Shaping a New America

57. Shaping a New America

Rat, an underground radical feminist newspaper. This cover from a 1970 issue.

"Say it loud, I'm Black and I'm proud." -soul singer James Brown

A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." — women's rights leader Gloria Steinem

"We have a power that comes from the justice of our cause." -farm workers leader Cesar Chavez

"If they close up all the gay joints in this area, there is going to be all out war." -gay rioter at Stonewall

"The miracle today is communication. So let's use it." -John Lennon, 1969

John Lennon
John Lennon's peaceful lyrics typified the feelings of a generation. "Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people / Sharing all the world..." -from "Imagine"

As awareness was being raised across America about civil rights for African Americans, it was only natural that other groups who felt marginalized by the American mainstream to make demands of their own. Not since the drive for suffrage had a drive for women's rights met with much success. A new feminist movement emerged in the 1960s pressing for modern reforms.

With few exceptions, women were excluded from the highest paying jobs, earning only a fraction of the wages of their male counterparts. The 1950s cult of the housewife discouraged women from holding full-time jobs and from seeking higher degrees. The call for legality and availability of birth control options like the pill galvanized many of feminists. Eventually, the right to obtain a safe, legal abortion became a new milestone. These demands and others led to the proposal of an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, which would forever ban sex discrimination in the nation's laws and practices.

Hampshire sheep
One example of the changing ideals in education was Hampshire College, an alternative institution that opened in the early '70s. The college took a tree as its symbol, allowed sheep on its grounds, and permitted and even encouraged students to try experiments in alternative living.

Latino Americans and Native Americans had also languished in the bottom economic strata throughout much of the prosperous 1950s. Radical and moderate ethnic leaders organized to close this gap. By the end of the decade, the time was ripe for gay Americans to demand equality as well. The politics of identity dominated America as these and other disadvantaged American groups found their voices of protest.

Another battle cry was sounded to save the planet from environmental destruction. Toxic emissions, deadly pesticides, and fears of nuclear holocaust brought many concerned Americans together in the earth awareness movement. This time "green" activists went beyond conservation of resources to demand regulation of economic activities that could hurt the nation's environment.

In the 1960s, the first baby boomers entered college. These students were the largest class of young Americans ever to enter the halls of ivy. Unlike the "Silent Generation" of 1950s youth, the baby boomers were vocal about reforming democracy in the United States and the American presence abroad. College administrators were confronted with inspired students requesting reforms of the core academic curriculum, greater opportunities for free speech, and more relaxed college rules. A small, but highly visible segment of students withdrew from the mainstream and created a counterculture with profound impact on American values, fashion, and music.

On the Web
The end of all education should surely be service to others -Cesar Chavez
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