The 1960s represented a decade of dissent in America. While there were large social campaigns throughout the nation, the goal of this lesson is to recognize smaller activist movements involving Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and the environment.
Small, Yet Important
The 1960s and early 1970s represented a period of large scale protest in United States history. Recognizable movements during the period included the anti-Vietnam War campaign, the civil rights movement, women's liberation, the student movement, and last, but not least, the counterculture. These waves of protest sparked landmark changes throughout the nation. Yet, there were smaller campaigns that were equally as important and are generally overshadowed by the notoriety of the aforementioned. Let's take a look at some of the lesser-known movements which helped reshape the nation.
The Black Power movement of the 1960s tends to receive the most attention from historians because it was a major aspect of the larger civil-rights struggle. However, in discussing civil rights, one must look beyond the plight of African Americans. For instance, Native Americans within the nation struggled mightily; their troubles extended as far back as early colonial settlement! Unfortunately, the Native American, or Red Power, movement of the 1960s is overshadowed in history books.
Red Power signified the unity of Native American tribes in attempting to secure social and economic equality. The National Indian Youth Council (NIYC), founded by ten university students in 1961, was the first attempt at bringing national recognition to the Native American struggle. The group encouraged Red Nationalism, which was a renewed pride in the Indian heritage. They also organized a movement of hundreds of Indian representatives to attend the Chicago Indian Conference in 1961. At this meeting, Native American's challenged the Congressional policy of Termination, which was the federal government's attempt to assimilate Indians into main stream society while eliminating all funding and treaties once guaranteed to each representative tribe.
The NIYC represented the conservative wing of the Red Power movement. More radical Indian activism formed during the latter part of the 1960s. In 1968, Dennis Banks and George Mitchell formed the American Indian Movement, or AIM. The AIM acted as security within major cities, protecting Native Americans from police as well as from relocation efforts by the government. On November 9, 1969, several activists from AIM commandeered Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. These individuals attempted to barter with the United States. The activists offered to pay the government for the land to be turned over to Native Americans. The occupation failed, since on June 11, 1971, the Indian activists were forcefully removed.
AIM protests grew in intensity from 1969 to 1973. For example, on July 4, 1971, Native Americans staged a protest on the top of Mount Rushmore in defiance of the celebration of American independence. In November of 1972, activists staged the Trail of Broken Treaties protest in Washington, D.C. to call national attention to the plight of Native Americans.
The most vicious clash between AIM members and the United States began on February 23, 1973. A group of Native Americans converged on Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in order to highlight the memory of those lost during the 1890 massacre of their brethren. Activists blockaded themselves within a local trading post for roughly 71 days while fighting off federal troops who attempted to remove the Native Americans. The confrontation led to two Native Americans being killed. The Indian struggle for social and economic equality continues today.
Similar to the Black and Red Power movements, Mexican Americans formed the Brown Power, or Chicano, movement. The campaign called for Mexican Americans to reject assimilation into American society and celebrate their Chicano heritage. Activists encouraged the federal government to increase educational opportunities for Mexican Americans and end discrimination against the culture. A leading organization within the movement was the Crusade for Justice. Founded in 1966, the group encouraged civil rights for Mexican Americans and a preservation of Mexican culture. Again, similar to the other groups, the Brown Power movement contained a militant arm known as the Brown Berets. These individuals served to protect Mexican Americans while protesting issues such as police brutality and Mexican inclusion in the Vietnam War.
An extremely important and very recognizable figure in the Brown Power movement was Cesar Chavez. Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in 1962, and was chartered in 1966 by the American Federation of Labor, in an attempt to protect the basic rights of migrant Mexican laborers. The organization provided healthcare, financial services, clothing, and food to its members. In 1968, the National Farm Workers Association gained national attention by boycotting California table grapes that did not have the NFWA label on the product due to the unfair financial conditions Mexican laborers faced. Eventually, in 1970, many grape growers conceded to the demands of the National Farm Workers Association.
Other Notable Crusades
Civil rights played a major role in race relations throughout the 1960s, but they also had a profound effect on sexual preference. On June 17, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn after the establishment allegedly broke a state law limiting the number of gay patrons in a bar at a time. Gay men and women resisted the police raid and immediately staged a protest over civil rights.
In time, gay men and women formed the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), which called for an end to discrimination against homosexuality. The organization arranged for the first ever Gay Pride Week in the United States, as well as initiated the gay liberation movement. This campaign encouraged the acceptance of homosexuality throughout the nation and encouraged the nation to accept social change.
The environment was another important issue of the 1960s and 1970s. Many attribute the beginning of the modern environmental movement to Rachel Carson, a marine biologist who published the book Silent Spring in 1962, which focused on chemical pollution, more specifically, pesticides in the nation's water sources. The movement exploded afterward as activists looked to conserve the earth's most valuable resources and maintain the natural beauty of the planet.
The movement was rather successful, as it generated federal legislation, such as the Wilderness Act of 1964, which preserved portions of the nation, the Clean Air (1970) and Water (1972) Acts, and the Environmental Protection Act of 1972. Members of the environmental movement also staged the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 to call for national recognition on looming environmental issues. The event managed to garner the support of 20 million Americans!
The Red Power movement, associated with Native Americans, and the Brown Power movement, associated with Mexican Americans, both attempted to secure social and economic equality within the United States while preserving their respective heritages. The National Indian Youth Council supported a more conservative approach to securing rights for Indians, while the American Indian Movement (AIM) was more physically aggressive in seizing Alcatraz Island and occupying Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Mexican Americans sought equality through the Crusade for Justice, as well as Cesar Chavez's National Farm Workers Association, which brought labor rights to Mexican migrants.
Additional campaigns during the 1960s and early 1970s included the gay liberation and environmental movements. The gay liberation movement was sparked by an unnecessary police raid at the Stonewall Inn establishment in New York City. Thousands assembled to create the Gay Liberation Front, which sought sexual equality within the United States.
The environmental movement was sparked by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring research, which indicated that high levels of chemicals were being displaced into the nation's water sources. In time, environmentalists successfully campaigned for legislation including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and the Environmental Protection Act. The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970.
Upon completing this lesson, you will be able to:
- Describe why the Red Power movement was started and differentiate between the actions of the National Indian Youth Council and the American Indian Movement
- Identify an important leader and the organizations involved in the Brown Power movement
- Summarize the impact of the police raid at the Stonewall Inn on the gay and lesbian movement
- Explain Rachel Carson's impact on the environmental movement and describe important environmental legislation that was passed in the 1970s