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The 1960s

Summary and Keywords

Few decades in American history reverberate with as much historical reach or glow as brightly in living mythology as the 1960s. During those years Americans reanimated and reinvented the core political principles of equality and liberty but, in a primal clash that resonates more than half a century later, fiercely contested what those principles meant, and for whom. For years afterward, the decade’s appreciators considered the era to have its own “spirit,” defined by greater freedoms and a deeper, more authentic personhood, and given breath by a youthful generation’s agitation for change in nearly every dimension of national life. To its detractors in subsequent decades, the era was marked by immature radical fantasies and dangerous destabilizations of the social order, behind which lay misguided youthful enthusiasms and an overweening, indulgent federal government. We need not share either conviction to appreciate the long historical shadow cast by the decade’s clashing of left, right, and center and its profound influence over the political debates, cultural logics, and social practices of the many years that followed.

The decade’s political and ideological clashes registered with such force because post–World War II American life was characterized by a society-wide embrace of antiradicalism and a prescribed normalcy. Having emerged from the war as the lone undamaged capitalist industrial power, the United States exerted enormous influence throughout the globe after 1945—so much that some historians have called the postwar years a “pax Americana.” In its own interest and in the interest of its Western allies, the United States engaged in a Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union over the fate of Europe and no less over the fate of developing countries on every continent. Fiercely anticommunist abroad and at home, U.S. elites stoked fears of the damage communism could do, whether in Eastern Europe or in a public school textbook. Americans of all sorts in the postwar years embraced potent ideologies justifying the prevailing order, whether that order was capitalist, patriarchal, racial, or heterosexual. They pursued a postwar “normalcy” defined by nuclear family domesticity and consumer capitalism in the shadow cast by the threat of communism and, after 1949, global thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union. This prevailing order was stultifying and its rupture in the 1960s is the origin point of the decade’s great dramas.

The social movements of that decade drew Americans from the margins of citizenship—African Americans, Latina/o, Native Americans, women, and gay men and lesbians, among others—into epochal struggles over the withheld promise of equality. For the first time since 1861, an American war deeply split the nation, nearly destroying a major political party and intensifying a generational revolt already under way. Violence, including political assassinations at the highest level, bombings and assassinations of African Americans, bombings by left-wing groups like the Weathermen, and major urban uprisings by African Americans against police and property bathed the country in more blood. The New Deal liberalism of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman reached its postwar peak in 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and then retreated amid acrimony and backlash, as a new conservative politics gained traction. All this took place in the context of a “global 1960s,” in which societies in Western and Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere experienced similar generational rebellions, quests for meaningful democracy, and disillusionment with American global hegemony. From the first year of the decade to the last, the 1960s were a watershed era that marked the definitive end of a “postwar America” defined by easy Cold War dualities, presumptions of national innocence, and political calcification.

To explain the foregoing, this essay is organized in five sections. First comes a broad overview of the decade, highlighting some of its indelible moments and seminal political events. The next four sections correspond to the four signature historical developments of the 1960s. Discussed first is the collapse of the political consensus that predominated in national life following World War II. We can call this consensus “Vital Center liberalism,” after the title of a 1949 book by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., or “Cold War liberalism.” Its assault from both the New Left and the New Right is one of the defining stories of the 1960s. Second is the resurgence, after a decades-long interregnum dating to Reconstruction, of African American political agency. The black freedom struggle of the 1960s was far more than a social movement for civil rights. To shape the conditions of national life and the content of public debate in ways impossible under Jim Crow, black American called for nothing less than a spiritual and political renewal of the country. Third, and following from the latter, is the emergence within the American liberal tradition of a new emphasis on expanding individual rights and ending invidious discrimination. Forged in conjunction with the black freedom movement by women, Latino/as, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and homophiles (as early gay rights activists were called) and gay liberationists, this new emphasis profoundly changed American law and set the terms of political debate for the next half century. Fourth and lastly, the 1960s witnessed the flourishing of a broad and diverse culture of anti-authoritarianism. In art, politics, and social behavior, this anti-authoritarianism took many forms, but at its heart lay two distinct historical phenomena: an ecstatic celebration of youth, manifest in the tension between the World War II generation and the baby boom generation, and an intensification of the long-standing conflict in American life between individualism and hierarchical order.

Despite the disruptions, rebellions, and challenges to authority in the decade, the political and economic elite proved remarkably resilient and preserved much of the prevailing order. This is not to discount the foregoing account of challenges to that order or to suggest that social change in the 1960s made little difference in American life. However, in grappling with this fascinating decade we are confronted with the paradox of outsized events and enormous transformations in law, ideology, and politics alongside a continuation, even an entrenchment, of traditional economic and political structures and practices.

Keywords: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, 1960s, conservatism, Cold War, Vietnam War, civil rights, feminism, antiwar movement, Black Power, counterculture

A Narrative of the Decade

The historical groundwork for the 1960s was laid in the mid-1950s. In 1954, urged by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) lead attorney Thurgood Marshall and headed, as its chief justice, by a little known former California governor named Earl Warren, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The Brown decision closed the door on fifty-eight years of the “separate but equal” legal doctrine of racial subjugation and opened a new era in American constitutional law. Brown in itself did far less for racial equality than either its defenders or critics claimed, but between 1955 and 1969 the Warren Court built on Brown’s foundation, under constant pressure from a generation of activist lawyers who believed that the law should be a lever of social justice, to expand the rights and civil liberties of American citizens. The Warren Court defined the legal contours of the sixties, and for the first time since the 1930s the Court decisively shaped national political debate.

In the year after the first Brown decision, 1955, the Montgomery bus boycott, led by a 26-year-old Baptist minister named Martin Luther King Jr., opened a new phase in the centuries-long struggle of African Americans for social and political equality. Following on the heels of the brutal murder by white supremacists of fourteen-year old Emmett Till, a black youth visiting Mississippi from Chicago, the Montgomery movement seemed to answer tragedy with hope. The tactic of Gandhian nonviolent resistance employed in Montgomery, which had been imported to the United States in the 1930s and 1940s by Quaker pacifists in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, shocked a nation in which most white Americans blithely assumed, whatever else divided them, their superiority to black Americans. In that same year, a continent away, Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic from an elite Vietnamese family who had spent three years living in exile in New Jersey, became president of South Vietnam with the support of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and State Department. Emboldened by U.S. sponsorship, in 1956 Diem violated the Geneva Agreements calling for open elections to unify Vietnam and began building a right-wing anticommunist dictatorship.

These events occurred long before our decade, but the 1960s unfolded in their considerable shadow. Brown and the Warren Court, King and insurgent black protest, and anticommunism and the U.S. war in Vietnam decisively shaped the course of the 1960s. Rights, activism, and war—these were the crucibles of action and changed that marked this distinct era.

The dawning events of the 1960s came in quick succession. In February 1960 four black college students from North Carolina A&T staged a direct action, a “sit-in” at a white-only lunch counter at a Woolworth’s drugstore in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Greensboro Four inspired a wave of student-led sit-ins and direct actions, involving some seventy thousand people, that swept across the South over the course of the year. In the midst of that wave, Ella Baker, an official of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), brought hundreds of those students together to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), among the decade’s most important dramatis personae. Then in May, inspired by the southern sit-ins, college students in San Francisco sat in to protest the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), among the chief institutions of domestic Cold War anticommunism, which had convened in the city to investigate local teachers, professors, and labor leaders. The students were dragged down the hard marble steps of City Hall, assaulted by fire hoses, and tossed into waiting police vans. That same year, taking SNCC as their model, left-wing student activists at the University of Michigan founded Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and committed themselves to social justice. By the end of 1960, a small but vocal collection of college-age Americans, black and white, had registered their refusal to accept the basic terms of Cold War American life.

John F. Kennedy, a member of the World War II generation and scion of a prominent American family, both inspired and constrained these emerging social forces. His election to the presidency in November 1960 emboldened young left-wing and liberal activists, who saw in his youthful optimism a mirror of their own. The new president projected glamour and a certain liberal style, and many Americans were galvanized by his invocation of the “New Frontier” and his call to “ask what you can do for your country.” Beneath the lofty rhetoric, Kennedy was a conventional Cold War politician whose administration became embroiled in escalating tensions with the Soviet Union in the developing world. In the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of communist Cuba in 1961 and in the tension packed Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Kennedy demonstrated first brash overconfidence and then great aplomb in navigating superpower tensions. In Southeast Asia, having inherited U.S. sponsorship of the Diem regime, Kennedy reluctantly committed increasing numbers of American military personnel to advise, and ultimate to fight alongside, Diem’s army in its war against the communist insurgents in South Vietnam, known as the National Liberation Front (NLF) and sponsored by the Viet Minh regime in North Vietnam. Domestically, Kennedy was cautious and pragmatic when it came to the emerging black freedom struggle. Like Democratic presidents Roosevelt and Truman before him, Kennedy feared losing the support of white southern Democrats and was therefore reluctant to issue even pro forma calls for racial equality. He offered little federal protection, for instance, to the black and white activists engaged in the “freedom rides” implementing the Supreme Court’s desegregation of interstate bus lines in 1961, even when they were brutally attacked by white mobs. The movement forced his hand, however. He submitted a civil rights bill to Congress in June 1963, and delivered a major speech endorsing racial equality, but only after photographs of police dogs and fire hoses being turned on peaceful black marchers in Birmingham, Alabama, had sped around the world, embarrassing both the president and the United States. Cautious and pragmatic, Kennedy was more a symbol than an agent of change.

In the eighteen months that followed Kennedy’s announcement of the civil rights bill, like so many sequences of time in the decade, dramatic, even stunning, events followed fast on one another, and the country seemed to age a generation in less than two years. The day after Kennedy’s speech, a white supremacist murdered Medgar Evers, the head of the Mississippi NAACP, in cold blood. In August, four African American girls were murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. The country had barely reckoned with this act of domestic terrorism when, in early November, in a U.S.–supported coup, Diem was assassinated by his own military, sending South Vietnam into chaos. Three weeks later, on November 22, 1963, Kennedy himself was himself the victim of an assassination, bringing Johnson to the presidency. Domestically, the new president faced a rapidly radicalizing black freedom movement and an equally radicalizing backlash, evident in the Evers assassination and the 16th Street Church bombing. Following Diem’s death, South Vietnam became nearly ungovernable, making victory for communist-led insurgents there increasingly likely. In the face of mounting crises, Johnson pursued two lines of action. Domestically, he showed increasing support for the legislative aims of the black freedom movement, playing an essential role, alongside King, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, and other black leaders, in the passage of the Civil Rights Act in June 1964. Overseas, to prevent the collapse of South Vietnam’s anticommunist government, Johnson escalated the war against the NLF, a commitment he hid from the American public during the 1964 presidential election.

That year Johnson faced Republican Barry Goldwater, a conservative senator from Arizona, who publically denounced the Civil Rights Act as an assault on personal liberty and castigated Democrats and liberal Republicans alike for showing insufficient resolve in the battle against global communism. As Kennedy had inspired left-wing and liberal youth in 1960, Goldwater inspired their right-wing counterparts in 1964, helping to lay the groundwork for the emergence of the New Right by the end of the decade. Indeed, four years earlier, in 1960, right-wing student activists and followers of Goldwater had founded Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), which would in time claim a larger membership than SDS. The organization adopted as its call to arms the “Sharon Statement,” which defended the principle of absolute economic liberty, named “international communism” as the chief threat to global liberty, and asserted that when government exceeds its minimal functions “it accumulates power, which tends to diminish order and liberty.” It was a testament to the growing divide in American life that left-wing activists believed that the United States had taken anticommunism too far while right-wing activists believed that the country’s leaders had not taken it far enough. Conservatives were not influential enough, or possessed of a compelling enough political message, to see their candidate to victory in 1964, however. In the shadow cast by Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson defeated Goldwater in a historic landslide. Undaunted in the face of defeat, Goldwater conservatives established the organizational basis for later insurgent conservative activism.

The militancy of the black freedom movement, combined with Johnson’s landslide victory over Goldwater, ushered in a liberal government that undertook reforms on a scale not seen since the New Deal. Even before that electoral victory, in the spring of 1964, Congress had passed major War on Poverty legislation and the Civil Rights Act and Johnson had announced his Great Society legislative agenda. Overall, between 1964 and 1966, Congress passed, and Johnson signed, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, legislation creating Medicare and Medicaid, major education, highway, housing, and wilderness preservation laws, era-defining immigration legislation, and a host of other laws addressing water and air quality, illiteracy, arts and humanities, and economic development. Seeing himself as a New Deal liberal in the Roosevelt mold, Johnson believed that the Democratic Party could mobilize government to improve the lives of American citizens and bring forth what he called the Great Society. (This burst of government action, accomplished with the support of many liberal Republicans, would encourage Goldwater’s followers to redouble their efforts to win control of the Republican Party. They saw the Great Society as a package of overweening government programs that threatened personal liberty.) Johnson astutely linked his fate with the black freedom movement, and the result was the short-lived but undeniable high point of American liberalism’s confidence in the possibility of a genuine, universal equality.

Even as he took bold progressive action domestically, Johnson broadened and intensified the war in Vietnam, which spurred the rise of the most militant antiwar movement in American history. Having told the public before the 1964 election that he would not widen the war in Vietnam (when U.S. soldiers there numbered about 23,000), by 1968 Johnson had committed more than half a million U.S. troops to Southeast Asia. In 1965, a series of college and university teach-ins, organized by students and professors, and a 25,000-person march in Washington, D.C., questioned the war’s legitimacy, morality, and necessity. Loosely organized but passionate and media-savvy, the antiwar movement expanded quickly beyond the initial teach-ins, staging major protests in Washington, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and other major cities and college towns between 1965 and 1971. Antiwar activists fomented opposition to the draft, accused the United States of prosecuting a deeply immoral war, and hounded politicians, from the president and senators to local elected officials. Marches and protests occurred in hundreds of cities, but four in the nation’s capital loom large in the movement’s history: the 100,000-strong March on the Pentagon in 1967; the Moratorium march in October 1969 (which also featured local marches nationwide of 2 million–3 million Americans); a second, 500,000-strong, Moratorium march, known as “Mobe” for the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, in November 1969; and the intense and spirited 1971 Vietnam Veterans Against the War demonstrations, officially called Dewey Canyon III.

American debates about the war, democracy, and the rights of citizens were part of a larger global uprising of a transnational “new left” in the 1960s. Around the world, citizens of many nations interpreted the U.S. war in Vietnam through a distinct lens: Vietnamese resistance to U.S. power. Those who cheered that resistance, especially in the European left and in various anti-colonial struggles in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, saw the NLF as heroic guerrilla fighters battling Western imperialism. The NLF joined Che Guevara, the Argentine Marxist who fought in revolutionary struggles throughout Latin America, as iconic symbols of this resistance. Vietnam was a potent issue worldwide, but young people, especially students, in many societies also took to the streets against incumbent governing regimes, whether liberal-capitalist, communist, military oligarchies, or autocracies (or some combination thereof). In societies as diverse as Mexico, France, West Germany, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Japan, and Italy, student-led or youth movements of one sort or another sought greater citizen-level democracy. Many had peaceful origins and intentions, but resistance and provocations by authorities produced street scenes of pitched violence: students barricaded themselves in an encampment on the Left Bank in Paris; in the Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City, authorities shot into crowds of students, killing or injuring hundreds; in Prague, Soviet tanks swept into the city and ended the flowering of democratic reform politics known as the “Prague Spring.” Each movement was unique, but each, too, shared the American black freedom and antiwar movements’ sense that Cold War–era governments were authoritarian, unresponsive, immoral, and only vaguely interested in their citizens’ welfare.

In the United States, fights over civil rights and the war in Vietnam shook the Democratic Party to its foundation. Passing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts had required open warfare between the party’s liberal wing and its more conservative, and historically white supremacist, southern wing. By 1968, the year Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, southern Democrats were in open revolt against the liberals. Vietnam made matters worse. As hawks (supporters) and doves (opponents) took sides in the American public square, Johnson held the party together only through 1968, when things began to fall apart. More and more Democratic politicians became doves, and Johnson faced primary challenges that year from two antiwar candidates, Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy. To avoid an embarrassing battle for his party’s nomination, and probably to avoid a direct confrontation with Kennedy, with whom he had an unfriendly rivalry, Johnson announced that he would not seek a second full presidential term—a stunning announcement by a sitting president, which a wan and tired-looking Johnson made on national television. No matter, even without Johnson’s presence the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago was spared neither controversy nor disruption. Kennedy had been assassinated in June, just after winning the California primary, deepening the sense that the nation had descended into a kind of incomprehensible madness and leaving the antiwar movement without a viable candidate. In August, thousands of antiwar activists descended on Chicago, where the police forces of the city’s Democratic political boss, and Vietnam hawk, Mayor Richard M. Daley, showed little restraint. The police harassed antiwar activists throughout the convention, and, sensing that the moment was ripe to challenge what they regarded as a fascist state, some of the protesters themselves provoked further confrontations. On the convention’s final night, when the presidential nominee would be chosen, clashes erupted between police and protesters in what some called “The Battle for Michigan Avenue” and a subsequent federal report called a “police riot.” Network cameras switched back and forth between the chaotic convention floor and scenes of tanks and police in riot gear assaulting protesters in the streets of Chicago. Dominant in national politics since the 1930s, the Democratic Party had come undone before a national television audience. Republican Richard Nixon won the presidency, though narrowly, in November.

Black freedom and antiwar activists were far from alone in seeking a transformative rupture in the status quo. In the second half of the 1960s, a new generation of American women both reignited and greatly expanded demands for equality and social justice that stretched back to the 19th century. Having secured “sex” as a prohibited category of discrimination, alongside race, color, national origin, and religion, in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, women took to the streets, courts, and legislatures to democratize American life. Born in demands for economic equality with men, the women’s movements that erupted in the 1960s were never about economics alone. African American and Chicana women brought renewed attention to their economic and sexual exploitation, while also defending the respectability of motherhood and family. Women organized to secure reproductive self-determination by fighting to legalize contraception and abortion and to end the practice of forced sterilization. They demanded subsidized child care, reform of punitive government welfare programs, an end to rape and sexual harassment, and the full inclusion of women in the educational, governing, business, and commercial institutions of the nation in these years. Emanating from within the black freedom, antiwar, labor, and progressive religious movements of the 1960s, where women encountered both condescending patriarchy and ideological inspiration, the fight for women’s equality in the 1960s was more a movement of movements than a single entity. That movement would reach its high point in the early 1970s, but its initial momentum was generated in the second half of the 1960s, as women of various class and racial backgrounds pushed for gender equity and greater social justice for women and families.

Another movement whose greatest impact came in the 1970s but that nonetheless played a crucial role in 1960s insurgencies was the homophile and later gay liberation movement. Homophiles, as gay rights activists called themselves until 1969, had formed key organizations in major cities and staged the first national protest demonstrations—in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.—in 1965. Their voices were muted by both the late-sixties cacophony on the left and the relentless heterosexual bias of all but a handful of left-wing activists. But in the Stonewall Riot of July 1969, in New York City, when dozens of LGBT youth—most of them working class, many of them African American and Puerto Rican—fought back against police harassment, a new generation of activists, calling themselves “gay liberationists” seized on the radical energies surging around them and advanced the movement into the consciousness of ordinary Americans and, most important, the political class.

The insurgent social forces that arose in the 1960s, from the black freedom and antiwar movements to various feminisms and gay liberation, ignited a backlash. Fueled by politicians and opinion-makers who cast demands for equality and inclusion as dangerous extremism, and labeled criticism of the war in Vietnam unpatriotic and even pro-communist, the backlash was evident in the bombings and assassinations of black activists in the Deep South, Goldwater’s campaign against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and Ronald Reagan’s election as governor of California in 1966. Some chose extreme actions, others extreme rhetoric, but as the avatars of the backlash saw it, extremism was nothing more than what left-liberal activists had long practiced. In his inaugural address as Alabama governor in 1963, George Wallace famously declared his support for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Running for California governor in 1966, Reagan told an approving crowd that the “ring leaders” of the Berkeley free speech movement of 1964, “who have no appreciation for freedom,” should have been “taken by the scruff of the neck and thrown out of the university once and for all.”1 Backlash politicians held to the twin convictions that the status quo in American life was just fine as it was and that young left-liberal activists, of whatever variety, were undisciplined troublemakers who needed nothing more than the strong hand of a tough parent.

Stymied by a political backlash on one hand and the slow pace of institutional change on the other, left-liberal movements radicalized after 1966. Radical voices had been present all along, but 1960s movements had predominantly sought either greater inclusion and fairness in American social and political life or, in the case of the antiwar movement, to end the war in Vietnam through peaceful protest. They sought, as the SNCC Statement of Purpose put it, “a social order of justice permeated by love.”2 Between 1966 and 1969, however, many activists began to speak not of liberal inclusion or democratic persuasion, and certainly not of love, but of a total revolution in American values and institutions. Black power advocates, following the example set by Stokely Carmichael’s “black power” speech in Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1966, charged that racism went to the core of the nation’s institutions—from city councils and school boards to housing markets and the prison system—and could not be vanquished with minor reforms like the Civil Rights Act. It would take, Carmichael later wrote, “the creation of a society where human misery and poverty are repugnant to that society.”3 Radical feminists argued that patriarchy, like racism, had to be torn from American life, root and branch, rather than ameliorated with well-intentioned legislation. Many antiwar activists, under the banner “bring the war home,” believed they had to shut the country down to end the war. For others, nothing short of a full revolution at home would do—at the far reaches of that leftist radicalism, defined by the SDS off-shoot known as the Weatherman, even bombings and guerrilla warfare tactics were justified. Some searched for usable doctrines in Maoism—revolution through violence—others in separatism or consciousness raising or Marxist feminism. Not much united the various radicalisms of the late sixties, other than a conviction that traditional American institutions, from corporations to political parties, from the media to Congress, were incapable of producing basic social justice, at home or abroad.

Radicalisms on the left were matched on the political right by the emergence of a diffuse and broadly appealing conservative populism. Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1964 and for president in 1968 on the American Independent Party ticket. His platform was devoted to resisting racial desegregation and protecting “regular” Americans from the predations of civil rights activists, feminists, and “hippies.” Both times he surprised observers by winning large numbers of white voters, not just in the South but in northern states like Wisconsin, including 13 percent of the total electorate in 1968. Richard Nixon built on Wallace’s foundation and helped to engineer one of the great reversals of political rhetoric in the 20th century. New Deal liberals had once spoken on behalf of ordinary Americans against the interests of corporations, employers, and the wealthy. Those liberals were populists in the 1930s. Wallace and Nixon now cast liberals themselves—whom they represented as intellectuals, wealthy “limousine liberals,” and overwrought activists on the diffuse liberal-left—as the overweening and powerful big interests, who would use government to impinge on the ambitions and opportunities of modest, ordinary, white Americans. Conservatives now claimed the populist banner. Nixon enshrined the latter as the “silent majority,” a brilliantly effective political phrase that captured the new center-right populism. As the decade came to a close, the “silent majority” seemed on the ascent as much, or perhaps now more, than the left-liberal social movements of earlier in the decade.

The 1960s are best known as a decade of great social change and political fracturing. But protests and rage were far from the decade’s only products. These years witnessed the strongest period of economic growth since World War II—until inflation, hastened by government spending on the war in Vietnam, began to climb after 1968—which enlarged the middle class and led to a vast suburban housing boom. That boom contrasted sharply with its paired twin: large-scale government programs, including “urban renewal” and interstate highway construction, that demolished whole swaths of older central cities, deepening racial inequality and hastening what became known as the “death of downtowns” in America. In an entirely different register, a new creative impulse, limned with anti-authoritarianism, reshaped the music, literary production, and filmmaking of the decade. Driven by a vast new consumer market composed of the coming-of-age “baby boom” generation, popular artists of all sorts—the British invasion bands, the New Journalists, and a young generation of Hollywood filmmakers, to name just a few—upended existing genres and infused their work with a spirit of rebellion. These original and defiant creative impulses overlapped with and fed a wider and more diffuse counterculture, in which the pursuit of authenticity, a more intense sense of personhood and self, and, often, consciousness-altering drugs blended into a mélange of invented, eclectic spirituality.

Like any ten-year period, the 1960s had its share of both change and continuity with the past. Few decades in the 20th century, however, witnessed the sixties’ combination of social and political ruptures and its cascade of dramatic, violent, and consequential events.

Collapse of the Vital Center

Few developments in the 1960s were more definitive than the collapse of the centrist consensus that had organized national political life since the late 1940s. In 1949, the Harvard historian, and later adviser to President Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., called this consensus the “Vital Center,” by which he meant New Deal liberalism combined with anticommunism. Liberals, Schlesinger argued, had to defend the New Deal at home, spare no expense in containing communism abroad, and drive radicalisms of all sorts from American political life. This was a practical ideology, meant to insulate liberals against the charge that they had been “soft” on communism in the 1930s and remained so. But Schlesinger and liberals of his persuasion were also convinced that communism threatened the global market economy on which American affluence rested. This political stance is also known as “Cold War liberalism,” because of the close connection between domestic and foreign affairs that was a hallmark of the postwar decades in the United States.

Above all, Vital Center liberalism was wedded to the containment policy, under which the United States pledged to “contain” communism within the geographic borders of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (and, after 1949, China). Once the United States replaced Great Britain as the West’s chief global superpower in the years following World War II, its military and its spy and covert action agency, the CIA, expanded their reach ever further across the globe. The United States avoided direct military conflict with the Soviet Union by supporting anticommunist forces in what became known as “proxy wars,” and in some cases simply coups d’état, in Greece, Turkey, Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Israel, Malaysia, and Southeast Asia, among other places. The Korean War, in which Americans battled communist forces directly, was the principal exception until escalation in Vietnam in the early 1960s. Domestically, Vital Center liberals supported the growth of both the military-industrial complex and the national security state. The latter, launched by Congress and President Truman with the National Security Act of 1947, made “disloyalty” and “subversion” into household words. In the name of preventing communist influence in the United States, politicians, corporate and education leaders, and opinion-makers of all sorts fomented a red scare in the late 1940s and 1950s—known colloquially as McCarthyism—that discredited radicalism and cast suspicion on nonconformities of all kinds, political, social, and sexual.

Vital Center liberalism defined the main current of national politics for roughly two decades, and a majority of both Democratic and Republican politicians swam with rather than against it. Liberalism became at once more stable and accepted but also more technical and bureaucratic: the aim of social justice, associated with communism, was replaced by economic management in the service of an ever-growing consumer economy. Labor unions, though never fully tolerated by the nation’s business class, won considerable social benefits for workers, including wage increases, pensions, and health care, in their collectively bargained contracts. Expansions of national government programs came with Cold War rationales. Most prominently, the Highway Act of 1956 (officially the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act), which built the interstate highway system, was cast as a measure to speed the evacuation of cities in the event of a nuclear attack; the National Defense Education Act, the largest federal education program when it was passed in 1958, was a reaction to the Soviet Union’s successful launch of the Sputnik satellite. The latter helped bring into being the Cold War university, where science, engineering, language study, social science, and foreign policy studies were well funded as Cold War imperatives. Politicians of all stripes supported such programs, and Congress seamlessly grafted Cold War military expenditures onto “pork barrel politics,” in which members won funding for projects in their states or districts. The region stretching from southern California through Arizona, Texas, and Florida, and into upper South states like Virginia and North Carolina (what became known as the Sunbelt), benefited from military contracts, military bases, and other defense-related federal spending. This, too, was part of Vital Center, or Cold War, liberalism.

Vital Center liberalism came undone in the 1960s. It could not withstand pressure from the left, especially from the black freedom, antiwar, and women’s movements, and from the right, symbolized by Barry Goldwater and the backlash against civil rights. Centrist political commitments to a moderate welfare state, anticommunism, and projecting U.S. power abroad did not disappear—far from it. But the social eruptions of the 1960s profoundly destabilized American politics for more than a generation. Indeed, the events of the decade made many question whether there had actually been a “vital center” in the first place.

Despite the constant threat they would be labeled “subversive” or “communist,” a variety of groups on the political left came together to oppose the Cold War verities of Vital Center liberalism. In the late 1950s, peace and antinuclear organizations objected to the U.S.–Soviet arms race, the threat of nuclear annihilation, and what seemed to them a dangerous militarization of global affairs. The National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), and the Student Peace Union (SPU) had all, by 1960, registered their vocal objections to U.S. nuclear and foreign policy. In 1960, SDS emerged from the League for Industrial Democracy, a socialist organization, with a powerful, if inchoate, critique of the American military-industrial complex and the persistence of domestic racism and poverty. These groups opposed both U.S. militarism abroad and Cold War anticommunism at home, and they would in time form the core of the sixties antiwar movement. In their own way, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and other black freedom organizations also challenged the assumptions of Vital Center liberalism. Often accused of being “communistic” by their opponents, black freedom groups adopted a tactic, direct action against unjust laws and social norms, and pursued an objective, equality and social justice for nonwhite Americans, that challenged the Cold War verity that the United States was a global beacon of liberty.

These and other activist organizations constituted a “New Left,” a term that came into prominence in the early 1960s. Journalists and academics reserved the term for students and other young activists, largely white and male, who emerged within and around Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and other campus-based and peace organizations in the first half of the decade. Basic New Left ideas were consolidated in the Port Huron Statement, drafted by SDS members in 1962 and based on the teachings of Ella Baker, Herbert Marcuse, and C. Wright Mills, among others, and were on full display in the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, California, in 1964. The New Left embraced a radical notion of participatory democracy in contrast to what it considered the sclerotic, racist, and corporate-dominated American political system. New Left activists saw Cold War containment as a cover for U.S. global hegemony and criticized the institutions that embraced it, especially the Democratic Party, urban political machines, and labor unions, which a generation earlier had built the American welfare state. The latter was now, in the New Left’s view, a massive welfare-warfare bureaucracy. Black activists such as Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, and Angela Davis are generally associated more with Black Power than the New Left, but the two camps enjoyed considerable overlap, and black radicals delivered their own blistering critiques of U.S. foreign and domestic policy.

The New Left’s most concerted action in the decade was opposition to the Vietnam War. SDS, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, and other student groups organized the first Vietnam teach-ins, protests, and marches in 1965. The campuses of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan, Columbia University, and Harvard University (Cold War universities all) were centers of this activism. New organizations emerged between 1965 and 1967: the Vietnam Day Committee, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), and Stop the Draft Week and other draft resistance groups. Between 1967 and 1970, the antiwar movement cycled through thousands of local and national protests, the latter including the 1967 March on the Pentagon and the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium. SNCC activists, such as Carmichael and Julian Bond, were outspoken opponents of the war, as was the Black Panther Party, founded in 1966. In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr., delivered a major speech against the war in New York, which symbolized the confluence of the black freedom and antiwar causes. By 1971, a new organization, Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), asserted moral leadership of the antiwar cause. With its emphasis on stemming both U.S. imperialism overseas and racism at home, the antiwar movement produced a sustained attack on the assumptions of Vital Center liberalism.

Centrist Cold War liberalism held little appeal for American conservatives, and they too resisted its strictures in the 1960s. Right-wing Americans staged fewer marches and protests than the left but registered their dissatisfaction with the Vital Center in no uncertain terms. Nationally, the key figure was Goldwater, whose ghost-written 1960 polemic, The Conscience of a Conservative, and 1962 manifesto, Why Not Victory? A Fresh Look at American Foreign Policy, set forth the basic ideology of the New Right. Joined by the anticommunist activist Phyllis Schlafly (whose 1964 book, A Choice Not an Echo, became a conservative classic), Goldwater issued three fundamental indictments of the political center. First, he argued, liberalism stifled individual initiative and compromised property rights; the welfare state and civil rights should be resisted at every turn. Second, American foreign policy should be committed to the defeat, not simply containment, of global communism. Finally, the Republican Party, as both Goldwater and Schlafly saw it, had reflexively adopted Democratic policies under the leadership of Dwight Eisenhower rather than articulating clear ideological alternatives. Conservative groups like the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), Americans for Goldwater, the John Birch Society, and the Orange County School of Anti-Communism, among many others, rallied behind this message. The Republican Party establishment, based in the Northeast and Midwest, was slow to comprehend that Goldwater’s followers, whose strength lay in the Sunbelt, represented not a passing political eruption but a well-organized movement determined to capture control of the party.

Richard M. Nixon had been Eisenhower’s vice president and had made his political career as a Joseph McCarthy–like communist hunter and red baiter in the early years of the Cold War. An unlikely inheritor of the Goldwater movement, because of his association with Ike, Nixon served as a bridge figure between centrist and conservative Republicans. He was the third outsized president of the decade, a politician best known for his survival instinct and his canny ability to adapt to the exigencies of the moment. Nixon coined the terms forgotten Americans in 1968 and silent majority in 1969 to describe the “non shouters, the non demonstrators,” an open-ended political appeal to working- and middle-class white Americans alienated or threatened by the insurgent social forces on the left. Nixon’s “silent majority” political strategy depended on carefully cultivating a sense that people who identified as “ordinary” Americans were under siege by a lawless and hyperactive left, an appeal that by 1968 was not difficult to make. Throughout his first term as president, Nixon expertly waged a populist campaign to retake the initiative on virtually every major issue of the decade: black freedom and civil rights, school desegregation, the Vietnam War, feminism, the Warren Court’s civil liberties decisions, welfare, and many others. The New Right was never simply a reaction to the New Left. Much of the organizing on the right, especially the Goldwater movement, predated the full emergence of the New Left. However, the New Right gained considerable traction in the second half of the 1960s, as the backlash against civil rights, the antiwar movement, feminism, and the counterculture gained momentum. Nixon was never the Right’s favorite political son (that honor went to Ronald Reagan), but he helped to consolidate an enduring center-right political ideology.

One of Nixon’s signature contributions to national political life, and to the fracturing of the Vital Center, was the southern strategy. Captured in the 1969 book by Kevin Phillips, The Emerging Republican Majority, the southern strategy’s objective was to drive anti–civil rights southern Democrats into the Republican fold and to remake the once Democratic solid South into a Republican stronghold. As Phillips saw it, the southern strategy was part of a larger national effort to join Sunbelt Goldwater conservatives, Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic white working-class Catholic “ethnics,” and southern opponents of black rights into a new Republican presidential majority. In fact, Nixon’s political team developed multiple electoral strategies: a national strategy based on associating civil rights with violence and crime, a suburban strategy based on appeals to moderate, middle-class whites who believed in a race-blind meritocracy, and a southern strategy based on Nixon’s promise to slow federal enforcement of civil rights laws. Debates raged within Nixon’s close political circle about whether pursuing centrist or right-wing voters constituted the best electoral strategy, and to this day historians, too, debate whether the “silent majority” was a harbinger of a new centrism or a new conservatism in American politics. Whatever the case, Nixon mapped the route to the post-sixties Republican political coalition, a path followed by Ronald Reagan and subsequent national Republican political leaders.

With both major political parties consumed by internal factionalism of the center, left, and right, the foundation of the Vital Center, and the Cold War consensus, had eroded to the point that it no longer seemed to offer a cohesive framework for national political life.

African American Political Insurgency

The black freedom movement, or insurgency (“civil rights movement” is a less appropriate term, because black political objectives in the decade were never limited to a narrow set of civil rights, as crucial as those were), reawakened the American protest tradition, transformed the constitution, and played a critical role in reconstituting American liberalism and national politics writ large. Civil rights lawyers taught a generation of constitutional outsiders, including women, other people of color, and LGBT people, how to make successful arguments in court, and insurgent organizations, such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), taught a generation of dissidents how to make their case in the streets. Every subsequent insurgent social movement of the decade, especially the antiwar, womens’, and homophile/gay liberation movements, owed its greatest debt to the black organizing tradition.

There are many possible ways to characterize the black freedom insurgency. Historians of late have adopted the notion of a “long civil rights movement,” to denote the period between the 1941 March on Washington Movement and the 1972 Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana. Analyzing the movement in terms of that thirty-year sequence is more productive in many respects than isolating the decade of the 1960s. Nevertheless, within the ten-year boundary of the sixties, five crucial dimensions of the black organizing tradition can be identified: legal, direct action, legislative, nationalist, and radical. The first three were tactics, the second two ideological orientations. Different segments of the black insurgency of the decade mixed these elements in distinct ways.

The legal dimension of that tradition was two decades old by 1960. Founded in 1940 under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) challenged Jim Crow segregation in court. Building on a few successful cases the NAACP had already waged in the 1930s, Marshall and the LDF set about systematically testing the constitutionality of the legal foundations of black subjugation in the United States: the “white primary,” poll taxes, and other vote-suppression techniques in the South, instruments of housing segregation, such as “covenants” preventing home sales to black buyers, and the segregation of public facilities, from parks and playgrounds to law and medical schools, universities, and K–12 education. These efforts were remarkably successful in a strictly legal sense, and included victories in Smith v. Allright (1944), Brown v. Board of Education I (1954) and II (1955), and Cooper v. Aaron (1958), among many other landmark decisions by the Warren Court. Legal victories made little immediate change in the lives of ordinary people, but they were the necessary preconditions for racial equality and social justice, and they produced a powerful backlash. In 1956, under the banner of “massive resistance,” Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. of Virginia issued the “Southern Manifesto,” a document signed by more than one hundred southern congressional representatives declaring their absolute determination to resist implementation of Brown.

The insurgent direct action protest that became so crucial in and emblematic of the 1960s emerged in the shadow of massive white resistance. The legal work of the LDF continued on its own trajectory, but a generation of African Americans was determined to push for more fundamental changes to the nation’s racial order. Predominant in these efforts were three organizations: CORE, founded in 1942 in Chicago by James Farmer and other members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi; the SCLC, founded in 1957 by Marin Luther King Jr. and other black southern ministers following the success of the Montgomery bus boycott; and SNCC, founded in 1960 by Ella Baker and college students involved in the massive sit-in campaigns of that year. As important as they were, national organizations such as CORE, SCLC, and SNCC, alongside the NAACP, were only one dimension of black organizing in the 1960s. Most such organizing took place locally and rarely received national notoriety. From Little Rock and Atlanta to Philadelphia, Detroit, and Oakland—and dozens and dozens of places in between—religious, secular, liberal, nationalist, and radical black organizations thrived in the 1960s, working to desegregate employment, housing, politics, and government, and on behalf of justice in policing and against poverty, among a wide range of other causes.

Early in the decade, following the 1960 wave of sit-ins, black insurgency gained momentum in the South. Local organizations, such as the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, based in Birmingham, drew on religious and labor leaders, black women’s organizations, high school and college students, and other diverse segments of the black community. They focused on local conditions, especially employment and educational inequities, but in the first half of the 1960s an important strategy developed. It actually had roots in the 1950s, when the push for equal education in places like Little Rock (1957) forced the national government to override local white resistance. In the Freedom Rides through numerous states in 1961, in Birmingham in 1963, throughout Mississippi in the summer of 1964, and in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 what began as local organizing and direct action developed into a national strategy. That strategy was to dramatize white resistance, brutality, and injustice in order to force the federal government—either the executive branch or Congress—into decisive action. Events in Birmingham and Selma, in particular, were instrumental in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. So, too, was the 1963 March on Washington, organized by Bayard Rustin and A. Phillip Randolph, an original version of which had been planned in 1941. In these instances, direct action and the legislative strategy complemented, and depended on, one another. Only a new national legal framework of racial justice offered the possibility of overcoming local resistance and entrenched white power.

As critical as the local-national dynamic proved to be, the heart of the direct action insurgency remained rooted at the city, county, and state levels. Insurgents focused overwhelmingly on the economic subordination and police brutality that African Americans endured across the country, North and South. Local CORE branches, for instance, campaigned in many cities against employment discrimination and the banishment of black workers from entire categories of the best-paying jobs. Between 1963 and 1968, local groups staged protests at white-only construction sites in nearly a dozen major cities, demanding the fair and equal employment of black workers on skyscraper, housing, stadium, and highway projects. Activists demanded less oppressive policing, community review boards to track police misconduct, and the employment of more black officers. Other groups took aim at the ferocious housing discrimination practiced by the real estate industry and mandated by federal mortgage programs. Often a combination of protest and political coalition building proved decisive. In California, for instance, the 1963 Rumford Fair Housing Act was passed after years of both protest and political lobbying. Instances of such local organizing numbered in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, in the 1960s. They do not often receive their due in public memory, but they were instrumental to the process of forging a more equal, if still deeply segregated and unjust, society.

In one of the more remarkable essays of the 20th century, long-time pacifist and racial justice advocate Bayard Rustin summed up the movement at the decade’s midpoint. Writing in 1965, Rustin called the years between 1954 and 1964 “the period in which the legal foundations of racism in America were destroyed.”4 But, Rustin quickly added, desegregating lunch counters and hotels would not fundamentally change the economic foundations of racial subjugation. Second-class social and economic citizenship could not be ameliorated by a civil rights law. An equally challenging problem, he wrote, was “the failure of many whites of good will to understand the nature of our problem.” The black freedom movement, Rustin argued, must turn “from protest to politics” and reconstitute the liberal political tradition on a new footing. This would necessitate reorganizing the Democratic Party, a revolution “whose logic is the displacement of Dixiecrat power,” and the building of a new, multiracial agenda of economic and social justice. Rustin underestimated the extent of the white backlash, missed the crucial role of suburban whites in resisting fundamental reform, and was overly optimistic about the capacity of the American political system to serve as a vehicle for racial justice. Nevertheless, his summation expertly captured the successes of the movement by 1965 as well as its ongoing dilemmas.

The nationalist and radical dimensions of the black organizing tradition were interwoven into all the strategies discussed. Nationalism and radicalism were less strategies than ideological or conceptual orientations. Nevertheless, it is useful to separate out the two because doing so allows an appreciation of the full scope of African American life and politics in the 1960s. The speeches and writings of Malcolm X, for instance, helped to build the Nation of Islam (NOI), a nationalist church that emphasized black pride and self-determination. Malcolm X often disdained SCLC and CORE protests and marches, seeing in them an older pattern of black supplication before whites—though he always reserved his sharpest criticisms for white society. Meaningful black power, not the petitioning of white institutions, interested him. Malcolm X’s example inspired other nationalists and radicals, groups like the Black Panther Party, founded in 1966 in Oakland, California. Many radicals shared the black self-help tradition of nationalists, but in addition they drew on various ideologies of liberation, from Marxism to Maoism, and sought a wider web of alliances with left-wing organizations. Taking aim at police brutality and highlighting the racialized poverty that decades of Jim Crow had produced, as revolutionary black nationalists the Panthers refused to recognize a distinction between the militarization of urban streets by city police and the militarization of the globe by the United States.

Any such distinction was further complicated by the burst of urban uprisings between 1964 and 1968 and the literal militarization of entire cityscapes in response. In Rochester, New York, and in Harlem in 1964, in Watts, south of Los Angeles, in 1965, in Newark and Detroit in 1967, and in over one hundred cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, African Americans engaged in uprisings against police and property. Virtually every incident began in a similar fashion: a local episode of heavy-handed policing sparked outrage and then violence. In all, between 1964 and 1968, tens of thousands of people were arrested, hundreds were killed (both residents and police), and hundreds of millions of dollars in property was damaged or destroyed. In 1968, one of the most forthright government documents ever released, the Kerner Commission Report, pointed the finger at decades of housing segregation and job discrimination against African Americans and declared that the country was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”5 But the report made clear who bore responsibility. “[W]hite society is deeply implicated in the ghetto,” the report read. “White institutions created it, white institutions maintain, and white society condones it.” Some black activists, notably H. Rap Brown, encouraged the burning of cities as a justified response to lack of meaningful white action on racial equality. But most black leaders condemned the violence and saw it as an unfortunate, if understandable, symptom of the total marginalization of many black people from the larger society.

Inspired by the black freedom insurgency, but equally grounded in their own long-term organizing traditions, other Americans of color demanded equality and justice during the decade. Latina/o Americans, particularly those of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage, forged prominent activist organizations. The Puerto Rican Young Lords Party issued a thirteen-point platform calling for, among other things, self-determination for Puerto Rico and for Latina/o in the United States, liberation of all Third World people, and community control of institutions and land. Among Mexican Americans, a host of groups and causes defined the sixties-era struggle. The Community Services Organization (CSO), based in Los Angeles, trained Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, who went on to found the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), whose series of boycotts and strikes in the early 1960s inspired many Mexican Americans. Calling themselves Chicana/o, young Mexican Americans formed student, antiwar, feminist, and nationalist organizations, many of which were local or regional, such as Denver’s Crusade for Justice or Los Angeles’s Brown Berets. In 1967, the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) was founded in San Antonio, which in turn helped to found La Raza Unida in 1970, a major political party that advanced the social and political cause of Mexican Americans. Native American activists founded the American Indian Movement (AIM) in Minneapolis in 1968 and staged a series of direct action protests, including the occupation of Alcatraz Island between 1969 and 1971, and the cross-country trail of broken treaties march in 1972. By the early 1970s, groups like the Young Lords and AIM, alongside black radicals and nationalists, called not for inclusion in a putatively liberal polity but for an international solidarity of colonized people.

In the 1960s, people of color in the United States, long constitutional, social, and political outsiders, called for an end to racism and began to imagine a new kind of multiracial nation. That project began with the resurgence, after decades of brutal Jim Crow laws and practices, of African American political agency, but it was also part of the global 1960s, particularly the wave of decolonization movements across Africa and Asia that had begun in the years after World War II. The African American freedom insurgency inspired and drew inspiration from, in equal measure, those decolonization movements, as domestically the resurgence of black cultural and political voices in the 1960s recast the narrative of national life more fundamentally than at any time since Reconstruction.

Rights Politics: Welfare Liberalism and Rights Liberalism

That recasting had broader implications for the nature and content of the American liberal tradition. In the first half of the 20th century, rich industrialized nations, including the United States, constructed welfare regimes of various kinds designed to empower and protect their citizens. The timing of the major welfare initiatives varied by nation, and in the United States the central innovations came during the New Deal of the 1930s. Those innovations, including the Social Security and National Labor Relations Acts of 1935, were designed and sponsored by the Democratic Party in the spirit of what President Roosevelt later called “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear.” Thereafter, American liberalism came to be associated with the social welfare paradigm: that government owed citizens a minimum standard of economic security and protection alongside the opportunity to improve wages and working conditions through collective bargaining by organized labor. This “welfare liberalism,” which was at the heart of the Vital Center discussed previously, commanded the loyalty of a generation of Democratic, as well as many Republican, politicians, officials, and voters.

During the decade of the 1960s, a new generation of activists, attorneys, and politicians transformed American liberalism. They forged an altogether new “rights liberalism” based on the concept of invidious discrimination and the rights of individuals found in amendments to the Constitution and enumerated in such major legislation as the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Thereafter, American liberalism embraced both the welfare and rights paradigms, though the political emphasis on one or the other varied over time and among political constituencies. The embrace of the rights paradigm by liberals, as noted previously, was forged by the black freedom movement’s legal and legislative assault on African Americans’ second-class citizenship. All subsequent efforts in the rights field drew on that movement’s legal argumentation and techniques and endeavored to frame the case for legal change in relationship to the civil rights paradigm. Indeed, one way of thinking about the post-1960s history of liberalism is that it struggled internally to reconcile the welfare and rights paradigms and it struggled externally against a growing political opposition mounted by the New Right.

Johnson’s Great Society endeavored to link the civil rights and welfare paradigms. In the rights field, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 extended protections against discrimination to citizens on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin and erected a bulwark against political oppression. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 undid many, though not all, of the race- and religion-based chauvinism of the reigning 1924 immigration legislation. In these and other measures, the national government promised to safeguard the capacity of citizens to participate fully in the social and political life of the nation. In the welfare field, Great Society liberals also forged new national health insurance for older and low-income Americans (Medicare and Medicaid). The two measures fell short of universal national health insurance, an objective of liberals since the 1930s, but they represented the most aggressive and optimistic expansion of welfare liberalism since the New Deal. Johnson also took a step toward universal pre-kindergarten childhood education with the Head Start program, created under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, the foundation of the War on Poverty. At the same time and in contrast, Great Society liberals sought to reduce the income support component of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), actions that Johnson’s critics saw as a short-sighted abandonment of a key anti-poverty program that itself dated to the 1930s.

Despite the Great Society’s advancements, the welfare liberalism of the New Deal bequeathed to the 1960s deep gender and racial biases—in the form of what we might call “breadwinner liberalism.” Welfare policy had long been based on a male breadwinner model of economic and family life, in which women were conceived primarily as dependents of men and heterosexuality was both presumed and valorized. Moreover, New Deal housing, labor, and social security programs began their life with powerful racial exclusions embedded in them. Thus, 1930s welfare liberalism had legislated gender and racial hierarchies—and perpetuated inequalities—and created a fractured social safety net that covered only a portion of the citizenry.

Advocates of the rights paradigm in the 1960s sought to address these and other forms of legal and social exclusion and oppression. In the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, for instance, the black freedom movement won what it had long sought: legal protection against labor and housing market discrimination. In the 1964 legislation, women, too, gained protection against gender-based discrimination in employment. At the state and municipal level, African Americans, Mexican Americans and other Latina/o, women, and gay men and lesbians lobbied for laws and ordinances that prohibited labor and housing market discrimination. Hard-won legislative victories came, but those seeking redress also turned to the courts. When they did, the Fourteenth Amendment played a defining role. Since the 1930s, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) had argued that the “equal protection” and “due process” clauses of that amendment rendered most forms of racial discrimination illegal. Using such arguments, for instance, the LDF chipped away at discrimination in educational institutions, culminating in the Brown decision of 1954 (and Brown II in 1955). By the late 1960s, the Warren Court had developed the “strict scrutiny” standard for laws and public policies that made distinctions on the basis of race, rendering virtually all such distinctions unconstitutional (in Loving v. Virginia, in 1967, for example, the Court declared laws prohibiting interracial marriage unconstitutional). In a series of decisions in the 1970s, the Court applied “intermediate scrutiny” to laws employing gender distinctions, a slightly lower burden.

In addition to responding to petitioners on questions of race and gender, the Warren Court expanded First Amendment rights, particularly in the arena of publishing, filmmaking, and other forms of artistic expression. In many instances the Court’s rulings permitted greater sexual content in art and public discourse (what had traditionally been called “obscenity”), which engendered a reaction among moral conservatives. The group Citizens for Decent Literature, for instance, produced the 1965 film Perversion for Profit, an expose about the pornography industry and, as the group saw it, the Court’s culpability in its growth. The Warren Court also expanded the rights of people arrested, in the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona ruling; acknowledged the right of low-income Americans in criminal trials to a government-appointed attorney, in the 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright ruling; and completed the long process of applying the Bill of Rights to state as well as federal law in the 1969 Benton v. Maryland ruling. During these same years, the Warren Court ruled that mandatory school prayer and Bible reading in public schools were unconstitutional violations of the separation of church and state—decisions that deeply offended many Christians. Together, the Warren Court’s rulings over more than a decade produced a powerful conservative movement calling for “judicial restraint.” The John Birch Society, in this spirit, notably declared, “Save Our Republic: Impeach Earl Warren.”

No Warren Court development was more influential, or became more politically charged, than the emergence of the “right of privacy.” Drawing on concepts that dated to the 1890s, but had entered Supreme Court rulings only in footnotes, the Warren Court first enunciated a “marital” right of privacy in the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision, in a case involving access to birth control. Warren left the bench in 1969, but in the 1972 ruling in Eisenstadt v. Baird, and, most famously, in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the Court extended the logic of privacy—that is, freedom of choice—to individual women seeking either birth control or an abortion. No one loved the Roe decision. Conservatives claimed it was blatant judicial overreach, and a vast political movement arose against it. Feminists thought it too weak but learned to live with and defiantly defend it. Gay men and lesbians argued that privacy ought to be extended to people’s choice of sexual partners, which the Court adamantly refused to do until 2004. The right of privacy was, in the end, the product of feminists organizing for both social and legal change and a Court seeking ways to cautiously extend individual liberty. It was as much evolution as revolution.

The rights paradigm developed alongside the welfare paradigm, and the two have lived, sometimes comfortably sometimes awkwardly, together in liberal thought and politics since the 1960s. The 1972 Equal Rights Amendment (which was never ratified by the requisite number of states), the development of equal employment and sexual harassment law in the 1970s and 1980s, and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act are examples of the legacy of the rights paradigm. The limits of the rights paradigm, too, have been in evidence since the 1960s. There are three such limitations worth noting here. First, a rights claim often invokes a counter rights claim, as has been evident in affirmative action and reproductive politics, and thus rights become less absolute than subject to negotiation. Second, rights have proved to be highly wealth and status sensitive—that is, people who already have resources tend to benefit more from rights than those without such resources. And third, rights-based legislation and court decisions have eliminated many formal legal distinctions (such as race, color, and gender) in ways that have benefited individuals but have proved less able to ameliorate broad patterns of group disadvantage. Even with these substantial limitations, the “rights revolution” that began in the 1960s was among the most divisive developments of the decade and set the terms of political debate, and conflict, in ways eminently recognizable today.


In his 1956 book, Growing Up Absurd, which became a cult classic in the 1960s, Paul Goodman wrote about, and in many ways for, the “disaffected youth” he saw around him. “Their main topic is the ‘system,’ with which they refuse to cooperate,”6 he explained. A decade later, in their manifesto Black Power, Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) and Charles Hamilton rejected assimilation into the white middle class “because the values of that class are in themselves anti-humanist.” They too wrote of a “system,” by which they meant “the entire American complex of basic institutions, values, beliefs, etc.” For 1960s dissidents, “the system” could mean many things: corporations, the war in Vietnam, the military, politicians and government, patriarchy, the middle class, anyone belonging to the World War II generation, racism, sexism, and much else. “The system” looked different depending on where one stood. But its authority, especially its authority over the individual, was widely, often seriously, sometimes mockingly, derided. The spirit of dissent embodied in the social insurgencies of the decade both fed on and helped produce a larger climate of anti-authoritarianism, the fourth and final development of the decade considered here.

“I am an orphan of America,” Abbie Hoffman scoffed during his trial for conspiracy to riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. When asked where he resided, Hoffman declared, “I live in Woodstock nation,” and when asked, for the record of the court, when he was born, Hoffman replied, “Psychologically, 1960.” The transcript of Hoffman’s testimony in the trial of the Chicago Seven is replete with sarcasm and disdain for the government’s case against him and the six other defendants, among whose number was Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) co-founder Tom Hayden. Hoffman, a founder of the “Yippies” (Youth International Party), was among the most anarchic anti-authoritarian troublemakers of the sixties; he refused to take any official institution in American society seriously. Hoffman may have been an extreme case, but he was nonetheless representative of a much broader pattern of anti-authoritarian sentiment, behavior, and thinking that reached a kind of crescendo in the late 1960s.

Virtually no arena of national life remained untouched by the anti-authoritarian ethos: family, church, government, law, and cultural norms were all deeply challenged. Measuring the precise valence, or the full extent, of anti-authoritarian attitudes is difficult, but a wide variety of evidence can be assembled to represent the landscape of those attitudes. The various feminisms of the decade, for instance, challenged male prerogative, the sexual double standard, and even the organization of the nuclear family. Beginning with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and continuing through the far more radical Sexual Politics (1969), by Kate Millett, and Abortion Rap (1971), by Diane Schulder and Florynce Kennedy, feminist writings, manifestos, and speeches mocked and derided the assumed cultural authority of men. With regard to race, black freedom advocates openly questioned the integrity of the major churches (and especially their southern congregations), white social, economic, and educational institutions, and virtually all levels of government. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. challenged the Christian integrity of his colleagues among the white pastorate. The antiwar movement deeply questioned the motives of national elected officials, including Presidents Johnson and Nixon, and accused many in the government of lying about the war in Vietnam. By the later years of the decade, few in the antiwar movement believed anything that government officials said about the war, and the long history of official deceit was laid bare when the Pentagon Papers were published in 1971 by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other major newspapers. Across virtually every sector of American life in the 1960s, the authority of basic institutions was not simply called into question but often openly disbelieved and publically ridiculed.

The anti-authoritarian ethos extended beyond the social movement insurgencies of the decade into media, culture, and art. The broad movement known as New Journalism upended facile distinctions between fact and fiction by inserting the reporter into reportage and crafting a subjective point of view about modern life. Practitioners such as Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, and Joan Didion wrote in a variety of genres, from the traditional newspaper profile piece to long-form and deeply personal essays. In The Armies of the Night (1968) and Miami and the Siege of Chicago, Norman Mailer, and in Hell’s Angeles (1967), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail (1972), Hunter S. Thompson explored the depths of subjectivity, irony, and personalization, in the process showing how journalism could capture the essence of an event without strict adherence to “facts.” In film, the vertically integrated Hollywood studio system in place since the 1930s was imploding. Freed from its confines, and the genre formulas it imposed, a new generation of film school graduates and other “auteurs” began making more thematically ambitious films that romanticized outlaws: including, among others, the monstrously biting send-up of the Cold War, Dr. Strangelove (1964); the two major films of white middle-class rebel-fantasy of 1967, The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde; the dark story of urban eroticism, Midnight Cowboy (1969); the decade’s signature dreamscape of male rebellion, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969); the anti-Vietnam film, M.A.S.H. (1970); and the genre-busting, bleak view of America in McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971). Late-sixties cinema, inspired by the European New Wave, gave those who would buck convention and object to traditional sources of authority new role models and new license.

Most of the anti-authoritarian rebels who made it to the big screen or found themselves lionized by the counterculture were men. Narratives of male rebellion exerted a powerful gravitational pull in the 1960s. Even the counterculture, a shifting mélange of styles and attitudes more than a definitive “culture,” took its cues from male-centered forms of rebellion. “If man and wife in a suburban split-level was a symbol of all that was wrong with plastic, bourgeois America,” the feminist Susan Brownmiller wrote, “’man and chick’ in a Lower East Side tenement flat was hardly the new order [women] had dreamed of.”7 The counterculture’s embrace of a new, and as they saw it more authentic, way of living did not necessarily dislodge male prerogative. Nevertheless, the counterculture’s basic argument, that individuals ought to be free to experience pleasure and purpose, love and spirituality, on their own terms unfettered by prevailing institutions and norms, inspired Americans of all genders and sexualities. Nowhere was this more evident than in the growing use of marijuana, along with hallucinatory drugs such as LSD, among wide segments of the population.

Sixties anti-authoritarianism was part of an ecstatic celebration of youth, an elevation of young people of the baby boom generation to an unprecedented vantage from which to shape American society. Long after the protests died down, drug use declined, and the politics of rebellion dissipated, the validation of youth remained a potent social and cultural force, particularly in consumer culture. It is part of the irony of the 1960s that youthful rebellion, so meaningful at times in the decade, acquired such a prosaic meaning within consumer capitalism in later decades, used to sell everything from cars to shoes. Youthful styles, milestones, patterns of consumption, attitudes, and slang have enjoyed a popularity since the 1960s rooted in the idea that young people should set the cultural tone for the society as a whole, and particularly that their general disdain for older traditions and older adults is worthy of emulation.

Sixties anti-authoritarianism was also part of the long-standing tension in American life between the celebration of individualism and the valuing of hierarchy and order. As a white settler colony lacking a landed aristocracy and founded on principles of economic liberty, the United States has long regarded “freedom” as the hallmark of its national character. Yet religious principles—particularly strains of puritan Christian theology and various kinds of Christian evangelicalism—moral traditionalisms of various sorts, and respect for generational, particularly patriarchal, continuity have also played central roles in ordering national life. Just how far “liberty” ought to extend into the realm of personal behavior has been an unsettled, controversial question since the 18th century. Sixties’ anti-authoritarianism raised anew debates over the degree to which individuals should regulate their own behavior rather than relying on parents, families, religion, neighbors, or government. The counterculture popularized rock music, drug use, unconventional spirituality, sartorial flamboyance, and personal authenticity and community solidarity, among other things, as totems of a new pathway to personal freedom. The counterculture led the way, but a more general anti-authoritarian spirit suffused American life during the 1960s.

When the decade of the 1960s closed, the Cold War had not ended, the Vietnam War raged on, the most politically rightward-leaning president in more than a generation occupied the White House, and racial, gender, and sexuality-based inequalities remained woven into the fabric of national life. Despite such continuities with earlier decades and the failure of insurgencies to immediately transform the country, the 1960s nonetheless marks a fundamental break in the 20th century. A post-1960s world dawned, and the developments, conflicts, and terms of debate etched in the decade would come to define much of the next half century.

Discussion of the Literature

The historical literature on the 1960s, as with most decades, falls into specific topics and subfields. Among the richest is the historiography on the black freedom movement and African American politics, protest, and organizing. A classic, fine-grained and readable study of the Mississippi Summer project of 1964 is I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle, by Charles M. Payne.8 Foundational studies include The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change, by Aldon D. Morris, and Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945–1990, by Manning Marable.9 There are compelling reasons not to reflexively divide the movement into “southern” and “northern,” though the literature has largely developed along these lines. Terrific, award-winning books on the southern movement include Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision, by Barbara Ransby, and Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II, by Francoise Hamlin.10 An important overview of the northern movement is Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North, by Thomas J. Sugrue.11 Engaging topical and city-based studies include To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in New York City, by Martha Biondi; American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland, by Robert O. Self; and Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia, by Matthew J. Countryman.12

Historians have intensely debated the various political transformations of the decade. Taking on the long-held view that Richard Nixon pursued a “southern strategy” of political realignment, Matthew Lassiter argues instead for a “convergence” of North and South along an axis defined by a middle-class white suburban politics. That book is The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South.13 Two other Sunbelt books that make an argument for a distinctly regional conservatism are Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right, by Lisa McGirr, and From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism, by Darren Dochuk.14 Rick Perlstein makes a provocative argument about the centrality of Richard Nixon in the political realignment than began in the 1960s in Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of a Nation.15 Looking beyond the black freedom struggle, historians have documented the complex and multivalent racial politics of the decade. See, for instance, Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice, by Ian F. Haney López; The Color of America Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1941–1978, by Mark Brilliant; Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement, by Carlos Muñoz; and The American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz Island: Red Power and Self-Determination, by Troy R. Johnson.16

The historical literature on rights politics, social movements, and the law in the 1960s is also critical to understanding the decade. See, for example, Reasoning from Race: Feminism, Law, and the Civil Rights Revolution, by Serena Mayeri, and The Lost Promise of Civil Rights, by Lisa L. Goluboff.17 On the many feminisms of the 1960s, see Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism, by Anne Enke; Radical Sisters: Second-Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington, D.C., by Anne M. Valk; and Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizing, by Kimberly Springer.18 On homophile and early gay liberation and gay rights movements, the classic reference remains Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970, by John D’Emilio, but newer work, such as Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965, by Nan Alamilla Boyd, and Timothy Stewart-Winter’s Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics, have deepened and enriched the narrative of 1960s queer history.19

The literature on Vietnam, too, is vast and deep, and only a few titles can be cited here. For a terrific overview, see The Vietnam Wars, 1945–1990, by Marilyn B. Young, and Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam, by Fredrik Logevall,20 the latter of which won the Pulitzer Prize. For three unique and different portraits of aspects of the war, see Tom Wells, The War Within: America’s Battle over Vietnam, Dear Dr. Spock: Letters about the Vietnam War to America’s Favorite Baby Doctor, edited by Michael S. Foley, and Pay Any Price: Lyndon Jonson and the Wars in Vietnam, by Lloyd Gardner.21

Primary Sources

Because so much of the history of the 1960s can be told through social movements, the decade’s archive is spread across the country. The papers of Martin Luther King Jr. are located at the King Center in Atlanta, as are the SNCC papers. The King papers are being edited and published in a fourteen-volume set, seven of which have so far been published, by The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, a cooperative venture with the King Center. The Stanford Library also has the papers of the Black Panther Party. The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University houses one of the nation’s best collections of American women’s history, including the papers of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), Betty Friedan, Pauli Murray, and many other notable organizations and individuals. No history of American women in the 1960s is possible without visiting the Schlesinger. The vast alternative press created by feminists and women’s advocates in the 1960s and 1970s has been preserved on ninety reels of microfilm under the title Herstory.22 Primary sources for the homophile movement can be found in many archives across the country, among them the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, New York, and the Human Sexuality Collection at the Cornell University Library.

As with any period in the 20th century, a great deal of the history of the 1960s can be told through materials held at presidential libraries. Presidential papers in this era are not merely the dry ephemera of high politics and power brokerage but vast assemblages of documents collected by presidents, agencies, advisers, and other White House officials. These papers are especially critical to understanding the Vietnam War. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, and the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, have remarkable holdings on the politics and social movements of the decade. For the history of the New Right, the Barry Goldwater Papers are held at the Arizona Historical Foundation at Arizona State University.

Links to Digital Materials

The Public Papers of the Presidents are available at The American Presidency Project. Access to the collection of the National Security Archive is also available online. A vast and important collection is the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University, but the Zinn Education Project also has a wealth of materials and references for teaching the Vietnam War. The Pentagon Papers are the federal government’s self-study of the history of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History boasts a terrific civil rights website, and the Voices of Feminism Oral History Project at Smith College is another useful source. A terrific site for civil rights has been put together by movement veterans themselves. The Miller Center at the University of Virginia has made available many presidential speeches, many of which address key issues of the 1960s.

Further Reading

Brick, Howard. Age of Contradiction: American Thought and Culture in the 1960s. New York: Twayne, 1998.Find this resource:

    Cobble, Dorothy Sue. The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

      Countryman, Matthew. Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.Find this resource:

        Foley, Michael Stewart. Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.Find this resource:

          Joseph, Peniel. Waiting ‘til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America. New York: Henry Holt, 2006.Find this resource:

            Lewis, Penny. Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press, 2013.Find this resource:

              Miller, James. Democracy Is in the Streets: From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.Find this resource:

                Payne, Charles M. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.Find this resource:

                  Ransby, Barbara. Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.Find this resource:

                    Rosen, Ruth. The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America. New York: Viking, 2000.Find this resource:

                      Self, Robert. All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy since the 1960s. New York: Hill and Wang, 2013.Find this resource:

                        Stein, Marc. Rethinking the Gay and Lesbian Movement. New York: Routledge, 2012.Find this resource:

                          Young, Marilyn. Vietnam Wars, 1945–1990. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.Find this resource:


                            (1.) Source: Matthew Dallek, The Right Moment: Ronald Reagan’s First Victory and the Decisive Turning Point in American Politics (Oxford, 2000), 102.

                            (2.) Jonathan Birnbaum and Clarence Taylor, eds. Civil Rights Since 1787: A Reader on the Black Struggle (NYU, 2000), 474.

                            (3.) Source: Kwame Ture and Charles Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation (orig. 1967, Vintage edition, 1992), 41.

                            (4.) Source: Bayard Rustin, Down the Line: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin (Quadrangle, 1971), 111.

                            (5.) Source: Report of the United States National Advisory Commission On Civil Disorders (U.S Govt. Printing Office, 1968), 2.

                            (6.) Source: Paul Goodman, Growing up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society (orig. 1960, New York Review Books Classics, 2012), 5.

                            (7.) Source: Robert O. Self, All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s (Hill and Wang, 2012), 191.

                            (8.) Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

                            (9.) Aldon D. Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change (New York: The Free Press, 1984); and Manning Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945–1990 (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1991).

                            (10.) Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); and Francoise Hamlin, Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

                            (11.) Thomas J. Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (New York: Random House, 2008).

                            (12.) Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in New York City (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003); Robert O. Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003); and Matthew J. Countryman, Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006).

                            (13.) Matthew Lassiter, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006).

                            (14.) Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001); and Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York: W. W. Norton, 2011).

                            (15.) Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of a Nation (New York: Scribner, 2008).

                            (16.) Ian F. Haney López, Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003); Mark Brilliant, The Color of America Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1941–1978 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Carlos Muñoz, Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement (London: Verso, 2007); and Troy R. Johnson, The American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz Island: Red Power and Self-Determination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996).

                            (17.) Serena Mayeri, Reasoning from Race: Feminism, Law, and the Civil Rights Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011); and Lisa L. Goluboff, The Lost Promise of Civil Rights (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

                            (18.) Anne Enke, Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007); Anne M. Valk, Radical Sisters: Second-Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington, D.C. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008); and Kimberly Springer, Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizing (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005).

                            (19.) John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); Nan Alamilla Boyd, Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); and Timothy Stewart-Winter, Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

                            (20.) Marilyn B. Young, The Vietnam Wars, 1945–1990 (New York: Harper Collins, 1991); and Fredrik Logevall, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam (New York: Random House, 2012).

                            (21.) Tom Wells, The War Within: America’s Battle over Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994); Michael S. Foley, ed., Dear Dr. Spock: Letters about the Vietnam War to America’s Favorite Baby Doctor (New York: New York University Press, 2005); and Lloyd Gardner, Pay Any Price: Lyndon Jonson and the Wars in Vietnam (Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1995).

                            (22.) Herstory (Wooster, OH: Micro Photo Division, Bell & Howell, 1972).