Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets
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Adam has a master's degree in history.
The beginning of the student movement, which arose during the 1960s, can be traced back to the post-Second World War era of the 1950s. The older generation, those who survived the depression and war years, viewed the 1950s as a period of security. It was a time of peace and relative prosperity for the nation.
Yet, the youth culture of the period viewed the era in vastly different terms. Many believed that the 1950s represented a period of complacency, stagnation and authoritarianism. The younger generation was largely dismayed with the notion that little was being done by authorities to prevent future wars from taking place. They rebelled against the notion of conspicuous consumption, which is spending in order to show off one's wealth. Additionally, the plight of African Americans was seen as an incredible social injustice that was being ignored by their elders.
It is important for you to remember that the catalyst for the rise of the student movement is attributed to the desire to end the conformist culture of the 1950s, and to liberate African Americans from the social inequality and persecution that they faced. The ideas of the younger generation of the 1950s were translated into action during the 1960s.
At the beginning of the 1960s, disillusioned college students banded together to form a new and greater political movement known as the New Left. It was called this because its members separated themselves from the Old Left, which rejected change in favor of the status quo, while rejecting the extremist conservative right. The most recognizable political organization that developed within the New Left movement was Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). It is important to note that the antithesis to the New Left and organizations like SDS was the Young Americans for Freedom; while not as large as the SDS, it projected a conservative approach.
Members of the New Left rejected a government led by a few elected officials in favor of participatory democracy, which called for decision-making by all Americans. The belief was that this type of grassroots effort was the only way to address the growing societal ills of the United States. The notion of participatory democracy was developed by SDS leaders Tom Hayden and Al Haber and issued via the Port Huron Statement in 1962. This manifesto was the template for the student movement throughout the rest of the 1960s.
The first major initiative of the New Left was to address the largely ignored racial injustice and poverty within the United States. Members from SDS joined other student groups, such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960 and the Freedom Riders in 1961, in an attempt to eliminate the deep-seated racism and discrimination found in the Deep South. These same individuals from SDS would also join prominent equal rights groups, such as the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). More in-depth information in regards to the students and the civil rights movement can be found within other lessons in this chapter.
Aside from addressing racial discrimination, the student movement attempted to engage in a highly idealist program of improving American cities. In the spring of 1964, students marched into urban ghettos, Newark and Detroit to name a couple, under the Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP) in order to revitalize the area and find meaningful work for those who were impoverished. Unfortunately, the campaign failed, not because it didn't have the support of students, but because the task was too large for a grassroots organization to handle.
Another large aspect of the student movement was the lengthy battle against the old guard college administrators. Students viewed administrators as being a part of the consensus culture of the older generation. Administrators had supported unfavorable concepts, such as 'in loco parentis', or in place of the parent, meaning the college assumed the role as the students' mother and father. Additionally, administrators supported dress codes, appropriated funding for research related to the Vietnam War and curbed students' free speech.
The tipping point came during the fall semester in 1964 at the University of California, Berkeley. Students who supported the civil rights movement in the South were actively campaigning for volunteers on the campus. However, administrators decided to terminate the students' recruiting efforts. Students decided to defy the administration and continue to recruit for the civil rights movement, regardless of the implications. Yet, when administrators began arresting students for violating the university decree, a sizable revolt formed.
The student revolt against the intransigence of the Berkeley administration became known as the Free Speech Movement (FSM). The FSM was led by student activist Mario Savio, who organized dozens of sit-ins, public protests and issued the infamous 'Bodies Upon the Gears' speech in order to protect the student's right to free speech and the ability to recruit for the civil rights movement. The student-led Free Speech Movement became a catalyst for additional protest on college campuses throughout the United States.
For example, another prominent form of protest against what was viewed by students as racial discrimination came in 1968 when students commandeered several buildings at Columbia University. This was done in opposition to the Columbia University's desire to expand the institution onto lands that had been typically reserved for the surrounding black neighborhood residents. Students objected to dress codes, dorm hours, racial discrimination and college administrators acting in place of the parent. Students wanted the ability to break away from the old guard establishment in favor of creating a new way of learning and living on college campuses.
The first third of the 1960s student movement was dedicated to resolving issues involving civil rights, poverty and liberating college students. By 1965, the tide of protest changed for students as they began focusing on the war in Vietnam. 1965 was the year of escalation in the war; President Lyndon Johnson introduced the first ground troops in March, followed by a massive increase in July.
At first, students gathered to protest the war in general. They chided the war as an unnecessary display of imperialism by the United States. Students rejected the notion of protecting Southeast Asia from communist aggression, especially when there were unresolved issues within the United States that were more important. Protests generally occurred via sit-in (March 24 and 25 was the first nationally recognized anti-war sit-in at the University of Michigan) and mass gathering (the largest antiwar gathering at the time occurred on April 17, 1965 in Washington, D.C. where 25,000 students protested).
Yet, like the ocean ebb and flows, so too did the interests of the students surrounding the Vietnam War. By late 1965 and into 1966, the protests were initiated not as a rejection of the United States war policy, but for personal reasons. Since most male students were between the ages of 18 and 25, they became a prime target for the draft. As a result, students began burning their draft cards, rejecting induction and attempting to sabotage transportation networks that carried draftees to basic training. Prominent events included the July blockade of the Oakland Army Terminal and the November draft card burnings in Washington D.C. and New York City.
Protests against the war continued throughout the rest of the decade. Draft card burnings continued, defiance to induction ran rampant and large-scale displays of dissatisfaction took form, including the protests at the Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968. The culmination of student activism against the war came in May 1970 when thousands rallied to protest the Kent State shootings, which were haphazard killings of students protesting aspects of the Vietnam War by members of the Ohio National Guard on the Kent State University campus.
While the student movement had engaged all aspects of society and recorded some commendable changes, it was inevitable that the momentum would not last. Its visible organization, SDS, played a major role in addressing societal ills from its inception to roughly 1968. Yet, when the United States policy in Vietnam remained unchanged and racial discrimination continued, many members of the 100,000-plus movement second-guessed the overall strategy. This led to a fracturing of the student movement into those who remained committed to peaceful grassroots politics and those who decided to delve into radicalism.
The radical arm of the student movement that splintered from the larger organization became known as the Weathermen, or Weathermen Underground. Members of this movement included former SDS members Mark Rudd and James Mellen. The overarching goal was a hostile takeover of the United States government. Instead of peaceful protests, the Weathermen engaged in violence and vandalism, such as the Days of Rage in Chicago in 1969. Eventually, the Weathermen would fizzle out after an untimely accident claimed the lives of three of its members. By the 1970s, the student movement, both peaceful and radical, had run its course.
The student movement of the 1960s rested on the notion of change. Students wanted to end the consensus culture that formed following the Second World War, eliminate racial discrimination and free themselves from the authoritarian rule of the establishment. As a result, students became a part of a newer, greater entity known as the New Left.
Students for a Democratic Society was the most recognized aspect of the New Left. These students engaged in campaigns, such as the Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP), the Free Speech Movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement. Eventually, the student movement suffered internal strife and fractured into numerous factions, including the ultra-radical Weathermen. The student movement faded by the onset of the 1970s.
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Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets