Hubert Humphrey once stated, When we say, One nation under God, with liberty and justice for all, we are talking about all people. We either ought to believe it or quit saying it (Hakim 111). During the 1960s, a great number of people did, in fact, begin to believe it. These years were a time of great change for America. The country was literally redefined as people from all walks of life fought to uphold their standards on what they believed a true democracy is made of; equal rights for all races, freedom of speech, and the right to stay out of wars in which they felt they didnt belong. The music of the era did a lot of defining and upholding as well; in fact, it was a driving force, or at the very least a strongly supporting force, in many of the movements that took place. However, it is to be expected that in attempting to change a nation one will inevitably face opposition. The Vietnamese werent the only ones involved in a civil war those years; in America, one could easily find brother turning against brother, or more commonly, parent against child, as each side fought to defend their views. The 1960s were a major turning point in the history of the U.S, and when it was all over, the American way of life would never be the same. Almost seventy years before the sixties even began, segregation was legalized. As long as both races had equal facilities, it was entirely legal to divide them (Hakim 64-65). In 1955, however, an elderly black woman by the name of Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. She was arrested. Parks later proved to be the true catalyst of the anti-segregation movement. When news of the arrest reached the black population, action was taken immediately. A massive bus boycott was organized, during which time no one of color could be found on a bus in the Montgomery area. Finally, in 1956, a law was passed proclaiming that any form of segregation was illegal and immoral (Hakim 69-71). Unfortunately, not everyone was eager to embrace this change. Many whites felt that if they were forced to share, they would rather go without. Across the country, public recreational facilities were locked up rather than integrated. In Birmingham, Alabama in 1962, for example, sixty-eight parks, thirty-eight playgrounds, six pools, and four gold courses were closed to the public (Hakim 97). Congress had finally granted equal rights, but the black population of America had a long way to go before their rights were truly equal. Many groups such as the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee), and CORE (Congress Of Racial Equality) were formed to organize rallies and marches to support their cause (Benson 15, 18-19). A few individuals such as James Farmer and Marin Luther King, Jr., however, stand out among all others as the true leaders of the movement. Farmer was the nations first black man to earn a Ph.D., and he was also the founder of CORE. He realized that the black population would be seen as ignorant and inferior until they had equal education and job training. He demanded that the federal government provide programs to make education and training available, stating, When a society has crippled some of its people, it has an obligation to provide the requisite crutches (Benson 34-35). Martin Luther King Jr., born in 1929, became famous for his methods of anti-violent protest, modeled after the methods of the late Mahatma Ghandi. He said Ghandi taught him that, there is more power in socially organized masses on the march than in guns in the hands of a few desperate men. In 1964, King became the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize (Hakim 76, 121). On April 4, 1968, however, Kings short life was brought to an untimely end when he was assassinated by white supremacist James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of thirty-nine. To this day, some people believe that the FBI was involved in the killing, due to the fact that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover strongly and openly disliked King . These beliefs have never been confirmed (Benson 33). Kings tactics of peaceful demonstration were the most popular of the time. Sit-ins were very common, originating in 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina when, despite being covered in ketchup and brutally beaten by violent spectators, four black students refused to leave a lunch counter at Woolworths until they were served (Benson 16),. Protestors simply wrapped their ankles around the stool legs and grasped the edges of their seats, defiantly resisting all attempts to remove them (Hakim 100). More efficient than the sit-ins, however, were the marches that took place during the time. A march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery in 1964 resulted in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and a march on Washington in 1963 consisting of two- hundred and fifty thousand participants, sixty-thousand of whom were white (Benson 47), proved how significant the movement really was. The march on Washington was also the day of Martin Luther Kings famous I have a dream speech, in which he proclaimed, I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their characterthat one day down in Alabamalittle black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothersand when this happens and when we allow freedom to ring from every villagefrom every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all Gods children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last (Hakim 103-104). Despite the usually peaceful, non-violent attitudes of protestors, they were often met with violence from people who were strongly opposed to their cause. In Birmingham, a bomb exploded during a Sunday school class and four young girls were killed. Bull Conner, ironically the public commissioner of safety of the same city, ordered the arrests of hundreds of non-violent student demonstrators. He also ordered high-pressured fire hoses and police dogs to be turned on the marchers, causing many injuries (Hakim 99-100). Reporters covering such events often found themselves among the victims of such violence. They were commonly beaten, and their cameras smashed. White supremacists in the south felt that the media only encouraged the movement for equal rights, and this thought proved to be correct. Without themedia the movement might not have succeeded, for the rest of the nation would not have seen in action the violent racism practiced by southern whites (Benson 20). While the anti-segregation movement carried on in the American South, war raged in Vietnam. The roots of the war dated back to the early 1950s, when the Viet Minh were in control of North Vietnam and the French were in control of the South. They shared a common goal of wanting to unite the country, but neither wanted to relinquish control. In 1954, France abandoned the cause, leaving Ngo Dinh Diem in charge of the southern half of the country. Diem, however, did not have the resources to fight against the Viet Minh, so rather than admitting defeat, he appealed to the United States for help. President Kennedy agreed to send a small number of troops in for assistance, and the general public initially agreed with the choice. However, Diem was assassinated in 1963, and when no strong government was formed afterwards, the U.S. was forced to shoulder more and more of the burden of the war (Benson 134-136). By 1967, the Vietnam war was costing America seventy million dollars a day (Hakim 119), and by the wars end, two-three million Vietnamese and fifty-eight thousand Americans were dead (Gitlin 3). Prior to 1966, all students were exempt from the draft. After 1966, however, students with below average grades were completely eligible to be sent to war (Benson 142). As can be expected, this caused much dissent among the youth of America, playing a large role in the birth of the Peace Movement. For the most part, demonstrators followed the law with their protests. An initial form of protest was the teach-in, where speakers from around the country would debate. A national teach-in was held on May 15, 1965 in Washington D.C., educating many people on the issues of Vietnam. Pamphlets were another common form of protest, due to a general mistrust of the newspapers. It has been said that the number of pamphlets during the 1960s probably equaled the number of pamphlets during the Revolutionary war era (Benson 142-144). Many illegal and dishonest methods of protest took place as well. To avoid being drafted, or as a response to being drafted, a great number of people fled to Canada or Europe, burned their draft cards, or claimed religious beliefs that prevented them from fighting (Benson 180). Despite the numerous student protests, American youth were not the only ones who believed their country did not belong in Vietnam. On March 16, 1965, an eighty-two-year-old Quaker woman named Alice Herz immolated herself to protest the war (Archer 119). Finally, in 1973, President Nixon ordered for the gradual with drawl of troops from Vietnam, and in 1975, the last of the troops returned home. The Vietnam Peace Movement was only part of the student movements that went on at the time. The baby boom after World War II more than doubled the population of U.S. colleges in 1960-1964. This was also the first generation to grow up with the knowledge that an atomic bomb could destroy the world. The students felt power of their numbers, and they felt also that they should have more say in the issues that affected their lives (Benson 50) A prime and initial example of these feelings are the events taking place at Berkely University in 1964. University officials passed a new regulation which forbade students from using a popular sidewalk in front of the school to demonstrate political activities. Claiming that the ban was a restriction on free speech, more than a thousand people attended a rally and sit-in the following day in which more than eight hundred people were arrested (Benson 53). However, the administration eventually backed down, and after a thirty-two-hour standoff (Sann 137), the victorious protestors were awarded their rights to the sidewalk. Mario Savio, who considered himself non-political, was considered the spokesperson for the movement. In a later interview in Life magazine, he said of America, intellectually it is bankrupt and morally its poverty stricken (Benson 56). The Berkely free speech movement was one of the first campus movements of the time, but its success paved the way for campus revolutions to come. The incidents at Kent State in 1970, however, rapidly brought an end to this form of demonstration. After President Nixon made a decision to send American troops into Cambodia in 1970, an ROTC building at Kent State was set on fire as a form of protest and the Ohio governor felt it was necessary to call in the National Guard. Guard members threw tear gas canisters to disperse a huge gathering in the campus commons, and when a small group of students threw the canisters back, the soldiers disobeyed direct orders and shot into the crowd. Four students were killed and ten were injured (Benson 78). The events at Kent State outraged the nation. Most of the students had been shot in the back, proving that a majority of demonstrators were peaceful, and had been fleeing, not pursuing, the soldiers (Emmens 123). Strikes and demonstrations that involved fifty to sixty percent of students broke out on more than half of the campuses in the nation. At least a million students were demonstrating for the first time in their lives. More than five hundred campuses canceled classes and fifty were forced to close for the entire semester due to demonstrations. Ironically, the National Guard was called onto twenty-two campuses to quell demonstrations protesting exactly that. As a result of these events, Congress finally realized the significance of student opinion and changed the legal voting age from twenty-one to eighteen (Gitlin 4). After this, campus demonstrations steadily decreased and, before long,, fizzled out altogether. Almost all of the events of the sixties can in some way be traced to the music of the time. The majority of the bands and musicians of the time had extreme political views and sang songs that were directed more towards American youth and which talked of equal rights or the immoralities of war. British bands such as the Beatles, along with Motown Records, however, made a point of staying neutral, especially in situations involving integration (Benson 95). Consisting of mainly black groups in a time when black music was just beginning to grow in popularity, Motown would have been insane to risk the loss of any fans by making taking a side on such issues. As black music grew, however, the popularity of traditional folk music continued to travel steadily downhill. By the late sixties, all that remained was Pete Seegers We Shall Overcome, which was the unofficial anthem for the Anti-Segregation Movement, along with the music of Joan Baez. Baez was a strong believer in non-violence and non-violent methods of protest. She once stated, nonviolence is-well, totally misunderstood. Its not avoiding violence. Its the opposite of running. It means confronting violence and having to come up with something more intelligent in response (Benson 153). Janis Joplin was also a strong supporter of non-violence, especially that of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ideas behind integration. Unlike Baez, though, her style of music was entirely new. She is described as having brought African-American blues to white Americans (Norton 940). In her song Get it While You Can, she belted lyrics like, In this world if you read the papers, Lord, you know that everybodys fighting on with each other. You got no one you can count on baby, not even your own brother, and in Down On Me, she proclaimed that, Love in this world is so hard to find The fame that usually accompanies being a musician, however, drew her into a never-ending whirlwind of drugs, and in 1970 when she was only twenty-seven years old, she overdosed on heroin in a Los Angeles motel (Joplin 1-2), a mere sixteen days after Jimi Hendrix suffered the same fate (Benson 104). Another strong advocate of equal rights and peace at the time was Bob Dylan. Recently voted by Life magazine as one of the most important Americans of the twentieth century, his songs have been covered by literally hundreds of artists. The bulk of his music protested the war, with his most famous song being Blowing in the Wind, in which he pleaded for the answers to such questions as, How many times must the cannonballs fly before theyre forever banned? how many ears must one man have before he can hear the people cry? how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died? Badly injured in a motorcycle accident in 1966, Dylan made a brief return to music, but after 1970, he disappeared from the public eye entirely and went into seclusion (Dylan 1). With the tremendous influence of the music of the sixties, it makes sense that one of the most memorable events of the decade was Woodstock, a three day celebration of song, drugs, sex, and peace. Held in the Catskills in August 1969, Max Yusgar was paid fifty thousand dollars for the use of his farm. Bands included Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Richie Havens, The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix, among many others (Sann 287). The number of people attending Woodstock was equivalent to the population of the fourth largest city in the U.S. at the time, and traffic was backed up for literally miles (Benson 103). The celebration received a lot of negative feedback from older generations, but other than excessive drug use premarital sex, Woodstock-goers handled themselves very well. Of the five thousand people treated for injuries, the majority were foot problems as a result of going barefoot, but not a single injury was inflicted upon anyone by another human being (Sann 287). Amazingly, a store owner told a New York Times reporter, Ill tell you something we cashed I dont know how many checks and not one of them bounced (Benson 103). The 1960s indeed were a time of tremendous change and social upheaval for the United States. The youth of the generation discovered a voice which no generation before them had ever discovered, and they refused to do anything short of discovering its full potential. Disregarding fears of police and even of physical violence, they fought and in some cases even died for what they knew they rightfully deserved. They earned their freedom of speech and their right to vote. Their fight against war was not won quite as quickly, but they made themselves heard in a time when only the strong and dedicated survived. Racial equality to this day is not fully recognized, but it has come a very long way, due expressly to the movements of the 60s. It is doubtful, however, that any of these movements would have gone anywhere without the music, for it was the music that truly inspired and united the country. The people of a decade finally rose as a unit to change the fate of our country for the better. No one could better state the feelings of the country as a whole than did Mario Pavio when he declared, Im tired of reading history. I want to make it (Norton 938).
Works Cited Archer, Jules. The Incredible Sixties: The Stormy Years That Changed America. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1986. Benson, Kathleen and James Haskins. The 60s Reader. New York, New York: Viking Kestral, 1988. Bob Dylan. http://www.rollingstone.com/sections/artists/text/bio.asp?afl=strBioType =BIO&lookupstring=317. Emmens, Carol A. An Album of the Sixties. New York: Franklin Watts, 1981. Gitlin, Todd. Reading McNamara: Vietnam and Kent State. Peace and Change. April 1996: 12. Hakim, Joy. A History of US: All the People: 1945-1999. Book 10. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Joplin, Laura. Biography. http://www.officialjanis.com/html/bio.html. 1999 Fantality Corporation. Norton, Mary Beth, et. al. A People and a Nation. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998. Sann, Paul. The Angry Decade: The Sixties: A Pictorial History. New York: Crown Publishers, 1979.
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