Overview

The Contemporary Era in the United Sates lated lasted from the 1950s to the end of the 1970s. There were several different movements during this era all of which had a large impact on the U.S.

Major Movements

  1. The Civil Rights Movement:

The civil rights movement was consisted of a bunch of organizations and organized efforts to abolish racial discrimination against African Americans and to restore voting rights in the south between 1954 and 1968. In many situations it took form of civil resistance to stop discrimination against blacks by nonviolent forms of resistance. Organizations such as the NAACP, National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, the SNCC, Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the COFO, the Council of Federal Organizations, the CORE, Congress of Racial Equality and the Black Panthers were all major contributors in trying to integrate blacks and whites. Forms of protest and civil disobedience included boycotts like the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955-1956, “sit-ins” including the influential Greensboro sit-ins in 1960, marches including the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 and a wide range of other nonviolent acts. All these civil disobedient acts and protest had all had leaders. The major leader and most famous that made speeches and lead most of the marches was Martin Luther King Jr. Some other people that had a major influence in the civil rights movement were Jesse Jackson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and the informally named Big Six who were Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, James Farmer and John Lewis. All these leaders and nonviolent acts of resistance lead to the abolishment of racial discrimination.

  1. The Free Speech Movement:

The Free Speech Movement started with a student protest at the University of California, Berkley, during the 1964–1965 academic year. Fears of an outspread of Communism lead to university administration enacting rules and restrictions designed to keep politics off of of the campus.  Students lead the protests that insisted the university lift the ban of on-campus political activities and acknowledge the students’ right to free speech. The movement took off when police arrested Jack Weinberg, an alum of the college who was well known for civil rights activity. After Weinberg was placed in the police car, students surrounded it to keep it from moving. This was the start of a large free speech protests. Thousands of students held the car hostage for over a day. The car acted as a platform to speak on for a continuing and growing the rally.

  1. The Student Anti-War Movement:

The first signs of organized student protest began in 1959 with the forming of the Students Peace Union
(SPU). The group had many chapters on different campuses across the country. It was a liberal organization and focused on non-violent protest of war and a restructure of American society. Although it had the right intentions SPU was never an effective interest group and dissolved in 1964. This led to the formation of the more active and successful Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The SDS was formed as the collegiate arm of an Old Left institution, and had several leaders including Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and Michal Harrington. However, the SDS was eventually taken over by student radicals, Al Harbor and Tom Hayden, both students at the University of Michigan. In June of 1962, 59 members of SDS met in Michigan for conference where the manifesto of the New-Left was forged. It was written by Hayden, and the 64 page document expressed disillusionment with the military, industrial, and academic establishment. Hayden cited the Cold War uncertainty and the treatment of African Americans in the south as examples of the failure of liberal ideology and he demanded a reevaluation of society by the American youth.The SDS would serve as the backbone for the majority of the anti-Vietnam war movements in colleges and universities across America. They would lead protest on campuses throughout America, including the ones at Washington D.C. and Kent State University. This group represented the educated youth that would not take the injustices of the Vietnam War lying down.

  1. Anti-War Propaganda:  

The Vietnam War is arguably the most disasterourous wars that the United States has ever fought in.  With the US first deploying troops in 1961,  involvement in Vietnam was protested and disputed against from the beginning.  As the US became became more and more involved, the numbers of protesters speaking out against the war grew to staggering hights. There were also large protest against young men who were drafted to fight in the war. Soldiers argued that they were fighting a “rich man’s war” since most young men who came from money were able to buy themselves out of service.  Protesters made posters, wrote songs,  conducted speeches and led public protest that let the US government know that they were not happy with the current condition of the US.  Television played a huge part in the anti-war protest during Vietnam.  For the first time in history, people were not only able to visually see what was going on in Vietnam, but also witness these protest as they were happening.  Viewers were able to see the horrors of war as well as watch the massive amounts protest they were going on, which only led to  more people wanting to get involved.

  1. Gay Liberation:   

  Homosexuals aren’t some part of human evolution that appeared out of thin air one day, but a piece of our society that has been neglected, ridiculed, and hidden throughout history.  Social hostility forced this subculture into hiding and with no voice this subculture stayed dormant until the first appearance around the 1920’s.  When World War II was over many soldiers stayed in the cities that they were stationed at due to the majority of openly gay men and women.  The visibility of this once secret subculture, prejudices were formed from the major society was provoked.  President Eisenhower issued an executive order in 1953 barring gay men and lesbians from all federal jobs (Houghton, 1991). The bombardment of hatred and prejudices against this subculture is what forced them to fight back and catalyzed the gay social movements of the modern era.  Influenced by many militant black civil rights movements, the gay society took charge in the reformation to gain equality and acceptance.  The incident that gave birth to the modern gay liberation movement was in June, 1969 with the police raid of the Stonewall Inn gay bar in New York.  The bar controversy provoked three nights of rioting and protesting.  This was the first publicly social backlash of the gay community with gay power signs raging through the streets of New York City (Healey, 2006). After Stonewall, hundreds of gay rights organizations in American cities demanded legal reform, access to public services, and an end to discrimination.  With the gay subculture growing so was pro gay events and openly public gay political figures. In 1973 Kathy Kozachenko became the first openly gay candidate to run office in the U.S, In 1974 homosexuality was also removed from the list of mental illnesses.  In 1975 the Civil Service Commission eliminated the ban on the employment of homosexuals in most federal jobs.  Openly gay political figures were also an enormous influence the gay liberation movements.  No political figure was more influential then Harvey Milk.  Harvey Milk was a gay activist who was elected to the Board of Supervisors for San Francisco.  His open homosexuality and strong views made him a great face for the proud gay nation. The 1980’s AIDS epidemic was used by many antigay groups to try and show the American culture the negativity brought by the gay community.  This however backfired when the gay community used this epidemic to strengthen their mobilization.  The Gay Liberation Movements brought out a hidden subculture of American identity and changed social standards for a more accepting view of our constitutional rights.

Important People

  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • The Chicago 8
  • Huey P. Newton
  • Bobby Seale

Work Cited

Freeman, J. (n.d.). The Berkeley Free Speech Movement. Retrieved 10 12, 2011, from http://www.jofreeman.com: http://www.jofreeman.com/sixtiesprotest/berkeley.htm

Bryant, A. (1999, November 13). Save our children:anita bryants 1977 anti-gay campaign. Retrieved from www.backdoor.com

Curre, E. (2000). State-by-state breakdown of sodomy laws. Crime and punishment in america, 122-178. Retrieved from www.aclu.org

Healey, L. (2006). Early 1970’s: political split in gay movement. Workers World, 1(1), 1-3. Retrieved from http://www.workers.org/2006/us/lavender-red-77/

Houghton, D. (1991). gay liberation. American Decades, 1(16), 14-77.

DeBenedetti, Charles. An American Ordeal: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Era. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990.

Garfinkle, Adam. Telltale Hearts: The Origins and Impact of the Vietnam Antiwar Movement. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

Halstead, Fred. Out Now! A Participant’s Account of the American Movement Against the Vietnam War. New York: Monad Press, 1978.  

Anderson, T. H. (2001). American Popular Music and the War in Vietnam. Peace and Change , 51-65.

Pratt, J. C. (1998). Poetry and Vietnam. Retrieved from Modern American Poetry: http://www.english.illinios.edu/maps/vietnam/poetryandvietnam.htm

Stewart, C. J., Smith, C. A., & Denton Jr, R. E. (2007). Persuasion and Social Movements. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

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