Key Concept 8.2: Liberalism, based on anticommunism abroad and a firm belief in the efficacy of governmental and especially federal power to achieve social goals at home, reached its apex in the mid-1960s and generated a variety of political and cultural responses.
Seeking to fulfill Reconstruction-era promises, civil rights activists and political leaders achieved some legal and political successes in ending segregation, although progress toward equality was slow and halting. (ID-8) (POL-3) (POL-4) (POL-7)
Following World War II, civil rights activists utilized a variety of strategies— legal challenges, direct action, and nonviolent protest tactics — to combat racial discrimination.
Decision-makers in each of the three branches of the federal government used measures including desegregation of the armed services, Brown v. Board of Education, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to promote greater racial justice.
Continuing white resistance slowed efforts at desegregation, sparking a series of social and political crises across the nation, while tensions among civil rights activists over tactical and philosophical issues increased after 1965.
Stirred by a growing awareness of inequalities in American society and by the African American civil rights movement, activists also addressed issues of identity and social justice, such as gender/sexuality and ethnicity. (POL-3) (ID-8)
Activists began to question society’s assumptions about gender and to call for social and economic equality for women and for gays and lesbians.
Latinos, American Indians, and Asian Americans began to demand social and economic equality and a redress of past injustices.
Despite the perception of overall affluence in postwar America, advocates raised awareness of the prevalence and persistence of poverty as a national problem, sparking efforts to address this issue.
As many liberal principles came to dominate postwar politics and court decisions, liberalism came under attack from the left as well as from resurgent conservative movements. (POL-2) (POL-5) (POL-7)
Liberalism reached its zenith with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society efforts to use federal power to end racial discrimination, eliminate poverty, and address other social issues while attacking communism abroad.
Liberal ideals were realized in Supreme Court decisions that expanded democracy and individual freedoms, Great Society social programs and policies, and the power of the federal government, yet these unintentionally helped energize a new conservative movement that mobilized to defend traditional visions of morality and the proper role of state authority.
• Griswold v. Connecticut, Miranda v. Arizona
Groups on the left also assailed liberals, claiming they did too little to transform the racial and economic status quo at home and pursued immoral policies abroad.
• Students for a Democratic Society, Black Panthers