Africa and America in The Sixties
THE SIXTIES changed the destiny of the African continent and its people in many fundamental
It was a period marked by the end of colonial rule as one country after another won independence.
Coincidentally, it was during the same period that the civil rights movement in the United States gained momentum and reached
The victory of Africans in their struggle for independence in most countries on the African
continent also inspired black Americans in their struggle for racial equality. They not only drew inspiration from this victory
but felt proud because of the common African heritage they shared with their brethren on the continent.
And at no other time in American history did such pride among blacks manifest itself as it
did in the sixties. Even without the victories in Africa, black Americans - galvanized by the civil rights movement - found
a renewed sense of purpose in their lives as a distinct group proud of its identity and forcefully proclaimed their pride
as black people. As Eldridge Cleaver, the minister of information of the militant Black Panther Party, said: "They have seized
on their blackness and rallied around it."
Stokely Carmichael, probably the most prominent advocate of Black Power, had
this to say: "It is time to stop being ashamed of being black - time to stop trying to be white. When you see your daughter
playing in the fields, with her nappy hair, her wide nose and her thick lips, tell her she is beautiful. Tell your daughter she is beautiful."
The preceding quotations come from Time/Life Books, This Fabulous Century: 1960 - 1970 (p. 32).
And as James Brown proudly said in one of his songs with the same title: "I'm black and I'm
It was a pride they shared with Africans in Africa. And it was a pride that went beyond slavery
all the way back to Africa's ancient kingdoms and to the newly independent nations. It was also a pride that embraced African
culture as a way of life and bond of unity between Africa and the African diaspora.
Many black Americans took African names and began to learn African languages, especially Kiswahili
(popularly known as Swahili), which got its biggest boost in 1966 when Maulana Karenga, one of the most prominent black militants
in the sixties, started the Kwanzaa festival based on Nguzo Saba (a Swahili term meaning Seven Principles) and encouraged
other blacks to learn this language which transcends ethnic identity as a Pan-African language.
No single African ethnic group can claim Kiswahili as its own like Yoruba, Zulu, Kikuyu or
any of the other African languages. It evolved from many African languages and is older than modern English.
Not only did many black Americans - since 1988 known as African Americans - start learning
Kiswahili in the sixties; they adopted African life styles, wearing African clothes, eating African foods, dancing to African
music and singing African songs. They also embraced African traditional beliefs and religions; and started buying, promoting
and producing African art, and decorating their homes with African carvings, paintings and other items.
And they proudly wore the Afro hair style and braids and called themselves Afro-Americans.
They were no longer Negroes. As Malcolm X said in one of his speeches: "Where is Negroland?" He emphatically stated that black
people in the United States were Africans: "You are nothing but Africans" born in America.
All that racial pride and identification with their ancestral motherland strengthened their
ties to Africa.
The manifestation of black pride and admiration of the African heritage among black Americans
was also expressed in another very significant way: demand for the establishment of Black or Afro-American studies departments
in colleges and universities across the United States.
It was in the sixties, especially from the mid-sixties, that Afro-American and African studies
became an integral part of the curriculum in institutions of higher learning across the nation. And the introduction of these
studies, after persistent demands by black students and faculty members including some of their white supporters, had a profound
impact in transforming education in the United States and in projecting a positive image of black Americans and the continent
of Africa and its people.
The transformation coincided with, and was partly reinforced by, the emergence of African countries
from colonial rule as independent nations.
It was in the sixties when, for the first time, Africans emerged on the international scene
not only as a free people but as a people who spoke for themselves, and defined themselves, and were no longer defined and
dominated by the imperial powers who had exploited them and muzzled them for so long when they were colonial subjects.
Before the sixties, no black African countries were represented in international forums as
independent nations except Liberia and Ethiopia.
Tragically, the sixties were also years of conflict. It was a period that witnessed some of
the most violent conflicts in the history of Africa, most notably in the Congo and Nigeria, two black nations which had the
potential to be the best hope for Black Africa because of their wealth and size.
The Nigerian civil war from 1967 - 1970 was the bloodiest conflict in modern African history
up to that time and remained one for decades until it was surpassed by the death toll in the Sudanese civil war and by the
carnage in the Great Lakes region of east-central Africa where the death toll from the nineties to the early part of the twentieth-first
century reached 5 million or more.
About 4 million people perished since August 1998 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, mostly
in the eastern part of the country. Almost 1 million people, mostly Tutsi, were massacred in Rwanda in Rwanda during the 1994
genocide. More than 200,000 Hutus were killed in retaliatory violence at the hands of the Tutsi and the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan
government of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), avenging the massacre of the Tutsi by Hutu extremists during the genocide.
And at least 300,000 people, mostly Hutu, were killed in the civil war in Burundi in 10 years
since October 1993 when Melchior Ndadaye, the country's first democratically elected president in the country's history since
independence in 1962, was assassinated by Tutsi soldiers after being in office only for about three months.
All these conflicts had their genesis in the turbulent sixties and in the flawed nature of
the institutions of authority Africans inherited at independence which did not reflect or accommodate African realities.
The conflicts also had their origin in the way power was transferred to the new African rulers
without taking into account conflicting ethnoregional interests and the asymmetrical relationship between different ethnic
and regional groups in the allocation of power and distribution of resources; and in the way the colonial rulers themselves
exacerbated tensions and helped ignite and fuel conflicts by transferring power to members of some ethnic groups to the exclusion
For example, in Nigeria the Hausa-Fulani assumed power at the expense of the Yoruba, the Igbo
and other ethnic groups. This was one of the main causes of the Nigerian civil war. And in Burundi the Tutsi, although a very
small minority, assumed power at the expense of the Hutu who constitute the vast majority of the population in both Rwanda
and Burundi, two states in the Great Lakes region which are almost a mirror image of each other in terms of ethnic composition
and inequity of power between the two ethnic groups.
Besides all these conflicts, the sixties were also the years which witnessed the consolidation
of the nation-states across the continent and the emergence of authoritarian rule which in many cases amounted to dictatorship
and tyranny as many African leaders justified curtailment of freedom and suffocation of dissent on grounds of national unity;
contending that if the people were allowed "too much freedom" - a relative term depending on the context in which it is articulated
- and the right to form opposition parties, the countries would break up since those parties would most likely be formed on
ethnic and regional basis, fueling ethnoregional rivalries leading to conflict. And there were cases when this was a rational
One of the most effective ways to avert this catastrophe, hence neutralize dissent, was by
encouraging and sometimes forcing people to support or join the ruling party which usually was the party that led the struggle
for independence. Thus, the emergence of authoritarian rule, therefore dictatorship - with the leaders invoking the spectre
of national disintegration to mobilize the masses and rally support - led to the introduction and institutionalization of
one-party rule which became one of the most prominent features of the political landscape and national life in most countries
across the continent for decades. All this had its beginning in the sixties.
But as African leaders assumed more power and worked hard to strengthen the one-party system,
another phenomenon came to affect national life and profoundly changed the way African countries were governed. This new phenomenon
was military coups which led to the introduction of military rule in many parts of the continent.
After the first military coup took place in Togo in January 1963, many others followed in different
parts of the continent through the sixties including the one in Nigeria in January 1966, a seminal event which led to the
a series of catastrophes including the Nigerian civil war. Another major coup took place in Ghana with the help of the CIA
and led to the ouster of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in February 1966.
In addition to military intervention in government, a phenomenal event in those years and in
the following decades, there were other important events and developments which took place in the sixties and changed the
course of African history. One of those events was the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia, in May 1963.
Although the OAU did not achieve many of its goals and became no more than a debating and social
club for corrupt and despotic rulers - what Julius Nyerere called "a trade union of tyrants" - it did play a major role in
supporting the liberation movements on the continent, especially in southern Africa and in the Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau
in West Africa. That was undoubtedly its biggest achievement and the OAU which had its genesis in the sixties, will always
be remembered for that.
Another major event in the sixties was the unilateral declaration of independence by the white
minority regime in Rhodesia under the leadership of Ian Smith in November 1965, two-and-a-half years after the OAU was formed.
It was an act of ultimate defiance by the white settlers and a major challenge to the black
African majority in that country and the rest of Africa. African countries were too weak to bring down the Smith regime. But
the unilateral declaration of independence - which came to be known as UDI - fueled and intensified the liberation struggle
on the continent and was one of the main factors that led to the adoption of guerrilla tactics which became the main feature
of the liberation wars not only in Rhodesia but throughout southern Africa.
In fact, the freedom fighters had already started waging guerrilla warfare in some of he colonies
even before the white settlers in Rhodesia declared independence. In Angola, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola
(MPLA) launched an armed struggle against the Portuguese colonial rulers in 1961. In Portuguese Guinea in West Africa, the
independence struggle began even earlier, in 1959. And in Mozambique, another Portuguese colony, the Front for the Liberation
of Mozambique (FRELIMO) started waging guerilla warfare in 1964.
But the illegal seizure of power by the white minorities in Rhodesia gave impetus to all the
struggles and in Rhodesia itself where guerilla warfare by the nationalist forces of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU)
and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) started a few years later in 1974; coincidentally, in the same year Guinea-Bissau
won independence after waging an armed struggle for 15 years against the Portuguese colonial forces, becoming the first Portuguese
African colony to win independence after more than 500 years of Portuguese colonial rule.
While the liberation struggle was an African phenomenon, and an African initiative as well
an indigenous military expression of political aspirations, it also entailed foreign involvement and became very much a part
of the Cold War between the East and the West as the two ideological camps competed for control of the Third World of which
Africa was an integral part and one of the main theatres of conflict.
Thus, as the liberation wars started in earnest, the Cold War also came to Africa in the sixties
with a fury and had a profound effect on the course of many events in different countries across the continent and influenced
the course of African history. As independent nations, Africans were no longer mere spectators as they once were during colonial
rule but became active participants on the international scene sometimes in a way that offended big powers even though they
played only a peripheral role because of their weakness.
But it was precisely their weakness that was also their strength as the world powers in the
East and the West competed for ideological allies among these weak countries, hoping to turn them into what Dr.Nkrumah described
as "client states." As Nyerere warned, "We are not going to allow our friends to choose our enemies for us." And some of them
became client states of Western or Eastern powers, as Africa got caught between the two ideological camps contending for hegemonic
control of the Third World.
It was not until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and her satellites in the late 1980s
and early 1990s that African countries escaped the scourge of the Cold War, but only to come under domination of the industrial
West, the driving force behind globalization in the post-Cold War era in this unipolar world dominated by the United States.
And all this has echoes from the sixties when the United States was also the world's undisputed industrial and economic giant
enjoying enormous prosperity despite the challenge to its military might from the Soviet Union.
But it was a prosperity marred by inequalities which found forceful expression in mass demonstrations
and protests never witnessed before in the history of the United States.
While all these upheavals were going on in the turbulent sixties in the United States - the
civil rights movement and black militancy articulated by the Black Panthers and other militants; protests against the Vietnam
war, and the rise of the counterculture; demands by young white radicals and other disillusioned young people on many college
campuses who formed the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and who issued the famous Port Huron Statement; the feminist
movement as well as other protest groups; while all this was going on, the United States still continued to enjoy unprecedented
economic prosperity it had enjoyed in the previous decade in the fifties and even before then. This was because of the economic
boom Americans had been able to enjoy since the end of World War II, a boom fueled by the demands of the war. It was the bloodiest
conflict in the history of mankind and cost about 45 million lives.
Yet, in spite of all this progress, there were segments of the American society which had been
bypassed, ignored or overlooked by the larger society while millions of Americans, mostly white, forged ahead. Blacks were
the most disadvantaged, their plight compounded by racism.
Poor whites also suffered. But if you were poor and black, it was double jeopardy. You suffered
twice as much. And even if you were economically successful but black, you still suffered in many ways because of racism in
a predominantly white society where black people were not accepted by whites as equals.
So, there were some major contradictions in the American society which were highlighted in
the sixties, with the civil rights movement bringing into sharp focus the glaring contradiction between rhetoric and reality
in a country that boasted and had proclaimed to the whole world that it was founded on the twin ideals of liberty and equality;
yet denied those very same rights to millions of its citizens for no reason other than that they were black and therefore
not equal to whites who constituted the vast majority of the population "in the land of the free and the home of the brave."
The plight of the poor - black and white, yellow and brown and others in between
and beyond - was also highlighted in the sixties in many different ways, one of which was the publication of a book, The Other America, by Michael Harrington in 1963. President Kennedy read the book
shortly before his death. It is said the book had a profound impact on him when he formulated his domestic policies based
on what he had just read about the plight of the poor in Harrington's work.
But he faced stiff opposition from conservative southerners who resisted his plans to increase
federal aid for education, health insurance for the elderly and other programmes. Therefore in spite of his inspiring rhetoric
and compassionate understanding of the plight of the poor, his policies were often limited and did not achieve maximum results.
But they were still driven by a more redistributive ethic to share America's wealth with the
poor. And they reached a new height under his successor, Lyndon Johnson, who declared the War on Poverty, a highly ambitious
programme with mixed results, after Kennedy was gone, his life abruptly ended by an assassin's bullet on November 22, 1963.
When Kennedy won the presidential election in 1960, he was 43, the youngest man in American
history ever to win the presidency.
One of the most important factors in his victory was the way he looked and conducted himself
in the debates with the Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon in September and October 1960.
They were the first nationally televised presidential debates and they helped to change the
course of American history and of the way presidential campaigns and politics would be conducted in the future.
The first presidential nominating conventions to be nationally televised were in 1952 when
Dwight Eisenhower was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate, and Adlai Stevenson as the Democratic party's standard
bearer. But there were no debates until 1960.
The Kennedy-Nixon debates changed the course of American history because had the 1960 presidential
campaign been conducted the old-fashioned way without the glare of national television cameras focusing on debates between
the contenders and even on how the candidates looked on camera, Nixon would probably have won the election which Kennedy won
by a very thin margin.
Therefore Kennedy, himself a larger-than-life figure on the American political scene who by
his mere presence also influenced the course of events, would not have been president - at least not in the early sixties
- and the liberal policies he supported, including civil rights, would not have been implemented the way they were in the
sixties even after he was assassinated.
In fact, it is highly unlikely that the 1964 Civil Rights Bill would have been introduced let
alone won support in Congress dominated by southern conservatives and Republicans and with a Republican president in office.
Also, had Kennedy not won the presidency, there probably would have been no Bay of Pigs invasion,
no Berlin Wall crisis, and no Cuban missile crisis which pushed the world to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe; not because
Nixon would have been a dove in office had he won but because he might have pursued different policies and might dealt with
some of those crises differently.
Therefore there is no doubt that Kennedy's victory changed not only American history but also
had, for better or for worse, a profound impact on the conduct of foreign policy and on relations with the Soviet Union. And
his policy towards Cuba - of isolation - remained official American policy for decades pursued by both parties. Democratic
and Republican presidents have for decades pursued the same policy of isolating Cuba in an attempt to dislodge Castro from
power. Had he lost the presidential debates in 1960, things would probably have been different under Nixon.
And there is no question that Nixon's poor performance in the debates - despite his wide knowledge
and sharp grasp of facts comparable to if not better than Kennedy's in some respects - was a decisive factor in his defeat.
As Ken Elder stated in his article "The Nixon-Kennedy Debates":
“The first Nixon-Kennedy debate and those following it helped to boost the Kennedy campaign
due to the appearance of both politicians on the television screen.
The first debate was probably the most successful for Kennedy of the debates between Nixon
and Kennedy which occurred in September and October of 1960.
The debates, when aired on television gave the public an image of the two candidates, Kennedy
was poised and calm, whereas Nixon looked tired, haggard, and nervous.
Kennedy's knowledge and firm grasp on the questions that were posed for debate, completely
wiped away any of the Republican feelings that Kennedy was too inexperienced for the presidency. Because of Kennedy's youth,
the Republicans had felt that he was too young for office. They thought that an older, more experienced Republican candidate
like Nixon was a safer choice.
One factor that should be considered when looking at the debates and deciding who was the true
victor, is the amount of time that the two opponents had to study and review the topics that were to be discussed.
Kennedy had three days to relax and contemplate the debate questions. He was able to review
the material and study it. Nixon, on the other hand, had been touring and campaigning until the moment of the debate.
It was because of this that Nixon looked tired, and it was because of this that Nixon was less
prepared to confront the topics.
The success of the Kennedy debate was enormous and evident. It was so evident, in fact, that
Senator Lausche, who refused to appear at the steer roast the night before with Kennedy, visited Kennedy at seven-thirty in
the morning at his hotel to talk. The visit from senator Lausche removed any of the lingering doubts Kennedy may have felt
about the success of the Kennedy/Nixon debates.
The first debate, in September, was compared by Kennedy to Jack Kennedy's previous debate with
Henry Cabot Lodge in Waltham, Massachusetts.
In this debate Henry Lodge was the more experienced Republican statesman, whereas Kennedy was
less experienced. Henry Lodge should have won the debate easily. However, it was Kennedy who showed more poise and knowledge
of the material in the debate.
Before the Kennedy debates the Republican party was trying to use Kennedy's youth and " immaturity"
against him, saying he did not have enough experience. The Nixon Kennedy debates showed that Kennedy's youth did not match
up with his knowledge and that, even though he was very young on the outside, his knowledge was the same if not greater, than
Kennedy proved the Republicans wrong, and his youth and calmness helped him to win the debates
On television he came across well, he looked young, slim, well tanned, and clean cut. On the
other hand, Nixon looked so strained, several Republican leaders asked him if he was really as sick as he looked. Nixon actually
looked so terrible that his secretary had to issue a statement saying that he 'looked good in person.'
All of Kennedy's respect for his opponent disappeared during the debates. His attitude and
disregard towards Nixon came across clearly in the televised debates. While Nixon would desperately fight for a point, Kennedy
would look at him with a bored expression as though he found what Nixon was saying as humorous.
After the debates of 1960 Kennedy stated that he felt that it was his duty to win the election
in order to keep Nixon out of office and protect the American nation.”
One of Nixon's biographers also says in his book about Nixon, as do other published reports,
that Nixon's mother watched the debates and called her son soon after the debates and asked him if he was all right. She thought
he was afflicted with some kind of illness she did not know about.
During the campaign, Kennedy spoke of moving aggressively into the new decade, the sixties,
for, as he put it in his acceptance speech in 1960 as the Democratic presidential candidate, "the New Frontier is here whether
we like it or not." he went on to say:
“We stand at the edge of a New Frontier - the frontier of unfulfilled hopes and dreams.
It will deal with unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions
of poverty and surplus.”
And in his inaugural address, he eloquently appealed to his fellow countrymen: "Ask not what
your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
But even with such exhortations, asking fellow Americans to do more for their
country instead of waiting or expecting their country to do things for them, there was still a sense of compassion that Kennedy
showed for the poor, as was clearly demonstrated by his proposals and the policies he formulated to tackle problems of poverty;
and by the attention he paid to what Michael Harrington said in his book, The Other America. Harrington's message struck a responsive chord in Kennedy - it is said when he read the
book, he was moved by it - and addressing the nation's problems of the poor became a main item on Kennedy's agenda.
The poor were "the other America," according to Michael Harrington; invisible, yet very much
an integral part of the American society and way of life. He argued that the number of Americans living in poverty was much
larger than what the statistics showed. They included working Americans whose poverty was hidden by the nice clothes they
wore to work as if they were members of the middle class. Others were out of sight, hardly seen by the affluent. And they
were trapped in poverty, yet living in a country with abundant wealth.
They were the focus of his study, one of the most influential books to come
out of the sixties, including John Kenneth Galbraith's work, The Affluent Society, which, together with Harrington's The
provided the intellectual rationale for the Great Society's economic and social programmes in the sixties funded by the federal
government to fight poverty.
Much of this was being done because the federal government had been prodded into doing something
about the plight of the poor as much as it was pushed by the civil rights movement to do something abut the racial injustices
black people were suffering in the land of their birth and the only country they knew as home. And protest groups and movements
in the sixties deserve credit for that. They may have had different agendas but they were all united in their desire to make
their country a better place for all its citizens. And at no other time was this better demonstrated than in the sixties.
And no other American leader offered hope for a better future than President Kennedy. Young
and articulate, energetic and intelligent, he embodied dreams and aspirations of millions of Americans for a better country
and even for a better world. And his policy decisions had an impact far beyond American borders. And some of them had a direct
impact on many us in Africa.
One of those decisions led to the establishment of the Peace Corps. President Kennedy issued
an executive order on March 1, 1961, creating the Peace Corps. Even before he won the election, Kennedy had the Peace Corp
idea on his mind. He first mentioned it in his speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on October 14, 1960, and
challenged the crowd of more than 10,000 students to volunteer for two years after they graduate to work abroad and help developing
nations meet their needs in different fields.
After Kennedy's speech, students from the organization "Americans Committed to World Responsibility"
organized a petition drive asking the university administration to create a programme embodying or reflecting the ideals of
the Peace Corps as articulated by the Democratic presidential aspirant on the campus of this leading American university.
More than a thousand people, mostly students, signed the petion within a few weeks supporting the idea.
In his inaugural address on January 20th Kennedy again spoke about the need for
the Peace Corps. As he put it: "To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of
mass misery we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves."
The Peace Corps became a reality less than two months later when President-elect Kennedy issued
an executive order establishing it.
Under this organization or agency, many young American men and women, mostly fresh out of college,
were sent to many parts of the Third World to help the people in developing countries meet their own needs. One of those areas
was education, and many Peace Corp volunteers went to teach in African countries and elsewhere in the developing parts of
When I was a teenager in Tanzania in the sixties, some of my teachers were American Peace Corps.
I remember well what one of our first Peace Corp teacher said when he introduced himself to
us in class at Mpuguso Middle School in Rungwe District in the Southern Highlands one morning in the early part of 1964 when
I was in standard eight, what Americans call the eighth grade. He said: "My name is Leonard Levitt. I am a Jew from New York
I also remember that he followed the news very closely including the conflict in the Congo
and pronounced African names well - he had quite a way of saying "Antoine Gizenga," Lumumba's vice premier, "Christophe Gbenye,"
and he pronounced them correctly.
More than 40 years later, Gizenga, an enduring political phenomenon, again emerged on the national
political scene when he ran for president in 2006 and won a respectable 13 percent in the first round in August in a field
of about 20 presidential candidates. The leading contender, President Joseph Kabila won 45 percent, and his most serious rival,
Jean-Pierre Mbemba won 20 percent. Nzanga Mobutu, the son of former President Mobutu Sese Seko, won 5 percent, and another
candidate Oscar Kashala won 4 percent. Both Gizenga and Nzanga Mobutu later endorsed Kabila against Mbemba in order to keep
the country united.
Probably many people in the 1960s did not think Gizenga would still be on the political scene
more than 40 years later. But there he was again, in 2006, as a serious contender for president. However, his political fortunes
were greatest in the sixties when he was Lumumba's deputy and later one of the main leaders of the pro-Lumumbist nationalist
forces fighting the Western-installed government in Leopoldville during those turbulent years.
The year 1964 when Leonard Levitt became our teacher was one of the worst in Congo's history.
I remember the Simba rebellion and the battle for Stanleyville very well and Levitt liked to talk about that and other events
in the Congo a lot in class.
The country was then still called Tanganyika but just a few months later, it
united with Zanzibar on April 26 the same year to form Tanzania. The new country was simply known as the United Republic of
Tanganyika and Zanzibar until October 29th when it was renamed Tanzania.
I was 14 years old in 1964 at that boarding school for boys and Leonard Levitt taught us math
and English with another Peace Corp teacher whom we simply called Mr. Wayne from Colorado. Little did I know that I myself
would end up in the United States only eight years later.
And when Levitt returned to the United States in 1966, he wrote a book about
his experiences at our school and in Tanzania in general entitled, An African Season, one of the most well-read books about the experiences of American Peace Corps around the
world. And he later became a news reporter at Newsday
in Long Island,
New York, and was there in the 1990s.
After Mpuguso Middle School, I went to Songea Secondary School where I was also taught by some
American Peace Corp teachers although most of our teachers were African and British.
But American Peace Corps did make a contribution to education and in other fields not only
in Africa but in other parts f the world. And that is one of the most important legacies of the sixties and President Kennedy's
Although he was preoccupied with foreign policy issues during his short term in office, especially
the crisis in Berlin and the Cuban missile crisis which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, he launched important
initiatives on the domestic front which had a lasting impact long after he was gone.
In 1962, he sent federal troops to the University of Mississippi to ensure that a black student,
James Meredith, was enrolled in order to end segregation. By 1963, the year Kennedy was assassinated, Alabama was the only
state with a segregated educational system. Finally, Alabama gave in, in the same year, and allowed integration of the schools.
Kennedy also increased the minimum wage; housing was improved, and unemployment benefits were
increased during his presidency.
Throughout his brief presidency, Kennedy's charisma, and special combination of grace, wit
and style, and a magnetic personality exuding confidence sustained his popularity and influenced generations of politicians
of all ideological stripes. And he remains an iconic figure even today.
But although he wanted to provide strong leadership to extend economic benefits to all Americans
and believed that the country had the ability to do so, his thin margin of victory in the 1960 presidential election limited
his mandate. During his presidency, his party, the Democratic Party, controlled both houses of Congress - the House of Representatives
and the Senate - but conservative southerners, although they were also members of the Democratic Party, were opposed to his
policies, including civil rights for blacks.
Therefore many of his policies were not implemented during his presidency because of opposition
in Congress. Republican opposed him. And even southerners within his own party also opposed him in Congress. Also many older,
white politicians were annoyed by his appointments of young white and black advisers in his administration. Many also did
not like his social programs and spending plans on education, poverty and the elderly and even equated that with communism.
Therefore the overall legislative record of the Kennedy administration was not very impressive,
diminished even further by the fact that his presidency was cut short abruptly by assassination within three years of the
Even in the area of civil rights in which many people, especially blacks and white liberals,
thought the president would do much better than anybody else before him, he did not have much have success. He made some gestures
towards civil rights leaders as if he would do something to fight racial injustices and inequalities. But he did not fully
embrace the civil rights agenda as he probably should have until nearly the end of his presidency.
A lot of this has been attributed to strong southern opposition to racial equality for blacks
and Kennedy's fear or concern that he would alienate the south and lose the election for a second term if he aggressively
pursued the civil rights agenda. But there may have been other reasons as well why his administration was not very enthusiastic
about civil rights for blacks. Whatever the case, all this was seen as a failure by his administration and it tarnished his
image as a true liberal. However, he still charted the course and provided the initiative which led to passage of the most
comprehensive civil rights legislation in American history not long after he died.
Kennedy also failed in his effort to secure more federal funding for public education because
of stiff congressional opposition by Republicans and southern Democrats. He also failed to provide medical care for elderly,
again because of congressional opposition ore than anything else. Yet, in spite of all this opposition, he still had planned
a highly ambitious legislative programme for last year of his term.
But he did not live long enough to try and push it through the legislature. When he was assassinated
in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans died with him, shattered by an assassin's
bullet whose echo can still be heard today in the minds of those who were around in the sixties.
And he is still admired as a liberal by his supporters. But his liberal reputation is derived
from his ideals and political style rather than successful implementation of a liberal agenda. However, the fact that the
legislative programme he formulated in the last year of his presidency was implemented from 1964 to 1966 - as demonstrated
by the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill followed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act and other legislation in subsequent years
including the 1968 Open Housing Act - shows that his liberal credentials were legitimate, even if only up to a degree, and
rightly earned him a reputation as a liberal force for fundamental change to address social, political and economic problems
plaguing the American society which had not yet lived up to the ideals upon which it was supposedly founded.
And many Americans of all races questioned or disputed that claim; as to whether or not America
was indeed the land of the free founded on the twin ideals of liberty and equality which were not only the solid foundation
but also the pillars of this republic, the first since Rome. Racism and economic inequalities, among many other things, contradicted
that claim. And at no other time was this glaring contradiction more exposed than it was in the sixties.
The sixties were years of hope and prosperity for America. But they were also years of alienation
and despair. It was not enough that there was abundant wealth; nor was it enough that America's industrial might, which was
also the basis of the country's formidable military arsenal including strategic rocket forces, made most Americans feel secure.
And although millions of Americans were making advances and joining the middle class in the
s1960s, it was still obvious to many of them that there was something terribly wrong in a society which had such vast wealth
and virtually unlimited freedom to have people in their midst who were deprived of that.
The fundamental question was why America, of all countries as the citadel of democracy, would
tolerate such inequalities which went far beyond mere disparities in income.
Blacks, the poor, students, women, pacifists, radicals, professionals and people from all walks
of life began to challenge the underlying assumptions of America's existence as a just society. And their perspectives which
emerged from the sixties shaped the course of events and even changed the course of American history. They also redefined
many values many people took for granted and which they cherished so much and which they felt could not be challenged. It
was a cataclysmic change in outlook for millions of Americans and had an enormous impact on American culture.
When I landed on American soil for the first time towards the end of 1972, the aftershocks
from the rumblings and tremors, and explosions, of the sixties were still being felt across the nation. And they continued
to reverberate through the decades.
I went to live and attend school in Detroit and saw the scars from the wounds of the sixties,
self-inflicted by a society that simply refused to recognize black people as full human beings. Burnt buildings, no more than
empty shells, were not hard to see around the city, because of the 1967 riots which were some of the worst in the nation's
history. In 1968 alone, more than 120 cities were rocked by riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
What was so disturbing to so many blacks including black militants was that whoever was behind
the assassination killed a man of peace who preached non-violence and believed in turning the other cheek. And black militants
as well as many other blacks who did not fully embrace non-violence were quick to say, "if they can do that to him, you can
imagine what they will do to us!"
And the riots were a strong reaction to what "this country did to him," as the rioters and
many other blacks believed. King was a victim of racism, and not just of a lone assassin's bullet. It was society, because
of its tolerance of racism, which loaded the gun and pulled the trigger. Hence the riots in response to that, to punish and
inflict pain on a society guilty of committing that crime.
Dr. King would have condemned the riots which erupted in his honour as a way of mourning his
death, not only because he was opposed to violence for moral and philosophical reasons; he would have condemned the riots
for pragmatic reasons as well, since he believed there were better ways - for example peaceful demonstrations and litigation
- to address the problem of racism and dramatize the plight of black people as victims of racial injustice.
But he also would have understood the anger of the rioters as much as he understood
the anger of Malcolm X and the black militants of the sixties because of the injustices perpetrated against blacks; and why
they lost faith in America, if they had any in the first place as blacks and victims of racial oppression. As he stated in
"Black Power," the second chapter of his his book Where
Do We Go from here: Chaos or Community? published in 1967 when some of the worst riots in the nation's
“Greenwood turned out to be the arena for the birth of the Black Power slogan in the
civil rights movement. The phrase had been used long before by Richard Wright and others, but never until that night had it
been used as a slogan in the civil rights movement. For people who had been crushed so long by white power and who had been
taught that black was degrading, it had a ready appeal....
It is necessary to understand that Black Power is a cry of disappointment. The Black Power
slogan did not spring full-grown from the head of some philosophical Zeus. It was born from the wounds of despair and disappointment.
It is a cry of daily hurt and persistent pain.
For centuries the Negro has been caught in the tentacles of white power. Many Negroes have
given up faith in the white majority because white power with total control has left them empty-handed. So in reality the
call for Black Power is a reaction to the failure of white power.
It is no accident that the birth of this slogan in the civil rights movement took place in
Mississippi - the state symbolizing the most blatant abuse of white power. In Mississippi the murder of civil rights workers
is still a popular pastime.
In that state more than forty Negroes and whites have either been lynched or murdered over
the last three years, and not a single man has been punished for these crimes. More than fifty Negro churches have been burned
or bombed in Mississippi in the last two years, yet the bombers still walk the streets surrounded by the halo of adoration.
This is white power in its most brutal, cold-blooded and vicious form.
Many of the young people proclaiming Black Power today were but yesterday the devotees of black-white
cooperation and nonviolent direct action.
With great sacrifice and dedication and a radiant faith in the future they labored courageously
in the rural areas of the South; with idealism they accepted blows without retaliating; with dignity they allowed themselves
to be plunged into filthy, stinking jail cells; with a majestic scorn for risk and anger they nonviolently confronted the
Jim Clarks and the Bull Connors of the South, and exposed the disease of racism in the body politic.
If they are America's angry children today, this anger is not congenital. It is a response
to the feeling that a real solution is hopelessly distant because of the inconsistencies, resistance and faintheartedness
of those in power.
If Stokely Carmichael now says that nonviolence is irrelevant, it is because he, as a dedicated
veteran of many battles, has seen with his own eyes the most brutal white violence against Negroes and white civil rights
workers, and he has seen it go unpunished.
Their frustration is further fed by the fact that even when blacks and whites die together
in the cause of justice, the death of the white person gets more attention and concern than the death of the black person.
Stokely and his colleagues from SNCC were with us in Alabama when Jimmy Lee Jackson, a brave
young Negro man, was killed and when James Reeb, a committed Unitarian white minister, was fatally clubbed to the ground.
They remembered how President Johnson sent flowers to the gallant Mrs. Reeb, and in his eloquent 'We Shall Overcome' speech
paused to mention that one person, James Reeb, had already died in the struggle.
Somehow the President forgot to mention Jimmy, who died first. The parents and sister of Jimmy
received no flowers from the President. The students felt this keenly. Not that they felt that the death of James Reeb was
less than tragic, but because they felt that the failure to mention Jimmy Jackson only reinforced the impression that to white
America the life of a Negro is insignificant and meaningless.
There is also great disappointment with the federal government and its timidity in implementing
the civil rights laws on its statute books. The gap between promise and fulfillment is distressingly wide.
Millions of Negroes are frustrated and angered because extravagant promises made little more
than a year ago are a mockery today.
When the 1965 Voting Rights Law was signed, it was proclaimed as the dawn of freedom and the
open door to opportunity. What was minimally required under the law was the appointment of hundreds of registrars and thousands
of federal marshals to inhibit Southern terror. Instead, fewer than sixty registrars were appointed and not a single federal
law officer capable of making arrests was sent into the South.
As a consequence the old way of life - economic coercion, terrorism, murder and inhuman contempt
- has continued unabated. This gulf between laws and their enforcement is one of the basic reasons why Black Power advocates
express contempt for the legislative process.
The disappointment mounts as they turn their eyes to the North. In the Northern ghettos, unemployment,
housing discrimination and slum schools mock the Negro who tries to hope. There have been accomplishments and some material
gain, but these beginnings have revealed how far we have yet to go. The economic plight of the masses of Negroes has worsened.
The gap between the wages of the Negro worker and those of the white worker has widened. Slums are worse and Negroes attend
more thoroughly segregated schools today than in 1954.
The Black Power advocates are disenchanted with the inconsistencies in the militaristic posture
of our government. Over the last decade they have seen America applauding nonviolence whenever the Negroes have practiced
it. They have watched it being praised in the sit-in movements of 1960, in the Freedom Rides of 1961, in the Albany movement
of 1962, in the Birmingham movement of 1963 and in the Selma movement of 1965.
But then these same black young men and women have watched as America sends black young men
to burn Vietnamese with napalm, to slaughter men, women and children; and they wonder what kind of nation it is that applauds
nonviolence whenever Negroes face white people in the streets of the United States but then applauds violence and burning
and death when these same Negroes are sent to the field of Vietnam.
All of this represents disappointment lifted to astronomical proportions. It is disappointment
with timid white moderates who feel that they can set the timetable for the Negro's freedom. It is disappointment with a federal
administration that seems to be more concerned about winning an ill-considered war in Vietnam than about winning the war against
poverty here at home.
It is disappointment with white legislators who pass laws in behalf of Negro rights that they
never intended to implement. It is disappointment with the Christian church that appears to be more white than Christian,
and with many white clergymen who prefer to remain silent behind the security of stained-glass windows....”
The disappointment among many young blacks and the Black Power advocates was over all those
inconsistencies, as Dr. Martin Luther King pointed out, and over American hypocrisy with regard to racial equality which Dr.
King and others in the civil rights movement also understood very well. And some of this disappointment exploded into riots
across the nation.
It was the first time many whites paid attention to the presence of black people in America,
even if they didn't care about their plight. But many young blacks from the ghettoes across the nation made their presence
known in a very dramatic way, by rioting, sending a clear message to the larger society that America was their home, too,
and that they were going nowhere; and if America continued to ignore them and other blacks, she was doing so at her own peril.
The black militants of the sixties and many other young blacks were not only sympathetic towards
the rioters; the black militants, especially, openly defended them and justified their actions and tactics because no one
in power was paying attention to blacks or was trying to address their grievances - until cities went up in flames.
The riots in the sixties were some of the worst the United States suffered in its history.
And there is no question that riots are destructive. But for some people, they are cathartic, even if not necessarily redemptive.
Whatever the case, when the riots erupted in the sixties, it was a price America had to pay
for not being truly American in terms of implementing the ideals which inspired her as a nation; and for not being what she
had always professed to be.
And it was not just black people, or the other victims of social injustices even if they were
not black, who noticed that. There were radicals of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) most of whom were white and
probably the majority of whom came from a middle-class background, including a significant number who came from affluent families.
You also had many professionals, the counterculture movement, the women's movement, the war protesters and many others.
They all saw the contradictions inherent in the American society. And they had their voices
heard the loudest in the 1960s; a decade that will never be forgotten as a defining moment in American history.
And in spite of the progress that has been made through the decades since the
civil rights movement more than 40 years ago, racism remain a major problem in the United States. As Professor Nathan Glazer,
a liberal from the sixties who underwent an ideological conversion and became a neo-conservative within the same decade, stated
in his book published in 1996, We Are
All Multiculturalists Now:
“[Multiculturalism] is the price America is paying for its inability or unwillingness
to incorporate into its society African Americans, in the same way and to the same degree it has incorporated so many groups....The
[multicultural] movement is given its force and vigor by our greatest domestic problem, the situation of African Americans....
Blacks...feel the issues most urgently, their problems are the most severe....Why have so many
blacks moved against assimilation as an ideal...? The answer, I am convinced, is to be found in black experience in America,
and in the fundamental refusal of other Americans to accept blacks...The apartness of blacks is real; for this one group,
assimilation, by some measures, has certainly failed.”
And that is quite a confession for a neo-conservative to make. That is the kind of admission
one would normally expect to hear from liberals. But Nathan Glazer was there back then in the sixties and he is honest enough
to admit even as a neo-conservative how far America has come and how far she still has to go. She has long, long ways to go
before she fully embraces blacks as equal citizens.
Many people who marched in the sixties in support of racial equality probably felt back then
that racism would be conquered. Few thought it still would be an intractable problem almost 50 years later. Tragically, as
the nation marches into the twentieth-first century, racism remains a perennial problem and im nay ways reminiscent of the
But the diverse groups of people and movements which fought for justice in the sixties had
millions of Americans imbued with a sense of hope and optimism that things would get better no matter how long it took. And
that is one of the most important legacies of the sixties. The spirit lives on.
They may have differed in their ideologies and in some of their agendas. And they may even
have fought sometimes. But they were all united by one thing: their common identity as Americans in pursuit of justice for
all Americans regardless of who and what they were.
Among all the groups and movements of the sixties, the civil rights movement was probably the
most dominant and most influential on the nation's political scene with the exception of the demonstrators against the Vietnam
war. And quite often it was difficult to draw a distinction between the two since the people who were opposed to the Vietnam
war, including Dr. Martin Luther King and many black and white college students and others including many ministers, also
supported the civil rights movement. Therefore both movements were broadly ecumenical.
Another movement in the sixties that caused tectonic shifts in the American political and socioeconomic
strata was the student movement called Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
While the civil rights movement was driven by a demand for racial equality for blacks across
the spectrum, the SDS focused on inequalities in society in general, especially on the contradiction highlighted by the fact
that America was an affluent society yet one which had millions of poor people who were being ignored and neglected by the
rich and even by the government itself.
As a racial group, it is true that blacks were on the periphery of the mainstream - and still
are in many respects more than 40 years after the civil rights movement. But there were other Americans who, although not
victims of racial injustice, were victims of economic injustice, a plight they shared with black people. And leaders in the
civil rights movement were fully aware of that although they were, at first, more focused on racial equality without which
economic equality would be impossible. But they never ignored the fact that millions of whites were also victimized because
of poverty. That is why before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King had plans to lead a major demonstration in Washington
D.C. to dramatize the plight of the poor across racial lines.
And the Students for a Democratic Society was one of the movements in the sixties which played
a major role in keeping this issue alive. It also played an important role in highlighting problems of inequalities - and
conflict of values - in the American society in a way black groups would not have been able to.
Most of the SDS members were white. As members of the white segment of society, they were able
to spread their message among whites in a way the Black Panthers, SNCC and other black or predominantly black groups would
not have been able to. But they had other concerns as well, besides poverty in the midst of plenty. As Karen Wolff stated
in her essay "What Do They Want? Critical Perspectives on the 1960s in the Unted States":
“The unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity might have spurred on the “underclasses”
but what happened to push the “haves” to rebel as well?
In the early 60’s middle class white students on many college campuses across the country
were reevaluating their ideas and life expectations.
This movement included many different types of criticisms of the society but they all did agree
that new questions had to be asked about the quality of life in the richest country in the world.
Although they too were critical of the unequal distribution of wealth and the extremes of wealth
and poverty, their major orientation, as children of economic privilege was their alienation from the values of the society
which they felt even though they were economically secure.
The student movement grew together around a variety of protest issues that had been confronting
the dominant priorities of America.
The testing of nuclear bombs and the acceptance of the idea of fallout shelters seemed to find
many folks asking who would want to survive a nuclear holocaust? Why indeed are those the options? What are the real issues
in the cold war? What does red mean other than a symbol for the enemy? Why is the world so divided?
If we have the answers why does the world feel so attracted to the enemy? What does socialism
have to offer? How can we too change to meet the needs of more of our people and the peoples of the world?
These questions were intensified by the events around the Civil Rights Movement which said
to some that racism was a necessary part of America’s social structure, not only a product of individual ignorance or
We could watch racial violence on television as the nation debated whether the federal government
had the right to force state and city governments to abide by the decisions of the Supreme Court. Who had what power? By whose
standards should justice be defined and enforced?
Student radicals decided that the American people had to begin by redefining their priorities
from wealth and power for greatest good for the greatest number. What then would an ideal society look like? How would we
get there? What were rights? What were privileges?”
The Port Huron Statement, one of the best documents to come out of the turbulent sixties and
named after the city in which the students met - Port Huron, Michigan - in 1962 to issue this statement, best encapsulated
It emphasized the need for a change in attitudes. People should not see wealth as an end itself
but as a means to an end for the benefit of all in society. The Port Huron Statement also called for participatory democracy
through which Americans would have to redefine their goals and priorities.
The Student for a Democratic Society SDS) was led by Tom Hayden, a student at the University
of Michigan from Detroit, and he was credited for having written the Port Huron Statement, although there may have been some
modifications by some of his colleagues before it was adopted an SDS official document.
It was a seminal document of the New Left completed on June 15, 1962, at the
SDS convention in Port Huron, Michigan, which started on June 11th. The SDS manifesto was also partly a rebuttal to the Sharon Statement,
the official document of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom, written by M. Stanton Evans and adopted on September
The Sharon Statement is named after the location of the inaugural meeting of
Young Americans for Freedom. The meeting was held at the estate of William F. Buckley, Jr., a leading ideologue in the American
conservative movement, in Sharon, Connecticut. Buckley was also the founder and for many years editor of National Review, probably the most influential publication of the conservative movement in
the United States.
The Sharon Statement triggered a powerful response from Tom Hayden and his ideological compatriots
who were more sympathetic to the struggle for racial equality and other social injustices in the American society than their
counterparts on the ideological Right were.
Many students of what came to be known as the New Left, including Hayden, worked in the civil
The Port Huron Statement explicitly condemned racism, unlike the Sharon Statement. It focused
on poverty and civil rights for blacks and the complacency of the American society in the face of such injustices; the danger
of nuclear war and other issues, and remains a reference point for the radicals of the sixties, many of whom were retired
or near retirement at this writing.
Many of them also mellowed through the years. As the Port Huron Statement said among many other
“We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities,
looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.
When we were kids the United States was the wealthiest and strongest country in the world:
the only one with the atom bomb, the least scarred by modern war, an initiator of the United Nations that we thought would
distribute Western influence throughout the world. Freedom and equality for each individual, government of, by, and for the
people -- these American values we found good, principles by which we could live as men. Many of us began maturing in complacency.
As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss.
First, the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern
struggle against racial bigotry, compelled most of us from silence to activism.
Second, the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the Bomb, brought
awareness that we ourselves, and our friends, and millions of abstract "others" we knew more directly because of our common
peril, might die at any time.
We might deliberately ignore, or avoid, or fail to feel all other human problems, but not these
two, for these were too immediate and crushing in their impact, too challenging in the demand that we as individuals take
the responsibility for encounter and resolution.
While these and other problems either directly oppressed us or rankled our consciences and
became our own subjective concerns, we began to see complicated and disturbing paradoxes in our surrounding America. The declaration
'all men are created equal' - rang hollow before the facts of Negro life in the South and the big cities of the North. The
proclaimed peaceful intentions of the United States contradicted its economic and military investments in the Cold War status
We witnessed, and continue to witness, other paradoxes. With nuclear energy whole cities can
easily be powered, yet the dominant nationstates seem more likely to unleash destruction greater than that incurred in all
wars of human history. Although our own technology is destroying old and creating new forms of social organization, men still
tolerate meaningless work and idleness.
While two-thirds of mankind suffers undernourishment, our own upper classes revel amidst superfluous
abundance. Although world population is expected to double in forty years, the nations still tolerate anarchy as a major principle
of international conduct and uncontrolled exploitation governs the sapping of the earth's physical resources. Although mankind
desperately needs revolutionary leadership, America rests in national stalemate, its goals ambiguous and tradition-bound instead
of informed and clear, its democratic system apathetic and manipulated rather than "of, by, and for the people."
Not only did tarnish appear on our image of American virtue, not only did disillusion occur
when the hypocrisy of American ideals was discovered, but we began to sense that what we had originally seen as the American
Golden Age was actually the decline of an era.
The worldwide outbreak of revolution against colonialism and imperialism, the entrenchment
of totalitarian states, the menace of war, overpopulation, international disorder, supertechnology -- these trends were testing
the tenacity of our own commitment to democracy and freedom and our abilities to visualize their application to a world in
Our work is guided by the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living.
But we are a minority -- the vast majority of our people regard the temporary equilibriums of our society and world as eternally-functional
parts. In this is perhaps the outstanding paradox: we ourselves are imbued with urgency, yet the message of our society is
that there is no viable alternative to the present.
Beneath the reassuring tones of the politicians, beneath the common opinion that America will
"muddle through", beneath the stagnation of those who have closed their minds to the future, is the pervading feeling that
there simply are no alternatives, that our times have witnessed the exhaustion not only of Utopias, but of any new departures
Feeling the press of complexity upon the emptiness of life, people are fearful of the thought
that at any moment things might thrust out of control. They fear change itself, since change might smash whatever invisible
framework seems to hold back chaos for them now. For most Americans, all crusades are suspect, threatening. The fact that
each individual sees apathy in his fellows perpetuates the common reluctance to organize for change.
The dominant institutions are complex enough to blunt the minds of their potential critics,
and entrenched enough to swiftly dissipate or entirely repel the energies of protest and reform, thus limiting human expectancies.
Then, too, we are a materially improved society, and by our own improvements we seem to have weakened the case for further
Some would have us believe that Americans feel contentment amidst prosperity -- but might it
not better be called a glaze above deeply-felt anxieties about their role in the new world? And if these anxieties produce
a developed indifference to human affairs, do they not as well produce a yearning to believe there is an alternative to the
present, that something can be done to change circumstances in the school, the workplaces, the bureaucracies, the government?
It is to this latter yearning, at once the spark and engine of change, that we direct our present
appeal. The search for truly democratic alternatives to the present, and a commitment to social experimentation with them,
is a worthy and fulfilling human enterprise, one which moves us and, we hope, others today.
On such a basis do we offer this document of our convictions and analysis: as an effort in
understanding and changing the conditions of humanity in the late twentieth century, an effort rooted in the ancient, still
unfulfilled conception of man attaining determining influence over his circumstances of life.....
In the last few years, thousands of American students demonstrated that they at least felt
the urgency of the times. They moved actively and directly against racial injustices, the threat of war, violations of individual
rights of conscience and, less frequently, against economic manipulation. They succeeded in restoring a small measure of controversy
to the campuses after the stillness of the McCarthy period. They succeeded, too, in gaining some concessions from the people
and institutions they opposed, especially in the fight against racial bigotry.
The significance of these scattered movements lies not in their success or failure in gaining
objectives -- at least not yet. Nor does the significance lie in the intellectual "competence" or "maturity" of the students
involved -- as some pedantic elders allege. The significance is in the fact the students are breaking the crust of apathy
and overcoming the inner alienation that remain the defining characteristics of American college life....
Our America is still white....Some will say progress is being made. The facts bely it, however,
unless it is assumed that America has another century to deal with its racial inequalities.
Others, more pompous, will blame the situation on 'those people's inability to pick themselves
up,' not understanding the automatic way in which such a system can frustrate reform efforts and diminish the aspirations
of the oppressed.
The one-party system in the South, attached to the Dixiecrat-Republican complex nationally,
cuts off the Negro's independent powers as a citizen. Discrimination in employment, along with labor's accommodation to the
'lily-white' hiring practices, guarantees the lowest slot in the economic order to the 'nonwhite.'
North or South, these oppressed are conditioned by their inheritance and their surroundings
to expect more of the same: in housing, schools, recreation, travel, all their potential is circumscribed, thwarted and often
extinguished. Automation grinds up job opportunities, and ineffective or non-existent retraining programs make the already-handicapped
'nonwhite' even less equipped to participate in 'technological progress.'
Horatio Alger Americans typically believe that the 'nonwhites' are being 'accepted' and 'rising'
gradually. They see more Negroes on television and so assume that Negroes are 'better off.' They hear the President talking
about Negroes and so assume they are politically represented. They are aware of black peoples in the United Nations and so
assume that the world is generally moving toward integration.
They don't drive through the South, or through the slum areas of the big cities, so they assume
that squalor and naked exploitation are disappearing. They express generalities about 'time and gradualism' to hide the fact
that they don't know what is happening.
The advancement of the Negro and other 'nonwhites' in America has not been altogether by means
of the crusades of liberalism, but rather through unavoidable changes in social structure.
The economic pressures of World War II opened new jobs, new mobility, new insights to Southern
Negroes, who then began great migrations from the South to the bigger urban areas of the North where their absolute wage was
greater, though unchanged in relation to the white man of the same stratum.
More important than the World War II openings was the colonial revolution. The world-wide upsurge
of dark peoples against white colonial domination stirred the separation and created an urgency among American Negroes, while
simultaneously it threatened the power structure of the United States enough to produce concessions to the Negro.
Produced by outer pressure from the newly-moving peoples rather than by the internal conscience
of the Federal government, the gains were keyed to improving the American 'image' more than to reconstructing the society
that prospered on top of its minorities. Thus the historic Supreme Court decision of 1954, theoretically desegregating Southern
schools, was more a proclamation than a harbinger of social change -- and is reflected as such in the fraction of Southern
school districts which have desegregated, with Federal officials doing little to spur the process.
It has been said that the Kennedy administration did more in two years than the Eisenhower
administration did in eight. Of this there can be no doubt. But it is analogous to comparing whispers to silence when positively
stentorian tones are demanded. President Kennedy lept ahead of the Eisenhower record when he made his second reference to
the racial problem; Eisenhower did not utter a meaningful public statement until his last month in office when he mentioned
the 'blemish' of bigotry.
To avoid conflict with the Dixiecrat-Republican alliance, President Kennedy has developed a
civil rights philosophy of "enforcement, not enactment", implying that existing statutory tools are sufficient to change the
lot of the Negro. So far he has employed executive power usefully to appoint Negroes to various offices, and seems interested
in seeing the Southern Negro registered to vote.
On the other hand, he has appointed at least four segregationist judges in areas where voter
registration is a desperate need. Only two civil rights bills, one to abolish the poll tax in five states and another to prevent
unfair use of literacy tests in registration, have been proposed -- the President giving active support to neither. But even
this legislation, lethargically supported, then defeated, was intended to extend only to Federal elections.
More important, the Kennedy interest in voter registration has not been supplemented with interest
in giving the Southern Negro the economic protection that only trade unions can provide. It seems evident that the President
is attempting to win the Negro permanently to the Democratic Party without basically disturbing the reactionary one-party
oligarchy in the South.
Moreover, the administration is decidedly 'cool' (a phrase of Robert Kennedy's) toward mass
nonviolent movements in the South, though by the support of racist Dixiecrats the Administration makes impossible gradual
action through conventional channels.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the South is composed of Southerners and their intervention
in situations of racial tension is always after the incident, not before. Kennedy has refused to 'enforce' the legal prerogative
to keep Federal marshals active in Southern areas before, during and after any 'situations' (this would invite Negroes to
exercise their rights and it would infuriate the Southerners in Congress because of its 'insulting' features).
While corrupt politicians, together with business interests happy with the absence of organized
labor in Southern states and with the $50 billion in profits that results from paying the Negro half a "white wage", stymie
and slow fundamental progress, it remains to be appreciated that the ultimate wages of discrimination are paid by individuals
and not by the state.
Indeed the other sides of the economic, political and sociological coins of racism represent
their more profound implications in the private lives, liberties and pursuits of happiness of the citizen.
While hungry nonwhites the world around assume rightful dominance, the majority of Americans
fight to keep integrated housing out of the suburbs. While a fully interracial world becomes a biological probability, most
Americans persist in opposing marriage between the races. While cultures generally interpenetrate, white America is ignorant
still of nonwhite America -- and perhaps glad of it.
The white lives almost completely within his immediate, close-up world where things are tolerable,
there are no Negroes except on the bus corner going to and from work, and where it is important that daughter marry right.
White, like might, makes right in America today. Not knowing the 'nonwhite,' however, the white
knows something less than himself. Not comfortable around 'different people,' he reclines in whiteness instead of preparing
for diversity. Refusing to yield objective social freedoms to the 'nonwhite,' the white loses his personal subjective freedom
by turning away 'from all these damn causes.'
White American ethnocentrism at home and abroad reflect most sharply the self-deprivation suffered
by the majority of our country which effectively makes it an isolated minority in the world community of culture and fellowship.
The awe inspired by the pervasiveness of racism in American life is only matched by the marvel of its historical span in American
The national heritage of racial discrimination via slavery has been a part of America since
Christopher Columbus' advent on the new continent. As such, racism not only antedates the Republic and the thirteen Colonies,
but even the use of the English language in this hemisphere. And it is well that we keep this as a background when trying
to understand why racism stands as such a steadfast pillar in the culture and custom of the country.
Racial-xenophobia is reflected in the admission of various racial stocks to the country. From
the nineteenth century Oriental Exclusion Acts to the most recent up-dating of the Walter-McCarren Immigration Acts the nation
has shown a continuous contemptuous regard for 'nonwhites.'
More recently, the tragedies of Hiroshima and Korematsu, and our cooperation with Western Europe
in the United Nations add treatment to the thoroughness of racist overtones in national life.
But the right to refuse service to anyone is no longer reserved to the Americans. The minority
groups, internationally, are changing place....
The goals we have set are not realizable next month, or even next election -- but that fact
justifies neither giving up altogether nor a determination to work only on immediate, direct, tangible problems. Both responses
are a sign of helplessness, fearfulness of visions, refusal to hope, and tend to bring on the very conditions to be avoided.
Fearing vision, we justify rhetoric or myopia. Fearing hope, we reinforce despair.
The first effort, then, should be to state a vision: what is the perimeter of human possibility
in this epoch? This we have tried to do. The second effort, if we are to be politically responsible, is to evaluate the prospects
for obtaining at least a substantial part of that vision in our epoch: what are the social forces that exist, or that must
exist, if we are to be at all successful? And what role have we ourselves to play as a social force?
1. In exploring the existing social forces, note must be taken of the Southern civil rights
movement as the most heartening because of the justice it insists upon, exemplary because it indicates that there can be a
passage out of apathy.
This movement, pushed into a brilliant new phase by the Montgomery bus boycott and the subsequent
nonviolent action of the sit-ins and Freedom Rides has had three major results: first, a sense of self-determination has been
instilled in millions of oppressed Negroes; second, the movement has challenged a few thousand liberals to new social idealism;
third, a series of important concessions have been obtained, such as token school desegregation, increased Administration
help, new laws, desegregation of some public facilities.
But fundamental social change -- that would break the props from under Jim Crown -- has not
come. Negro employment opportunity, wage levels, housing conditions, educational privileges -- these remain deplorable and
relatively constant, each deprivation reinforcing the impact of the others.
The Southern states, in the meantime, are strengthening the fortresses of the status quo, and
are beginning to camouflage the fortresses by guile where open bigotry announced its defiance before. The white-controlled
one-party system remains intact; and even where the Republicans are beginning under the pressures of industrialization in
the towns and suburbs, to show initiative in fostering a two-party system, all Southern state Republican Committees (save
Georgia) have adopted militant segregationist platforms to attract Dixiecrats.
Rural dominance remains a fact in nearly all the Southern states, although the reapportionment
decision of the Supreme Court portends future power shifts to the cities. Southern politicians maintain a continuing aversion
to the welfare legislation that would aid their people.
The reins of the Southern economy are held by conservative businessmen who view human rights
as secondary to property rights. A violent anti-communism is rooting itself in the South, and threatening even moderate voices.
Add the militaristic tradition of the South, and its irrational regional mystique and one must conclude that authoritarian
and reactionary tendencies are a rising obstacle to the small, voiceless, poor, and isolated democratic movements.
The civil rights struggle thus has come to an impasse. To this impasse, the movement responded
this year by entering the sphere of politics, insisting on citizenship rights, specifically the right to vote. The new voter
registration stage of protest represents perhaps the first major attempt to exercise the conventional instruments of political
democracy in the struggle for racial justice.
The vote, if used strategically by the great mass of now-unregistered Negroes theoretically
eligible to vote, will be a decisive factor in changing the quality of Southern leadership from low demagoguery to decent
More important, the new emphasis on the vote heralds the use of political means to solve the
problems of equality in America, and it signals the decline of the short-sighted view that 'discrimination' can be isolated
from related social problems.
Since the moral clarity of the civil rights movement has not always been accompanied by precise
political vision, and sometimes not even by a real political consciousness, the new phase is revolutionary in its implication.
The intermediate goal of the program is to secure and insure a healthy respect and realization of Constitutional liberties.
This is important not only to terminate the civil and private abuses which currently characterize
the region, but also to prevent the pendulum of oppression from simply swinging to an alternate extreme with a new unsophisticated
electorate, after the unhappy example of the last Reconstruction.
It is the ultimate objectives of the strategy which promise profound change in the politics
of the nation. An increased Negro voting race in and of itself is not going to dislodge racist controls of the Southern power
structure; but an accelerating movement through the courts, the ballot boxes, and especially the jails is the most likely
means of shattering the crust of political intransigency and creating a semblance of democratic order, on local and state
Linked with pressure from Northern liberals to expunge the Dixiecrats from the ranks of the
Democratic Party, massive Negro voting in the South could destroy the vice-like grip reactionary Southerners have on the Congressional
There is the tremendous challenge of the Negro movement for support from organized labor: the
alienation from and disgust with labor hypocrisy among Negroes ranging from the NAACP to the Black Muslims (crystallized in
the formation of the Negro American Labor Council) indicates that labor must move more seriously in its attempts to organize
on an interracial basis in the South and in large urban centers....
From 1960 to 1962, the campuses experienced a revival of idealism among an active few. Triggered
by the impact of the sit-ins, students began to struggle for integration, civil liberties, student rights, peace, and against
the fast-rising right wing 'revolt' as well. The liberal students, too, have felt their urgency thwarted by conventional channels:
from student governments to Congressional committees.
Out of this alienation from existing channels has come the creation of new ones; the most characteristic
forms of liberal-radical student organizations are the dozens of campus political parties, political journals, and peace marches
In only a few cases have students built bridges to power: an occasional election campaign,
the sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and voter registration activities; in some relatively large Northern demonstrations for peace
and civil rights, and infrequently, through the United States National Student Association whose notable work has not been
focused on political change.
These contemporary social movements -- for peace, civil rights, civil liberties labor -- have
in common certain values and goals. The fight for peace is one for a stable and racially integrated world; for an end to the
inherently volatile exploitation of most of mankind by irresponsible elites; and for freedom of economic, political and cultural
organization. The fight for civil rights is also one for social welfare for all Americans; for free speech and the right to
protest; for the shield of economic independence and bargaining power; for a reduction of the arms race which takes national
attention and resources away from the problems of domestic injustice.
Labor's fight for jobs and wages is also one labor; for the right to petition and strike; for
world industrialization; for the stability of a peacetime economy instead of the insecurity of the war economy; for expansion
of the Welfare State. The fight for a liberal Congress is a fight for a platform from which these concerns can issue. And
the fight for students, for internal democracy in the university, is a fight to gain a forum for the issues.
But these scattered movements have more in common: a need for their concerns to be expressed
by a political party responsible to their interests. That they have no political expression, no political channels, can be
traced in large measure to the existence of a Democratic Party which tolerates the perverse unity of liberalism and racism,
prevents the social change wanted by Negroes, peace protesters, labor unions, students, reform Democrats, and other liberals.
Worse, the party stalemate prevents even the raising of controversy -- a full Congressional
assault on racial discrimination, disengagement in Central Europe, sweeping urban reform, disarmament and inspection, public
regulation of major industries; these and other issues are never heard in the body that is supposed to represent the best
thoughts and interests of all Americans.
An imperative task for these publicly disinherited groups, then, is to demand a Democratic
Party responsible to their interests. They must support Southern voter registration and Negro political candidates and demand
that Democratic Party liberals do the same (in the last Congress, Dixiecrats split with Northern Democrats on 119 of 300 roll-calls,
mostly on civil rights, area redevelopment and foreign aid bills; and breach was much larger than in the previous several
Labor should begin a major drive in the South. In the North, reform clubs (either independent
or Democratic) should be formed to run against big city regimes on such issues as peace, civil rights, and urban needs. Demonstrations
should be held at every Congressional or convention seating of Dixiecrats. A massive research and publicity campaign should
be initiated, showing to every housewife, doctor, professor, and worker the damage done to their interests every day a racist
occupies a place in the Democratic Party.
Where possible, the peace movement should challenge the 'peace credentials' of the otherwise-liberals
by threatening or actually running candidates against them....
If we appear to seek the unattainable, it has been said, then let it be known that we do so
to avoid the unimaginable.”
Tom Hayden and many others remained true to their convictions through the decades; Hayden still
was, when I was writing this book in 2006, more than 40 years after the Port Huron Statement was issued.
Many of them also had a profound impact on American education which they made more inclusive
than it was before when it was essentially Eurocentric in the Western intellectual tradition.
But some of the people who were members of the New Left underwent ideological conversion. David
Horowitz, who later became a Republican and a conservative and an admirer of President Ronald Reagan, is a prime example.
Also a former supporter of the Black Panther Party, he became one of the very same people - conservatives - he and other radicals
criticized so much in the sixties and repudiated his past.
His repudiation included denunciation of the Black Panther Party which drew a sharp response
from former Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver in an interview with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on American public
television, PBS, in the late 1990s not long before Cleaver died.
But whatever their shortcomings, the sixties' radicals did, at the very least, raise some fundamental
issues and jolted the conscience of the nation to start addressing and looking at the nation's problems from another perspective:
that of the powerless and the dispossessed, the alienated, and even of the young and restless as they themselves were, in
order to bring about fundamental social change for the benefit of all regardless of one's status.
Yet, it was not easy to change the attitudes of people brought up in a capitalist society driven
by profit and accumulation of wealth and convince them that they should sacrifice for others who were less fortunate.
However, the SDS defined the role of students in the American society, criticized their passivity,
and challenged them to get actively involved in transforming their country through participatory democracy to make America
the best it could be. And they believed it had the means to achieve this goal.
Other influential movements of the sixties included the women's movement which demanded equal
rights for women who had traditionally played a subordinate role in a society dominated by men. And because of their subordinate
status, many women of all races identified with the victims of racial injustice and actively supported the civil rights movement.
Also known as the feminist movement, the women's movement got a boost in 1963
when Betty Friedan, a suburban housewife and mother of three, wrote one of the most influential books in the sixties, Feminine Mystique, in which she strongly criticized the American society for keeping
women in domestic bondage, and even the women themselves for accepting or tolerating that.
The book helped to launch a new emancipation movement called Women's Liberation and it remained
influential for many years. The women's response was powerful as well as dramatic. It included public burning of brassieres
and successful lobbying efforts in the nation's capital for strict enforcement of the fair-employment laws and other legislation.
But the women's movement went beyond its quest for equal rights for women. Like the civil rights
movement, it profoundly changed the nature of discourse regarding important issues and redefined the assumptions upon which
America operated as a society. In studying the American social structure, women concluded - as they already knew - that American
ideas, ideals and values were defined and articulated from a male, especially white male, perspective almost to the total
exclusion of women and minorities.
So, the women's movement demanded a redefinition of all those values, ideas and ideals, and
all the assumptions within which national and intellectual debates were framed concerning national and even individual issues.
It sought to change, and in many ways succeeded in changing, the perceptions and attitudes of many people concerning women
and their role in society.
It was a radical departure from the past that also entailed a redefinition of the sex roles
and even of the family structure itself, the very foundation of any human society as an organic entity. From then on, women
refused to be dominated by men in a society, and in a world, that had always been dominated by men whose chauvinism was synonymous
And all this had profound implications for the future of the United States as a society. Many
men may have seen the women who supported the women's movement as a rebels who wanted to disrupt the social fabric and destroy
the traditional family structure. But from a higher perspective, one sees that what the women's movement did was no more than
an assertion of the right of all Americans to be treated equal in a society supposedly founded on the twin ideals of liberty
and equality, and in which man's dominant role would be anachronistic.
Therefore there is no question that the women's movement in the sixties redefined America as
a society that would no longer be dominated by men across the spectrum, and it helped change the course of American history.
Women wouldn't be where they are today in terms of education, employment and power had it not
been for the women's movement which had its most dramatic impact on the national scene in one of the most turbulent decades
in American history: the sixties.
But there was also another dimension of the women's movement that needs to be addressed.
The women's movement became radicalized as a feminist movement not only for the assertion of
equal rights with men as equal members of society; it also demanded equal rights with men across-the-board, with many women
demanding to do the same kind of work men do and had traditionally done, regardless of the amount of hard, physical labour
required to accomplish the task; for example, doing construction work, digging trenches, climbing utility poles, and even
jumping over barbed-wire fences, among others.
Some women even refused to let men open doors for them out of respect for them as women. They
said that was not equal rights and took it as an offence, or as an insult, reinforcing stereotypes about women as members
of the "weaker sex" even if some of the things they wanted to do were too much for them....