a White House meeting, Kennedy questioned
“the wisdom of involvement in Vietnam.” But he took no action to end the
American presence.
Lyndon Johnson’s War
Lyndon B. Johnson came to the presidency with little experience in foreign relations. Johnson had misgivings about sending American troops to Vietnam. But
he was an adept politician and knew that Republicans had used the “loss” of
China as a weapon against Truman. “I am not going to be the president,” he
vowed, “who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went.”
In August 1964, North Vietnamese vessels encountered an American ship
on a spy mission off its coast. When North Vietnamese patrol boats fired on
the American vessel, Johnson proclaimed that the United States was a victim
of “aggression.” In response, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution,
authorizing the president to take “all necessary measures to repel armed attack”
in Vietnam. Only two members—Senators Ernest Gruening of Alaska and
Wayne Morse of Oregon—voted against giving Johnson this blank check. The
nearest the United States ever came to a formal declaration of war, the resolution passed without any discussion of American goals and strategy in Vietnam.
1006 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
How did the Vietnam War transform American politics and culture?
T H E V I E T N A M WA R , 1 9 6 4 – 1 9 7 5
7 12
7 10 12
Electoral Vote
486 (90%)
52 (10%)
3 17
Popular Vote
42,825,463 (61%)
27,146,969 (38.4%)
A war of aerial bombing and small guerrilla skirmishes rather than fixed land battles, at the
time it was fought, Vietnam was among the longest wars in American history and the only
one the United States has lost.
During the 1964 campaign, Johnson insisted that he had no intention of
sending American troops to Vietnam. But immediately after Johnson’s reelection, the National Security Council recommended that the United States begin
air strikes against North Vietnam and introduce American ground troops in
the south. When the Viet Cong in February 1965 attacked an American air base
in South Vietnam, Johnson put the plan into effect. At almost the same time, he
intervened in the Dominican Republic. Here, military leaders in 1963 had overthrown the left-wing but noncommunist Juan Bosch, the country’s first elected
president since 1924. In April 1965, another group of military men attempted
VI ETN A M AN D T H E N E W L E F T ★ 1007
to restore Bosch to power but were defeated by the ruling junta. Fearing the
unrest would lead to “another Cuba,” Johnson dispatched 22,000 American
troops. The intervention outraged many Latin Americans. But the operation’s
success seemed to bolster Johnson’s determination in Vietnam.
By 1968, the number of American troops in Vietnam exceeded half a million, and the conduct of the war had become more and more brutal. The North
Vietnamese mistreated American prisoners of war held in a camp known
sardonically by the inmates as the Hanoi Hilton. (One prisoner of war, John
McCain, who spent six years there, courageously refused to be exchanged
unless his companions were freed with him. McCain later became a senator
from Arizona and the Republican candidate for president in 2008.) American
planes dropped more tons of bombs on the small countries of North and South
Vietnam than both sides used in all of World War II. They spread chemicals
that destroyed forests to deprive the Viet Cong of hiding places and dropped
incendiary bombs filled with napalm, a gelatinous form of gasoline that clings
to the skin of anyone exposed to it as it burns. The army pursued Viet Cong and
North Vietnamese forces in “search and destroy” missions that often did not
distinguish between combatants and civilians. Weekly reports of enemy losses
or “body counts” became a fixation of the administration. But the United States
could not break its opponents’ ability to fight or make the South Vietnamese
government any more able to survive on its own.
The Antiwar Movement
As casualties mounted and American bombs poured down on North and South
Vietnam, the Cold War foreign policy consensus began to unravel. By 1968,
the war had sidetracked much of the Great Society and had torn families, universities, and the Democratic Party apart. With the entire political leadership,
liberal no less than conservative, committed to the war for most of the 1960s,
young activists lost all confidence in “the system.”
Opposition to the war became the organizing theme that united people
with all kinds of doubts and discontents. “We recoil with horror,” said a SNCC
position paper, “at the inconsistency of a supposedly ‘free’ society where
responsibility to freedom is equated with the responsibility to lend oneself to
military aggression.” With college students exempted from the draft, the burden of fighting fell on the working class and the poor. In 1967, Martin Luther
King Jr. condemned the administration’s Vietnam policy as an unconscionable
use of violence and for draining resources from needs at home. At this point,
King was the most prominent American to speak out against the war.
As for SDS, the war seemed the opposite of participatory democracy, since
American involvement had come through secret commitments and decisions
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How did the Vietnam War transform American politics and culture?
made by political elites, with no real public debate. In April 1965, SDS invited
opponents of American policy in Vietnam to assemble in Washington, D.C. The
turnout of 25,000 amazed the organizers, offering the first hint that the antiwar movement would soon enjoy a mass constituency. At the next antiwar
rally, in November 1965, SDS leader Carl Ogelsby openly challenged the foundations of Cold War thinking. He linked Vietnam to a critique of American
interventions in Guatemala and Iran, support for South African apartheid,
and Johnson’s dispatch of troops to the Dominican Republic, all rooted in
obsessive anticommunism. Some might feel, Ogelsby concluded, “that I sound
mighty anti-American. To these, I say: ‘Don’t blame me for that! Blame those
who mouthed my liberal values and broke my American heart.’” The speech,
observed one reporter, marked a “declaration of independence” for the New Left.
By 1967, young men were burning their draft cards or fleeing to Canada
to avoid fighting in what they considered an unjust war. In October of that
year, 100,000 antiwar protesters assembled at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Many marched across the Potomac River to the Pentagon, where
photographers captured them placing flowers in the rifle barrels of soldiers
guarding the nerve center of the American military.
The Counterculture
The New Left’s definition of freedom initially centered on participatory
democracy, a political concept. But as the 1960s progressed, young Americans’
understanding of freedom increasingly expanded to include cultural freedom
as well. Although many streams flowed into the generational rebellion known
as the counterculture, the youth revolt was inconceivable without the war’s
destruction of young Americans’ belief in authority. By the late 1960s, millions of young people openly rejected the values and behavior of their elders.
Their ranks included not only college students but also numerous young
workers, even though most unions strongly opposed antiwar demonstrations
and countercultural displays (a reaction that further separated young radicals from former allies on the traditional left). For the first time in American
history, the flamboyant rejection of respectable norms in clothing, language,
sexual behavior, and drug use, previously confined to artists and bohemians,
became the basis of a mass movement. Its rallying cry was “liberation.”
Here was John Winthrop’s nightmare of three centuries earlier come to
pass—a massive redefinition of freedom as a rejection of all authority. “Your
sons and your daughters are beyond your command,” Bob Dylan’s song “The
Times They Are A-Changin’” bluntly informed mainstream America. To be
sure, the counterculture in some ways represented not rebellion but the fulfillment of the consumer marketplace. It extended into every realm of life the
VI ETN A M AN D T H E N E W L E F T ★ 1009
From Barry Goldwater, Speech at Republican National
Convention (1964)
In his speech accepting the Republican nomination for president in 1964, Senator
Barry Goldwater of Arizona outlined a political vision rooted in the conservatism
of the Southwest and California. Charged with being an extremist, Goldwater
responded, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” an explosive statement
that enabled President Lyndon Johnson to portray him as a dangerous radical.
My fellow Americans, the tide has been running against freedom. Our people have followed
false prophets. We must, and we shall, return to proven ways—not because they are old,
but because they are true. We must, and we shall, set the tide running again in the cause of
freedom. And this party, with its every action, every word, every breath, and every heartbeat,
has but a single resolve, and that is freedom—freedom made orderly for this Nation by our
constitutional government; freedom under a government limited by laws of nature and of
nature’s God; freedom—balanced so that liberty lacking order will not become the slavery
of the prison cell; balanced so that liberty lacking order will not become the license of the
mob and of the jungle.
Now, we Americans understand freedom. We have earned it, we have lived for it,
and we have died for it. This Nation and its people are freedom’s model in a searching
world. We can be freedom’s missionaries in a doubting world. But, ladies and gentlemen,
first we must renew freedom’s mission in our own hearts and in our own homes. . . .
Tonight there is violence in our streets, corruption in our highest offices, aimlessness among our youth, anxiety among our elders and there is a virtual despair among
the many who look beyond material success for the inner meaning of their lives. . . .
We Republicans seek a government that attends to its inherent responsibilities of
maintaining a stable monetary and fiscal climate, encouraging a free and a competitive
economy and enforcing law and order. . . .
Our towns and our cities, then our counties, then our states, then our regional contacts and only then, the national government. That, let me remind you, is the ladder
of liberty, built by decentralized power. On it also we must have balance between the
branches of government at every level. . . .
I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me
remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
From Statement of Purpose, National Organization for
Women (1966)
Founded in 1966, the National Organization for Women gave voice to the movement for equality for women known as the “second wave” of feminism. Written by
1010 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
Betty Friedan, and adopted at the group’s organizing meeting in Washington, D.C.,
the statement of purpose outlined a wide range of areas, public and private, where
women continued to be denied full freedom.
The time has come for a new movement toward true equality for all women in America,
and toward a fully equal partnership of the sexes, as part of the worldwide revolution of
human rights now taking place within and beyond our national borders.
The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the
mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities
thereof in truly equal partnership with men. . . .
We organize to initiate or support action, nationally, or in any part of this nation,
by individuals or organizations, to break through the silken curtain of prejudice and
discrimination against women in government, industry, and professions, the churches,
the political parties, the judiciary, the labor unions, in education, science, medicine, law,
religion and every other field of importance in American society. . . .
The actual position of women in the United States has declined, and is declining,
to an alarming degree throughout the 1950’s and ’60s. . . . Working women are becoming increasingly—not less—concentrated on the bottom of the job ladder. . . . Today,
women earn only one in three of the B.A.’s and M.A.’s granted, and one in ten of the
Ph.D.’s. In all the professions considered of importance to society, and in the executive
ranks of industry and government, women are losing ground. Where they are present it
is only a token handful. Women comprise less than 1% of federal judges; less than 4%
of all lawyers; 7% of doctors. . . .
We do not accept the traditional assumption that a woman has to choose between
marriage and motherhood, on the one hand, and serious participation in industry or
the professions on the other. . . . True equality of opportunity and freedom of choice
for women requires such practical, and possible innovations as a nationwide network
of child-care centers, which will make it unnecessary for women to retire completely
from society until their children are
grown. . . .
We believe that a true partnership
between the sexes demands a differ1. Why does Goldwater stress the interconnecent concept of marriage and equitable
tion of order and liberty?
sharing of the responsibilities of home
2. What social changes does NOW believe
and children and of the economic burnecessary to enable women to enjoy equaldens of their support. We believe that
ity and freedom?
proper recognition should be given
to the economic and social value of
3. How do the two documents differ in assesshomemaking and childcare. . . .
ing the dangers to American freedom?
VO I C E S O F F R E E D O M ★ 1011
Timothy Leary, promoter of the hallucinogenic drug LSD, at the Human Be-In in San
Francisco in 1967.
definition of freedom as the right to individual choice. Given the purchasing
power of students and young adults, countercultural emblems—colorful
clothing, rock music, images of sexual freedom, even symbols of black revolution and Native American resistance—were soon being mass-marketed as
fashions of the day. Self-indulgence and self-destructive behavior were built
into the counterculture. To followers of Timothy Leary, the Harvard scientist
turned prophet of mind-expansion, the psychedelic drug LSD embodied a new
freedom—“the freedom to expand your own consciousness.” In 1967, Leary
organized a Human Be-In in San Francisco, where he urged a crowd of 20,000 to
“turn on, tune in, drop out.”
Personal Liberation and the Free Individual
But there was far more to the counterculture than new consumer styles or
the famed trio of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. To young dissenters, personal
liberation represented a spirit of creative experimentation, a search for a way
of life in which friendship and pleasure eclipsed the single-minded pursuit of
wealth. It meant a release from bureaucratized education and work, repressive
rules of personal behavior, and, above all, a militarized state that, in the name
of freedom, rained destruction on a faraway people. It also encouraged new
1012 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
How did the Vietnam War transform American politics and culture?
forms of radical action. “Underground” newspapers pioneered a personal and
politically committed style of journalism. The Youth International Party, or
“yippies,” introduced humor and theatricality as elements of protest. From the
visitors’ gallery of the New York Stock Exchange, yippie founder Abbie Hoffman showered dollar bills onto the floor, bringing trading to a halt as brokers
scrambled to retrieve the money.
The counterculture emphasized the ideal of community, establishing quasiindependent neighborhoods in New York City’s East Village and San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and, in an echo of nineteenth-century utopian
communities like New Harmony, some 2,000 communes nationwide. Rock festivals, like Woodstock in upstate New York in 1969, brought together hundreds
of thousands of young people to celebrate their alternative lifestyle and independence from adult authority. The opening song at Woodstock, performed by
Richie Havens, began with eight repetitions of the single word “freedom.”
Faith and the Counterculture
Religious conviction, as has been noted, helped to inspire the civil rights movement. A different religious development, the sweeping reforms initiated in
Roman Catholic practice (such as the delivery of the Mass in local languages,
not Latin) by the Second Vatican Council of 1962–1965, led many priests, nuns,
and lay Catholics to become involved in social justice movements. This produced a growing split in the church between liberals and conservatives. “Liberation theology,” a movement that swept across parts of Latin America in which
priests helped to mobilize rural peasants to combat economic inequality, also
reverberated among some Catholics in the United States. Many members of the
New Left were motivated by a quest for a new sense of brotherhood and social
responsibility, which often sprang from Christian roots. Like adherents of the
Social Gospel of the late nineteenth century, many young people came to see a
commitment to social change as a fulfillment of Christian values.
The quest for personal authenticity, a feature of the counterculture, led to a
flowering of religious and spiritual creativity and experimentation. The Jesus
People (called by their detractors Jesus Freaks) saw the hippy lifestyle, with its
long hair, unconventional attire, and quest for universal love, as an authentic
expression of the outlook of the early church. The Sixties also witnessed a burgeoning interest in eastern religions. The Beats of the 1950s had been attracted
to Buddhism as a religion that rejected violence and materialism—the antithesis of what they saw as key features of American society. Now, practices derived
from Hinduism like yoga and meditation became popular with members of the
counterculture and even in the suburban mainstream as a way of promoting
spiritual and physical well-being. Some Americans traveled to Tibet and India
to seek spiritual guidance from “gurus” (religious teachers) there.
VI ETN A M AN D T H E N E W L E F T ★ 1013
More sinister was the emergence of religious cults based on single-minded
devotion to a charismatic leader. The one with the most tragic outcome was
the People’s Temple, founded by Jim Jones, whose religious outlook combined
intense spiritual commitment with strong criticism of racism. He attracted a
racially mixed community of devout followers, whom he led from Indianapolis to San Francisco and finally to Guyana. There, in 1978 over 900 men, women,
and children perished in a mass suicide/murder ordered by Jones.
The civil rights revolution, soon followed by the rise of the New Left, inspired
other Americans to voice their grievances and claim their rights. Many borrowed the confrontational tactics of the black movement and activist students,
adopting their language of “power” and “liberation” and their rejection of traditional organizations and approaches. By the late 1960s, new social movements
dotted the political landscape.
The counterculture’s notion of liberation centered on the free individual.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the place occupied by sexual freedom
in the generational rebellion. Starting in 1960, the mass marketing of birthcontrol pills made possible what “free lovers” had long demanded—the separation of sex from procreation. By the late 1960s, sexual freedom had become
as much an element of the youth rebellion as long hair and drugs. Rock music
celebrated the free expression of sexuality. The musical Hair, which gave voice
to the youth rebellion, flaunted nudity on Broadway. The sexual revolution was
central to another mass movement that emerged in the 1960s—the “second
wave” of feminism.
The Feminine Mystique
The achievement of the vote had not seemed to affect women’s lack of power
and opportunity. When the 1960s began, only a handful of women held political office, newspapers divided job ads into “male” and “female” sections, with
the latter limited to low-wage clerical positions, and major universities limited
the number of female students they accepted. In many states, husbands still
controlled their wives’ earnings. As late as 1970, the Ohio Supreme Court held
that a wife was “at most a superior servant to her husband,” without “legally
recognized feelings or rights.”
During the 1950s, some commentators had worried that the country was
wasting its “woman power,” a potential weapon in the Cold War. But the public
1014 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
What were the sources and significance of the rights revolution of the late 1960s?
reawakening of feminist consciousness did not get its start until the publication in 1963 of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Friedan had written
pioneering articles during the 1940s on pay discrimination against women
workers and racism in the workplace for the newspaper of the United Electrical Workers’ union. But, like other social critics, she now took as her themes
the emptiness of consumer culture and the discontents of the middle class. Her
opening chapter, “The Problem That Has No Name,” painted a devastating picture of talented, educated women trapped in a world that viewed marriage and
motherhood as their primary goals. Somehow, after more than a century of agitation for access to the public sphere, women’s lives still centered on the home.
In Moscow in 1959, Richard Nixon had made the suburban home an emblem
of American freedom. For Friedan, invoking the era’s most powerful symbol of
evil, it was a “comfortable concentration camp.”
Few books have had the impact of The Feminine Mystique. Friedan was deluged by desperate letters from female readers relating how the suburban dream
had become a nightmare. “Freedom,” wrote an Atlanta woman, “was a word I
had always taken for granted. [I now realized that] I had voluntarily enslaved
myself.” To be sure, a few of Friedan’s correspondents insisted that for a woman
to create “a comfortable, happy home for her family” was “what God intended.”
But the immediate result of The Feminine Mystique was to focus attention on yet
another gap between American rhetoric and American reality.
The law slowly began to address feminist concerns. In 1963, Congress
passed the Equal Pay Act, barring sex discrimination among holders of the same
jobs. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, as noted earlier, prohibited inequalities based
on sex as well as race. Deluged with complaints of discrimination by working
women, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission established by the
law became a major force in breaking down barriers to female employment.
The year 1966 saw the formation of the National Organization for Women
(NOW), with Friedan as president. Modeled on civil rights organizations, it
demanded equal opportunity in jobs, education, and political participation and
attacked the “false image of women” spread by the mass media.
Women’s Liberation
If NOW grew out of a resurgence of middle-class feminism, a different female
revolt was brewing within the civil rights and student movements. As in the
days of abolitionism, young women who had embraced an ideology of social
equality and personal freedom and learned methods of political organizing
encountered inequality and sexual exploitation. Women like Ella Baker and
Fannie Lou Hamer had played major roles in grassroots civil rights organizing. But many women in the movement found themselves relegated to typing,
cooking, and cleaning for male coworkers. Some were pressured to engage in
sexual liaisons. Echoing the words of
Abby Kelley a century earlier, a group
of female SNCC activists concluded in
a 1965 memorandum that “there seem
to be many parallels that can be drawn
between the treatment of Negroes and
the treatment of women in our society
as a whole.” What bothered them most
was the status of women within the
movement, where assumptions of male
In 1967, in a celebrated incident arising from
the new feminism, a race official tried to eject
supremacy seemed as deeply rooted as
Kathrine Switzer from the Boston Marathon, only
in society at large.
to be pushed aside by other runners. ConsidThe same complaints arose in SDS.
ered too fragile for the marathon (whose course
Movement is supposed to be for
covers more than twenty-six miles), women
human liberation,” wrote one stuwere prohibited from running. Switzer completed
the race, and today hundreds of thousands of
dent leader. “How come the condition
women around the world compete in marathons
of women inside it is no better than
each year.
outside?” The rapidly growing number of women in college provided
a ready-made constituency for the
new feminism. By 1967, women throughout the country were establishing
“consciousness-raising” groups to discuss the sources of their discontent. The
time, many concluded, had come to establish a movement of their own, more
radical than NOW. The new feminism burst onto the national scene at the Miss
America beauty pageant of 1968, when protesters filled a “freedom trash can”
with objects of “oppression”—girdles, brassieres, high-heeled shoes, and copies
of Playboy and Cosmopolitan. (Contrary to legend, they did not set the contents
on fire, which would have been highly dangerous on the wooden boardwalk.
But the media quickly invented a new label for radical women—“bra burners.”)
Inside the hall, demonstrators unfurled banners carrying the slogans “Freedom
for Women” and “Women’s Liberation.”
Personal Freedom
The women’s liberation movement inspired a major expansion of the idea of
freedom by insisting that it should be applied to the most intimate realms of
life. Introducing the terms “sexism” and “sexual politics” and the phrase “the
personal is political” into public debate, it insisted that sexual relations, conditions of marriage, and standards of beauty were as much “political” questions

1016 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
What were the sources and significance of the rights revolution of the late 1960s?
as the war, civil rights, and the class tensions that had traditionally inspired
the left to action. The idea that family life is not off-limits to considerations of
power and justice repudiated the family-oriented public culture of the 1950s,
and it permanently changed Americans’ definition of freedom.
Radical feminists’ first public campaign demanded the repeal of state laws
that underscored women’s lack of self-determination by banning abortions
or leaving it up to physicians to decide whether a pregnancy could be terminated. Without the right to control her own reproduction, wrote one activist,
“woman’s other ‘freedoms’ are tantalizing mockeries that cannot be exercised.”
In 1969, a group of feminists disrupted legislative hearings on New York’s law
banning abortions, where the experts scheduled to testify consisted of fourteen
men and a Roman Catholic nun.
The call for legalized abortions merged the nineteenth-century demand
that a woman control her own body with the Sixties emphasis on sexual freedom. But the concerns of women’s liberation went far beyond sexuality. Sisterhood Is Powerful, an influential collection of essays, manifestos, and personal
accounts published in 1970, touched on a remarkable array of issues, from
violence against women to inequalities in the law, churches, workplaces, and
family life. By this time, feminist ideas had entered the mainstream. In 1962, a
poll showed that two-thirds of American women did not feel themselves to be
victims of discrimination. By 1974, two-thirds did.
Gay Liberation
In a decade full of surprises, perhaps the greatest of all was the emergence of the
movement for gay liberation. Efforts of one kind or another for greater rights
for racial minorities and women had a long history. Homosexuals, wrote Harry
Hay, who in 1951 founded the Mattachine Society, the first gay rights organization, were “the one group of disadvantaged people who didn’t even think of
themselves as a group.” Gay men and lesbians had long been stigmatized as
sinful or mentally disordered. Most states made homosexual acts illegal, and
police regularly harassed the gay subcultures that existed in major cities like
San Francisco and New York. McCarthyism, which viewed homosexuality as
a source of national weakness, made the discrimination to which gays were
subjected even worse. Although homosexuals had achieved considerable success in the arts and fashion, most kept their sexual orientation secret, or “in the
The Mattachine Society had worked to persuade the public that apart from
their sexual orientation, gays were average Americans who ought not to be
persecuted. But as with other groups, the Sixties transformed the gay movement. If one moment marked the advent of “gay liberation,” it was a 1969
police raid on the Stonewall Inn in
New York’s Greenwich Village, a gathering place for homosexuals. Rather
than bowing to police harassment, as in
the past, gays fought back. Five days of
rioting followed, and a militant movement was born. Gay men and lesbians
stepped out of the “closet” to insist that
sexual orientation is a matter of rights,
power, and identity. Prejudice against
homosexuals persisted. But within a
few years, “gay pride” marches were
being held in numerous cities.
Latino Activism
As in the case of blacks, a movement for
legal rights had long flourished among
Mexican-Americans. But the mid-1960s
saw the flowering of a new militancy
challenging the group’s second-class
economic status. Like Black Power
advocates, the movement emphasized pride in both the Mexican past and the new Chicano culture that had
arisen in the United States. Unlike the Black Power movement and SDS, it was
closely linked to labor struggles. Beginning in 1965, César Chavez, the son of
migrant farm workers and a disciple of King, led a series of nonviolent protests,
including marches, fasts, and a national boycott of California grapes, to pressure growers to agree to labor contracts with the United Farm Workers union
(UFW). The UFW was as much a mass movement for civil rights as a campaign
for economic betterment. The boycott mobilized Latino communities throughout the Southwest and drew national attention to the pitifully low wages and
oppressive working conditions of migrant laborers. In 1970, the major growers
agreed to contracts with the UFW.
In New York City, the Young Lords Organization, modeled on the Black
Panthers, staged street demonstrations to protest the high unemployment rate
among the city’s Puerto Ricans and the lack of city services in Latino neighborhoods. (In one protest, they dumped garbage on city streets to draw attention to the city’s failure to collect refuse in poor areas.) Like SNCC and SDS,
the Latino movement gave rise to feminist dissent. Many Chicano and Puerto
A 1970 poster urging male and female homosexuals to join the Gay Liberation Front, one of the
numerous movements that sprang to life in the
late 1960s.
1018 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
What were the sources and significance of the rights revolution of the late 1960s?
Rican men regarded feminist demands
as incompatible with the Latino heritage of machismo (an exaggerated sense
of manliness, including the right to
dominate women). Young female activists, however, viewed the sexual double
standard and the inequality of women
as incompatible with freedom for all
members of la raza (the race, or people).
Red Power
A scene in Denver in the mid-1960s. Rodolfo
Corky Gonzáles, center, a former professional
boxer who headed the city’s War on Poverty
program, greets demonstrators whose sign juxtaposes Latino inequality with Mexican-American
service in the army in Vietnam.
The 1960s also witnessed an upsurge
of Indian militancy. The Truman and
Eisenhower administrations had sought
to dismantle the reservation system and
integrate Indians into the American
mainstream—a policy known as “termination,” since it meant ending recognition of the remaining elements of Indian sovereignty. Many Indian leaders protested vigorously against this policy, and it was abandoned by President Kennedy.
Johnson’s War on Poverty channeled increased federal funds to reservations. But
like other minority groups, Indian activists compared their own status to that
of underdeveloped countries overseas. They demanded not simply economic aid
but self-determination, like the emerging nations of the Third World. Using language typical of the late 1960s, Clyde Warrior, president of the National Indian
Youth Council, declared, “We are not free in the most basic sense of the word. We
are not allowed to make those basic human choices about our personal life and
the destiny of our communities.”
Founded in 1968, the American Indian movement staged protests
demanding greater tribal self-government and the restoration of economic
resources guaranteed in treaties. In 1969, a group calling itself “Indians of All
Tribes” occupied (or from their point of view, re-occupied) Alcatraz Island in
San Francisco Bay, claiming that it had been illegally seized from its original
inhabitants. The protest, which lasted into 1971, launched the Red Power
movement. In the years that followed, many Indian tribes would win greater
control over education and economic development on the reservations. Indian
activists would bring land claims suits, demanding and receiving monetary settlements for past dispossession. As a result of a rising sense of self-respect, the
number of Americans identifying themselves as Indians doubled between 1970
and 1990.
Silent Spring
Liberation movements among racial minorities, women, and gays challenged
long-standing social inequalities. Another movement, environmentalism,
called into question different pillars of American life—the equation of progress
with endless increases in consumption and the faith that science, technology,
and economic growth would advance the social welfare. Concern for preserving the natural environment dated back to the creation of national parks and
other conservation efforts during the Progressive era. But in keeping with the
spirit of the Sixties, the new environmentalism was more activist and youthoriented, and it spoke the language of empowering citizens to participate in
decisions that affected their lives. Its emergence reflected the very affluence celebrated by proponents of the American Way. As the “quality of life”—including
physical fitness, health, and opportunities to enjoy leisure activities—occupied
a greater role in the lives of middle-class Americans, the environmental consequences of economic growth received increased attention. When the 1960s
began, complaints were already being heard about the bulldozing of forests
for suburban development and the contamination produced by laundry detergents and chemical lawn fertilizers seeping into drinking supplies.
The publication in 1962 of Silent Spring by the marine biologist Rachel
Carson brought home to millions of readers the effects of DDT, an insecticide
widely used by home owners and farmers against mosquitoes, gypsy moths,
and other insects. In chilling detail, Carson related how DDT killed birds and
animals and caused sickness among humans. Chemical and pesticide companies launched a campaign to discredit her—some critics called the book part of
a communist plot. Time magazine even condemned Carson as “hysterical” and
“emotional”—words typically used by men to discredit women.
The New Environmentalism
Carson’s work launched the modern environmental movement. The Sierra Club,
founded in the 1890s to preserve forests, saw its membership more than triple,
and other groups sprang into existence to alert the country to the dangers of
water contamination, air pollution, lead in paint, and the extinction of animal
species. Nearly every state quickly banned the use of DDT. In 1969, television
brought home to a national audience the death of birds and fish and the despoiling of beaches caused by a major oil spill off the coast of California, exposing the
environmental dangers of oil transportation and ocean drilling for oil.
The postwar economic boom, with its seemingly limitless demand for
resources like land, energy, and building materials, placed enormous stress on
the natural environment. As highways and suburbs paved over the landscape,
1020 ★ CHAPTER 25 The Si xti es
What were the sources and significance of the rights revolution of the late 1960s?
more and more Americans became committed to the survival of places of natural beauty.
Despite vigorous opposition from business groups that considered its proposals a violation of property rights, environmentalism attracted the broadest bipartisan support of any of the new social movements. Under Republican
president Richard Nixon, Congress during the late 1960s and early 1970s
passed a series of measures to protect the environment, including the Clean
Air and Clean Water Acts and the Endangered Species Act. On April 22, 1970,
the first Earth Day, some 20 million people, most of them under the age of
thirty, participated in rallies, concerts, and teach-ins.
Closely related to environmentalism was the consumer movement,
spearheaded by the lawyer Ralph Nader. His book Unsafe at Any Speed (1965)
exposed how auto manufacturers produced highly dangerous vehicles. General Motors, whose Chevrolet Corvair Nader singled out for its tendency to roll
over in certain driving situations, hired private investigators to discredit him.
When their campaign was exposed, General Motors paid Nader a handsome
settlement, which he used to fund investigations of other dangerous products
and of misleading advertising.
Nader’s campaigns laid the groundwork for the numerous new consumer
protection laws and regulations of the 1970s. Unlike 1960s movements that
emphasized personal liberation, environmentalism and the consumer movement called for limiting some kinds of freedom—especially the right to use private property in any way the owner d…
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