Document-Based Question Sixties Radicalism and Conservatism

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Document-Based Question

Sixties Radicalism and Conservatism

The 1960s are commonly known as a period of social protest and dissent. Demanding "justice," antiwar demonstrators, civil-rights activists, feminists, and members of various other social groups sought redress for the wrongs they believed they suffered. A growing conservative movement, or "backlash," emerged in reaction to the counterculture. Conservatives began supporting political candidates who supported "law and order" and traditional or family values. By 1970, a certain disillusionment with the spirit of dissent began to be expressed in the popular press. To what extent would it be fair to characterize the 1960s as a period during which political, ideological, and social tensions among radicals, liberals, and conservatives in American society are seen to have rapidly unfolded?

A. Young Americans for Freedom 

Primary source: Young Americans for Freedom, Sharon Statement, September 9–11, 1960. 
Background information: In 1960, at the home of William F. Buckley Jr. (b. 1925) in Sharon, Connecticut, about 90 young people gathered to found Young Americans for Freedom. They adopted a mission statement, excerpted below, defining what they considered the responsibilities they bore as the "youth of America." 

In this time of moral and political crises, it is the responsibility of the youth of America to affirm certain eternal truths.

We, as young conservatives believe:

That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual's use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force;

That liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;

That the purpose of government is to protect these freedoms through the preservations of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice....

[ . . . ]

Young Americans for Freedom, The Sharon Statement, in National Review, 24 September 1960, p. 173, and reprinted in The American Spirit: United States History as Seen by Contemporaries, ed. Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy, 9th ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998), 2:493–94. Full text is at Young Americans for Freedom,

B. Students for a Democratic Society 

Primary source: Students for a Democratic SocietyPort Huron Statement, 1962. 
Background information: A student organization, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), met at a United Auto Workers conference in Port Huron, Michigan, in 1962. SDS listed their grievances in the Port Huron Statement, a manifesto whose main author was Tom Hayden (b. 1939). SDS set up branches on college campuses throughout the country and was active in the 1960s through the mid-1970s. 

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....

[ . . . ]

Students for a Democratic Society, Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society (New York: Students for a Democratic Society, 1962), reprinted as The Port Huron Statement, 1962, Sixties series, no. 1 (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1990). Full text is at
C. The Other America 

Primary source: Michael Harrington, The Other America, 1962. 
Background information: Michael Harrington's book The Other America (1962) exposed to many Americans the persistence of poverty in the United States at a time when the country as a whole was enjoying unprecedented prosperity. 

[. . .]

Now the American city has been transformed. The poor still inhabit the miserable housing in the central area, but they are increasingly isolated from contact with, or sight of, anybody else. Middle-class women coming in from Suburbia on a rare trip may catch the merest glimpse of the other America on the way to an evening at the theater, but their children are segregated in suburban schools. The business or professional man may drive along the fringes of slums in a car or bus, but it is not an important experience to him. The failures, the unskilled, the disabled, the aged, and the minorities are right there, across the tracks, where they have always been. But hardly anyone else is.

[. . .]

Excerpt from "The Invisible Land," chapter 1 of The Other America: Poverty in the United States, by Michael Harrington (New York: Macmillan, 1962), p. 4.

D. Women in SNCC 

Primary source: Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Women in the Movement, position paper, 1964. 
Background information: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) played a prominent role in the civil-rights movement. While many women were active in SNCC, some objected that they were being denied leadership positions. 

  1. Staff was involved in crucial constitutional revisions at the Atlanta staff meeting in October. A large committee was appointed to present revisions to the staff. The committee was all men.

  2. Two organizers were working together to form a farmers league. Without asking any questions, the male organizer immediately assigned the clerical work to the female organizer although both had had equal experience in organizing campaigns.

  3. Although there are some women in Mississippi project who have been working as long as some of the men, the leadership group in COFO is all men.

  4. A woman in a field office wondered why she was held responsible for day to day decisions, only to find out later that she had been appointed project director but not told.

[ . . . ]

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Position Paper: Women in the Movement (November 1964), reprinted in Sara Evans, Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left (New York: Vintage, 1980), 233–35. 

E. Country Joe McDonald, Protest Music 

Primary source: Country Joe McDonald, "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixing-to-Die-Rag," lyrics, 1965. 
Background information: The lyrics of many rock-and-roll and folk songs in the 1960s conveyed popular sentiment against the Vietnam War. Country Joe McDonald was a notable singer and writer of protest songs, including "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag" (1965), which became an anthem for the antiwar movement. 

[ . . . ]

Come on mothers throughout the land,

Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, don't hesitate,
Send your sons off before it's too late.
You can be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box.

Excerpt from Joe McDonald, "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixing-to-Die-Rag," music and lyrics written 1965, published by Alkatraz Corner Music, BMI (1977), at

F. Hippies 

Primary source: Haight-Ashbury Maverick, "Notes to Tourists: Roll Down Your Windows," newspaper article, 1967. 
Background information: Increasing numbers of young people in the 1960s dropped out of mainstream society and sought alternative lifestyles. Many of these hippies, as they were called, congregated in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. A local newspaper offers tongue-in-cheek advice for tourists seeking a glimpse of the counterculture. 

[ . . . ]

Many tourists upon seeing the unshaven, unconventionally clothed Love Generation roll up their car windows and lock the doors. This is not necessary and can be mightily inconvenient. Some of the hippies do bite, but all of them have taken their rabies shots so their bite is not too bad. Honestly though, you must consider that the unconventional attire would make it easy to describe your assailant to the police. By the way, if it appears to you that there are no police in the area, have no fears—probably one out of every twenty males that you see between the ages of 25 and 35 is an officer of some kind or the other.

[ . . . ]

"Notes to Tourists: Roll Down Your Windows," Haight-Ashbury Maverick (August 1967), reprinted in The Times Were a Changin': The Sixties Reader, ed. Irwin Unger and Debi Unger (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998), 191.
G. Feminists Protest 

Primary source: New York Radical Women, "No More Miss America!," manifesto, 1968. 
Background information: One of the targets of feminists in the 1960s was the Miss America Pageant, which some perceived as celebrating a stereotypical view of women. Members of New York Radical Women, a feminist group, protested outside the pageant in 1968. 

On September 7th [1968] in Atlantic City, the Annual Miss America Pageant will again crown "your ideal." But this year, reality will liberate the contest auction-block in the guise of "genyooine" de-plasticized, breathing women. Women's Liberation Groups, black women, high-school and college women, women's peace groups, women's welfare and social-work groups, women's job-equality groups, pro-birth control and pro-abortion groups—women of every political persuasion—all are invited to join us.... We will protest the image of Miss America, an image that oppresses women in every area in which it purports to represent us....

[ . . . ]

New York Radical Women, "No More Miss America!" reprinted in The Times Were a Changin': The Sixties Reader, ed. Irwin Unger and Debi Unger (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998), 213. Full text of the manifesto is available online at the Chicago Women's Liberation Union,

H. Kerner Commission 

Primary source: Kerner Commission, Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, report, 1968. 
Background information: President Johnson (1908–73) appointed Otto Kerner, former governor of Illinois, to head a commission to investigate the causes of urban riots in the mid to late 1960s. 

[ . . . ]

The Profile of a Rioter

The typical rioter in the summer of 1967 was a Negro, unmarried male between the ages of 15 and 24. He was in many ways very different from the stereotype. He was not a migrant. He was born in the state and was a lifelong resident of the city in which the riot took place. Economically his position was about the same as his Negro neighbors who did not actively participate in the riot.

[ . . . ]

The Profile of the Counterrioter

The typical counterrioter, who risked injury and arrest to walk the streets urging rioters to "cool it," was an active supporter of existing social institutions. He was, for example, far more likely than either the rioter or the noninvolved to feel that this country is worth defending in a major war....

[ . . . ]

The Basic Causes

[ . . . ]

The record before this Commission reveals that the causes of recent racial disorders are imbedded in a massive tangle of issues and circumstances —social, economic, political, and psychological—which arise out of the historical pattern of Negro-white relations in America.

[ . . . ]

United States, Kerner Commission, Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders(Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1968), 73–4, 91.

I. The Silent Majority 

Primary source: Time, "Man and Woman of the Year: The Middle Americans," magazine article, 1970. 
Background information: In 1970, Time magazine named "the Middle Americans" as Man and Woman of the Year. 

The Supreme Court had forbidden it, but they prayed defiantly in a school in Netcong, N.J., reading the morning invocation from the Congressional Record. In the state legislatures, they introduced more than 100 Draconian bills to put down campus dissent. In West Virginia, they passed a law absolving police in advance of guilt in any riot deaths. In Minneapolis they elected a police detective to be mayor. Everywhere, they flew the colors of assertive patriotism. Their car windows were plastered with American-flag decals, their ideological totems. In the bumper-sticker dialogue of the freeways, they answered MAKE LOVE NOT WAR with HONOR AMERICA or SPIRO IS MY HERO. They sent Richard Nixon to the White House and two teams of astronauts to the moon. They were both exalted and afraid. The mysteries of space were nothing, after all, compared with the menacing confusions of their own society.

[ . . . ]

"Man and Woman of the Year: The Middle Americans," Time 95, no. 1 (5 January 1970), excerpts reproduced in The Hard Hat Riots: An Oral History Project, Center for History and New Media,

J. President Nixon Meets with Construction Unions 

Primary source: President Nixon meets with construction unions, photograph, 1970. 
Background information: Construction helmets adorn a table in the White House after a meeting on May 26, 1970, between President Nixon (1913–94) and leaders of labor unions representing construction workers, who were dubbed "hard hats" and widely perceived as supportive of the U.S. war effort in Vietnam.

Photograph NLNP-WHPO-MPF-3568(07), Nixon Presidential Materials Staff, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md.

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