Dickinson College, Fall 2023

Category: 1960s Page 2 of 3

Ordained in the Midst of Chaos: MLK Riots and Urban Unrest in the Late 1960s

By Caly McCarthy

2020 Preface Written By Author

Recently, I was on Facebook and saw a post from the Dickinson History Department regarding the Pinsker Student Hall of Fame.  I followed the link and was tickled to see my oral history from 2015 there.  However, as I was re-reading it, to be honest, I was cringing at how I framed things. 

When I wrote this narrative five years ago I thought that it was a fine piece of oral history, but I no longer hold this position. I failed to acknowledge even once that “riot” is a loaded term that frequently gets employed along racial lines. I should not have used the phrase “young blacks.” I should have contextualized my dad’s comment about “smoldering resentment” to emphasize the inequality that Black people face living amid racist systems. I should not have leaned on a superficial understanding of MLK’s commitment to nonviolence to decry the looting and arson that followed his assassination. I should have questioned the use of the National Guard and martial law in DC.

I thought I was being neutral. I thought that I was simply portraying my dad’s experience. Instead, I unwittingly dismissed the chronic reality of racism in our country by centering this moment in history on property damage and white fear.  I offer this preface as an invitation to accountability. Because the way we frame stories about race, violence, fear, and property damage have very real implications for whether we amplify or delegitimize Black lives, cries, and calls for change.

Original 2015 Oral History

Photograph from 1969, one year after Father Joe was ordained a deacon.

Photograph of Father Joe in 1969, one year after McCarthy was ordained a deacon.

On the day that James Earl Ray assassinated esteemed civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., Joseph McCarthy was ordained a sub-deacon of the Catholic Church in Washington, D.C.[1] Historian H.W. Brands argues that word of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination “flashed across the continent and triggered the largest wave of riots to date.”[2] Though cities throughout the nation erupted into riots, civil unrest in Washington, D.C. was especially strong. McCarthy remembers climbing on the rooftop of Catholic University, surveying the city, and observing that “[w]hole blocks were on fire.”[3] McCarthy’s recollections of the riots in Washington, D.C. illustrate the fear and confusion of the time immediately following MLK’s assassination. His recollections of this single uprising offer a vivid account of the race riots that dominated America in the late 1960s.

In preparation for his ordination, McCarthy had attended Montford Prep, a boarding school in New York state.  He later attended St. Mary’s College in Kentucky for his undergraduate degree, where he majored in philosophy and minored in classical languages.   After graduation he continued study at Kenrick Seminary of St. Louis, Missouri, and Catholic University of Washington, D.C..  On April 4, 1968, McCarthy was just shy of 28 years old.  He had lived in Washington, D.C. for three years, and the violence that erupted did not come as a total surprise.  He recalls identifying a feeling of “smoldering resentment” among young blacks whom he encountered while walking and taking the bus day after day.[4]  Although no one was explicitly hostile towards him, there was a palpable sense of tension, evident by glares and body language.  He posits that, unlike previous generations, young blacks had exposure to television.  This medium regularly showcased a white standard of living unattainable for blacks and broadcast news of urban violence based on racial tensions.  It made injustices more visible, and McCarthy suggests, fed frustration among the black community.[5]

The race riots that plagued the 1960s were manifestations of frustration over slow progress.  Brands comments, “The promise of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the rest of Johnson’s Great Society seemed distant and often irrelevant to the trials of everyday life on the streets.”[6] Fueled by immense frustration regarding high unemployment, low-quality schools, and inadequate housing, small disputes with police escalated into urban riots. Such was the case in Watts, a neighborhood of Los Angeles, California in 1965, and in Newark, New Jersey and Detroit, Michigan in 1967. Hallmarks of the riots included looting businesses (especially, though not exclusively white-owned), setting fire to the city, and strong response by the National Guard. The riots always yielded loss of order, property, and life.[7]

The riots that followed MLK’s assassination were notable in both frequency and magnitude. Scholar Peter B. Levy asserts that “during Holy Week 1968, the United States experienced its greatest wave of social unrest since the Civil War.”[8] Nearly 130 cities in over 36 states experienced violence in the wake of MLK’s death.[9]  Washington, D.C. witnessed twelve days of rioting. By the end, 13,600 troops, “more than were used in any other riot in the nation’s history, occupied the city and regained control.”[10]  Before the rioting ended, 13 people died, 7,600 were arrested, and $24 million’s worth of property damage was incurred.  Washington D.C. boasted 1/3 of the nation’s insurance claims for destruction that followed MLK’s death.[11]

McCarthy recalls that amid all of this unrest, his family managed to get into the city and attend his ordination. He says that they left immediately after, and that “the streets were absolutely bare. You were not allowed out on the streets. No buses. It was eerie, and sad, and frightening.”[12]   In noting that no one was allowed on the streets, McCarthy references the official state of emergency that President Johnson and Mayor Walter Washington declared over the city.[13] City officials had prepared emergency measures in advance of MLK’s Poor People’s March, set for April 22, 1968. They had cause to use them earlier than planned, in light of the rioting that followed MLK’s assassination. The city trained police officers in mob psychology and urged them to have few visible officers and to avoid unnecessary use of sirens, so as to reduce targets for violence.  Additionally, the training instructed officers to make arrests quietly.  With regards to emergency measures, a curfew was enacted and the sale of gasoline, firearms, and alcohol was prohibited.[14] City officials enacted these policies in hopes of eliminating magnifiers of aggression. Even so, rioters disrupted the city a great deal. McCarthy remembers, “One of my friends and his wife got stopped at a red light, and a whole group of people went out and rocked their car, and this woman was like 8…8 ½ months pregnant, and it was pretty upsetting.”[15] Emergency measures may have helped minimize further physical damage to the city, but its inhabitants were rattled nonetheless.

Arson was a primary source of damage to the city, in addition to looting and rioting. Schaffer notes that when the rioting was most intense, D.C. fire stations received twenty-five to thirty calls per hour, reporting arson and requesting assistance. Upon arriving at the scene, however, fire fighters found hostile crowds who denied them access to the buildings, rendering them incapable of eliminating the fire. Although white-owned businesses were especially targeted, black-owned businesses were not immune from damage. As a strategy to minimize damage, some black-owned businesses posted signs marking themselves as “soul brothers.” While the signs may have prevented further destruction, fire damage still created two-thousand homeless and five-thousand unemployed.[16]

Martin Luther King Jr. was a national icon for non-violence. When he was assassinated, Americans around the nation mourned his death.   Yet some responded to this tragic loss in a most violent manner. In doing so, rioters caused immense damage through the acts of looting and arson. They spread a spirit of fear and confusion, as is apparent from the recollections of Joe McCarthy, ordained a deacon in Washington, D.C. amid the MLK riots of April, 1968.[17]



[1] Interview with Joseph McCarthy (audio recording), Hackettstown, NJ, March 10, 2015.

[2] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 159-160.

[3] Interview with Joseph McCarthy (audio recording), Hackettstown, NJ, March 10, 2015.

[4]  Interview with Joseph McCarthy (phone conversation), April 27, 2015.

[5]  Interview with Joseph McCarthy (phone conversation), April 27, 2015.

[6] Brands, American Dreams, 148.

[7] Brands, American Dreams, 148-150.

[8] Peter B. Levy, “The Dream Deferred: The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Holy Week Uprisings of 1968.” Maryland Historical Magazine 108, no. 1 (2013): 57-78.

[9] Eric Juhnke, “A City Awakened: The Kansas City Race Riot of 1968.” Gateway Heritage: The Magazine of the Missouri Historical Society 20, no. 3 (1999): 32-43 [America: History and Life].

[10] Schaffer, “The 1968 Washington Riots”: 15 [JSTOR].

[11] Schaffer, “The 1968 Washington Riots”: 5, 12 [JSTOR].

[12] Interview with Joseph McCarthy (audio recording), Hackettstown, NJ, March 10, 2015.

[13] Schaffer, “The 1968 Washington Riots”: 12 [JSTOR].

[14] Schaffer, “The 1968 Washington Riots”: 9-10, 16 [JSTOR].

[15] Interview with Joseph McCarthy (audio recording), Hackettstown, NJ, March 10, 2015.

[16] Schaffer, “The 1968 Washington Riots”: 17, 19 [JSTOR].

[17] Music clip: http://www.freesound.org/people/nicStage/sounds/1906/

Philadelphia’s Struggles to Integrate

By Matthew Ferry


John Ferry (Left) with his brother Paul Ferry, at Paul's graduation from Girard in 1965.

John Ferry (Left) with his brother Paul Ferry, at Paul’s graduation from Girard in 1965.

John Ferry was ten-years old when he left his mother’s West Philadelphia home in 1961. That year, he began studying at Girard College–a boarding school endowed by the will of Stephen Girard, and established as an institution for “poor, white, male orphans.” [1]  The forty-three acre property surrounded by a ten-foot tall wall was established in North Philadelphia, a neighborhood that became predominately African-American during the 1940s and 1950s as whites left for the suburbs. [2]  H.W. Brands described the inner city as a place where “blacks lived in substandard housing, attended substandard schools, and worked at substandard wages.” [3]  For residents of North Philadelphia, Girard’s wall was a symbol of exclusion, inequality, and racism. Behind these walls Ferry spent eight years of his life until he graduated in the spring of 1969. Reflecting on his youth and the city’s struggles to integrate, Ferry vividly recalls how West Philadelphia changed from when he “was born–from all white, to all black,” and the gang violence and protests that were prevalent just beyond Girard’s wall. He also recalls when times were different. Ferry fondly remembers hot summer nights in West Philadelphia when “all the families [in the neighborhood] would sleep outside on their front porches.” [4]  Ferry’s recollection reveals how Philadelphia struggled to integrate and the implications that white’s resistance to reform had for race-relations.

The rise of mass suburbs in the 1950s proved a haven for white residents who sought  to escape the crowding, conditions, and cultural differences that were prevalent in the city. World War II left Philadelphia with a massive housing shortage. Over seventy-thousand houses in the city lacked a bath or were run-down, and roughly fifty percent of homes were built in the nineteenth century. [5]  The Philadelphia Housing Authority attempted to improve living conditions and spearhead integration by developing high-rise public housing projects in white communities. However, residents were resistant to the introduction of poor African-Americans in their neighborhoods. The Authority could not address the demand for affordable housing or accommodate the thousands of families displaced in the city. [6] Outside of Philadelphia, thirty-six new homes were being erected daily–fitted with two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen. Known as the Levitt model, these homes sold for $7,990 and were an attractive option for former GIs or middle-class families eligible for low interest rate federal loans. [7]  Irish and Ukrainian residents of North Philadelphia moved to the suburbs as blacks moved in. Similar patterns emerged in Ferry’s West Philadelphia neighborhood. As whites left the city for suburbia, blacks came to occupy the homes that were the oldest and hardest to maintain, and their high rents and mortgages provided only the worst shelter. [8]

Police activity during the Columbia Avenue riots. Courtesy of Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives.

Police activity during the Columbia Avenue riots. Courtesy of Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives.

For African American communities across the city, the North Philadelphia, Columbia Avenue riots of August 1964 instilled a new spirit of militancy and determination to challenge the pace and goals of integration. During the 1960s, around half of Philadelphia’s five-hundred and thirty-thousand African Americans lived in North Philadelphia. Residents typically only completed eight years of school and the average income was thirty percent below the city. [9]   As civil rights leaders failed to address these inequalities tensions built across the city. Black’s frustration with their circumstances erupted on August 28, 1964, when a rumor circulated that police had killed a pregnant black woman on Columbia Avenue. [10]  Thousands of residents took to the streets, clashed with police, broke storefronts, and looted. Rioters dramatically outnumbered the police patrolling the area, and the city deployed fifteen hundred policemen to control the crowds. Philadelphia NAACP President Cecil B. Moore and other civil rights leaders pleaded to the crowd to stop but were dismissed. To Moore’s requests, one woman responded “this is the only time in my life I’ve got a chance to get these things,” signifying that the absence of progress and circumstances blacks faced provoked the riots. [11]  In the end the riots lasted three days and left two people dead, three-hundred and thirty-nine injured, and nearly three million dollars in property destroyed. [12]  The Columbia Avenue riots demonstrated the frustration of African Americans with the white establishment and their desire to establish for themselves the pace and aim of integration.

Seven months after the riots, Cecil B. Moore promised to “rededicate Philadelphia’s civil rights campaigns to improving the conditions of African-Americans.” [13]  Moore directed his attention to Girard College. The school’s entirely white study body and ten-foot high walls–located in the midst of North Philadelphia, were symbols of the city’s failure to address the needs of poor and working-class blacks. On May 1, 1965, the NAACP protest against Girard began with twenty demonstrators and eight-hundred police officers. The picketers demonstrated outside of Girard day and night for seven months, and the size and intensity of the crowd grew over time. Ferry recalls how teachers at Girard told him that protestors would scale the wall at night and kill him in his sleep. [14]  One of the most powerful moments of the demonstrations occurred on August 3, 1965, when Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed a crowd of five-thousand protestors outside of Girard’s walls. Dr. King told the crowd that Girard and its walls were “symbolic of a cancer in the body politic that must be removed before there will be freedom and democracy in this country.” [15]  The Reverend reminded the demonstrators to neither fault nor wane in their efforts to reform an institution symbolic “of the rejection and deprivation inflicted on the Negro people.”  [16]

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attends rally at Girard College. Courtesy of Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attends rally at Girard College. Courtesy of Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives.

Moore’s campaign to integrate Girard College forced Philadelphia to realize its own dark history of discrimination and segregation at the same time the nation celebrated the end of enforced segregation in the South. While Girard’s trustees refused to concede to protestors demands, trustees President John A. Diemand met with Governor William Scranton and May James James Tate in July of 1965 to discuss legal and judicial solutions to Girard’s racial ban. In December 1965, city and state officials filed suit in United States District Court, and Moore postponed the NAACP protest campaigns against Girard College. The case moved through the court system and in March of 1968, the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit ruled that Girard had violated the constitutional rights of seven African American applicants by refusing them admission. Girard’s board of Trustees appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear an appeal of the lower court ruling. [17] In the fall of 1968, four African American boys entered Girard. However, integration did not mean the school’s white students were welcoming of their new, non-white classmates. The first African American graduate of Girard, Charles Hicks, recalled how a classmate regularly threatened to kill him in his sleep. [18]

"In Memoriam – John Joseph Michael Daubaras"

“In Memoriam – John Joseph Michael Daubaras”

As African American communities grew agitated with the pace of progress made through nonviolent demonstrations, black youths felt compelled to take their grievances to the streets. For North Philadelphia youths in particular, their aggression was directed to the well dressed and well groomed students behind Girard’s walls–the epitome of everything the white establishment prevented blacks from being. Whenever Ferry stepped outside of Girard’s main gate he ran the risk of being attacked by local boys affiliated with a gang called the Moroccos. When a Girard College student ventured beyond the wall, there was no assurance of their safety. Even at church one Sunday, Ferry and his classmates were involved in a physical altercation against black youths. Forty-one Philadelphians were killed in gang-related conflicts in 1969. [19]  That year Girard student John Daubaras was shot to death right outside of Girard’s walls in front of his two sisters and two friends. Daubaras’ death deeply shocked his classmates. Some Girard students left the school armed the day of his slaying, seeking revenge for their fallen friend. [20]  Integration did not resolve relations between Girard’s white student body and North Philadelphia’s black residents. The long drawn court battles had left both North Philadelphia residents and Girard’s students resistant to cohesion beyond that required of the law. The tragic killing of Daubaras signified that North Philadelphia’s disdain towards Girard College and its white community had reach its zenith.

In the Girard College yearbook for the 1968-1969 school year, a poem written by a member of the school community is dedicated to the life of John Daubaras. In its penultimate stanza, the author wrote “Dear God, allow us to strive to fulfill John’s dreams; Of knitting together our class, Girard College and the world, Free from revenge, or violence of any means.” [21]  John’s dream–his vision for the world–was exactly what civil rights leaders across the nation fought for; a world where individuals, regardless of skin color, could come together and coalesce as a single community. White communities across Philadelphia and the nation resisted  efforts to integrate their neighborhoods, schools, and the workplace. The social-mobility and opportunities found in white society were lawfully denied to African Americans, who were restricted to substandard conditions. The concessions blacks gained through the courts and legislation put an end to de jure segregation and other forms of institutional discrimination. However, Institutional racism while no longer lawful, has continued to exist in every facet of society. Through reflecting on the battles won and loss during the Civil Rights Movement, it is possible to see both how far we have come and where we need to go. In better understanding the progress that has yet to be made, we may one day make Daubaras’ dream for our world a reality.

[1] “Supreme Court upholds admission of Negros to Girard College,” Observer-Reporter, 21 May 1968.

[2] Russell F. Weigley, eds, Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1982), 669.

[3] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 148.

[4] Interview with John Ferry, Philadelphia, PA, March, 14, 2015.

[5] Weigley, Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, 669.

[6] Jon C. Teaford, Review of “Public Housing, Race, and Renewal: Urban Planning in Philadelphia, 1920-1974,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

Vol. 113, No. 1 (Jan., 1989), 97 [JSTOR].

[7] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945, 78.

[8] Weigley, Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, 669.

[9] Sara A. Borden, “Columbia Avenue,” Civil Rights in a Northern City: Philadelphia, accessed April 28, 2015, <http://northerncity.library.temple.edu/people-and-places/columbia-avenue?civil_rights_popup=true>

[10] Matthew J. Countryman, “Why Philadelphia,” Civil Rights in a Northern City: Philadelphia, accessed April 28, 2015, <http://northerncity.library.temple.edu/content/historical-perspective/why-philadelphia>

[11] Hillary S. Kativa, “The Columbia Avenue Riots (1964),” Civil Rights in a Northern City: Philadelphia, accessed April 28, 2015, <http://northerncity.library.temple.edu/content/collections/columbia-avenue-riots/what-interpretative-essay>

[12] Weigley, Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, 676.

[13] Kativa, “The Columbia Avenue Riots (1964).”

[14] Interview with John Ferry.

[15] Carl E. Sigmond, “Community members campaign for integration of Girard College in Philadelphia, PA, USA, 1965-68,” Global Nonviolent Action Database, accessed April 29, 2015, < http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/community-members-campaign-integration-girard-college-philadelphia-pa-usa-1965-68>

[16] John F. Morrison, “Cecil Moore vows to act united with King,” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, August 2, 1965, George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Collection, Urban Archives, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA, accessed April 30, 2015, < http://northerncity.library.temple.edu/content/cecil-moore-vows-act-united-ki>

[17] Carl E. Sigmond, “Community members campaign for integration of Girard College in Philadelphia, PA, USA, 1965-68.”

[18] Juan Williams, “The Gradual Integration of Girard College,” National Public Radio, March, 5, 2005, accessed April 29, 2015,  <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4786582>

[19] Weigley, Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, 677.

[20] Interview with John Ferry.

[21] “In Memoriam John Joseph Michael Daubaras,” Corinthian (1969), 7.

Death of the Liberal Vision: Assassinations, Protests, and the Vietnam War

Professor Todd Wronski


When Dickinson College Theatre Professor Todd Wronski was a thirteen year old boy, he witnessed an odd sight: coming silently down the steps of his family’s Mankato, Minnesota home to begin his paper route for the day, he spotted his parents huddled around a small television set. This was strange to Todd; not only were his parents not supposed to be awake this early, but they rarely watched the television that Wronski’s father had bought expressly to “watch Adlai Stevenson lose to that Eisenhower.”[1] The house ought to have been silent and dark in the comfort of the brisk summer morning, and yet here his parents were, their eyes raptly focused on the screen. It was just before six o’ clock on the morning of June 6th, 1968; Robert F. Kennedy had just been assassinated.

The murder of Bobby Kennedy set a marker for the beginning of a period of civil unrest in American history practically unmatched by any other. Coming shortly after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as in the midst of the controversial Vietnam War, the attack seemed to solidify many Americans’ belief that society was destabilizing before their very eyes. Historian H.W. Brands illustrated this frightful atmosphere in his assertion that the political murders, widespread rioting, and demoralizing war made the liberal vision of peaceful conflict resolution “impossible to maintain.” Yet the stirring testimony of Professor Wronski regarding the social climate in his hometown following the assassination through the Cambodian bombing campaign in the spring of 1970 adds a new dimension to the turbulent period – the perspectives of average, small-town Americans and their reactions to these larger events. Wronski’s teenage years, which stretch across the most violent periods of the Vietnam War and its subsequent protests, help to represent the development of an American cynicism which followed what Brands called the effective death of the liberal vision.[2]

Wronski perhaps captured the transition from the carefree attitude of the 1967 “Summer of Love” to the chaos of 1968 in his personal comparison between the two years; whereas in ’67, protesting was “a cool thing to do” in line with the hippie movement, by the time King and Kennedy had been assassinated in June of 1968, the popular and originally peaceful movement had begun to take on a violent air. “Real extensive and hugely damaging riots,” Wronski recollected, “These people just being beat, just being clubbed.”[3] Some of the worst of these riots took place in Chicago, during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The heart of the conflict was a deep mistrust between the United States government, which was conducting a largely unpopular war, and the rising counterculture movement, which began to straddle the line between peaceful activism and violent protest. Historian Frank Kusch argues that the brutal crackdown on the protesters stemmed from the law enforcement belief that “anyone donning counterculture dress was a threat.”[4] Little distinction was made between the hippie activists of 1967, who pleaded for peace, and the aggressive anti-war demonstrators that took to the streets in the wake of the assassinations of King and Kennedy. Brands paints the situation as a result of the “police [deciding] they’d had enough of the lefties”; in this instance, the lefties were anybody who associated themselves publicly with the activists that incited the violence.[5] Government and constituents clashed in a battle of ideals, and both sides came out the loser in a bloody struggle that left many unsure of what either had stood for in the first place.

This uncertainty caused by the breakdown of traditional social structures left many with a bad taste in their mouths. In this excerpt from the interview with Wronski, he describes the realization that he as a young teen shared with a great many American citizens witnessing these chaotic events:


The Chicago riot was by no means a conclusive engagement; in fact, quite the opposite. As the war raged on, so did the protests, though in the wake of the excess violence many of the protesters began to question what it was they were trying to achieve. When President Nixon ordered the extension of the war into neighboring Cambodia, however, the antiwar movement once again took up arms in what Brands described as “the largest protests of the war”.[6] Many students who objected to the campaign took to criminal acts, including arson and destruction of property, while the police continued to retaliate in typical fashion. Other groups took alternate approaches, such as one student organization that tried to spread awareness of the chemical weapons they believed the US Government to be transporting through the country.[7]

depts.washington.edu labpics repository d 2547 4 nervegas_ocr_op.pdf

Student-issued leaflet on chemical weapons

However, what might have been the largest-scale protest was not necessarily the most involved on the part of the protesters. “I won’t say it was a dying gasp,” Wronski pontificated, “but it was a flare up of the protest which was beginning to wane.” Wronski recalled a high school baseball game he participated in shortly after the beginning of the bombing campaign, which was interrupted by a group of eighty to one hundred protesters. “I thought it was funny,” Wronski said of the event. “These ‘conforming non-conformists’…were just out in search of something.”[8] That the protesters found nothing more significant than a high school baseball game to break up in response to the government’s bombing of Cambodia may have tickled Wronski, but it proved to be a substantial indicator of the cynicism that had developed and festered among the American public between 1967-1970.

Even this minor altercation, however, had larger implications. “The protest movement got to be a fashion,” Wronski admitted. “But the other thing that was going on…was that the war seemed a lot closer than the wars now.”[9] The storming of the baseball game may have seemed trivial and uninspired, but the reality of the war served as a constant driving force in propelling people to action. Most everybody in small towns like Mankato knew of at least one or two people in their community who had been sent off the war, and many of those had died in the conflict. It seems understandable that in the wake of disastrous political tumult and culture clashes, all amidst the horror of a far-off yet very looming war, Americans would seek to take matters into their own hands. “You can’t be too cynical,” Wronski concluded as the ultimate takeaway from the chaotic period. Even if it means understanding why a group of people would become enraged over something as trivial as a junior varsity baseball game.


[1] Interview with Todd Wronski, Carlisle, PA, March 23, 2015.

[2] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 162

[3] Interview with Todd Wronski, Carlisle, PA, March 23, 2015.

[4] Frank Kusch, Battleground Chicago: The Police and the 1968 Democratic National Convention (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004) excerpted by University of Chicago Press, http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/465036.html

[5] Brands, American Dreams, 164

[6] Brands, American Dreams, 170

[7] “Warning! Nerve Gas Coming!,” May 1970, Steve Ludwig Photograph Collection, Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, University of Washington.

[8] Interview with Todd Wronski, Carlisle, PA, March 23, 2015.

[9] Interview with Todd Wronski, Carlisle, PA, March 23, 2015.



Baby Boom Brings Poverty: A Personal Account of Life’s Challenges in the 1950’s and 1960’s

By Kassidy Lesher

“Poverty in the 1960’s is invisible and it is new, and both these factors make it more tenacious,” Michael Harrington proclaimed in his groundbreaking study, The Other America (1962), “It is more isolated and politically powerless than ever before.” [1] To most individuals, the baby boom evokes an age full of growth and prosperity. Unfortunately though, that was not always the case. There were people born and raised in the baby boom who did not find a prosperous nation. Living conditions were horrible for the poor and little was being done to help change it. This was the case for Ann Marie Harpel, a child of the baby boom era who was born in 1948, along with her four other sisters. She recalls the difficulties of her life growing up in a time. Her story illustrates a darker side of the baby boom era. It shows that post-war American life also had extensive poverty.

Harpel’s father served in World War II, returned home and then began to start a family. Her parents always wanted to have a large family, and with her father coming back from service allowed for them to finally make it happen. With five daughters arriving almost one right after another, however, it was not easy on her parents to provide. Money was tight around the house with Harpel’s father being the only one with a job. Some families were doing well which is why historian H.W. Brands observes that  “rising postwar incomes enabled families to thrive with single breadwinners.” [2] Yet this was not the case for the Harpel family. Harpel remembers, “my life was very hard growing up. I did not have the advantages that other children had. I was always lacking the necessities.” [3]. She owned one dress and one jacket growing up. The jacket came from the Salvation Army, and she wore it for years. She felt like she was always at a disadvantage. Unlike many other children around the neighborhood, she did not have money to take the bus to school. She and her siblings walked.  Yet, the worst part about going to school was lunch. “I never had enough to buy a meal though” Harpel recalls, “When I could afford food, it was only two rolls because they were only a nickel at school. On the days I was able to eat rolls, were the days that I was happy.” [4]

Harpel’s father worked as hard as he could at a steel mill from the time he returned from service until the business was shut down. Yet even though it would have benefited the family for her mother to work, she never did. Harpel’s mother instead enjoyed her freedom and would do whatever she pleased, without worrying about her family. Brands states, “their wives could devote themselves to caring for the children.” [5]  Unfortunately though, that was not the case for Harpel.  She had to take care of herself and her siblings because her mother did not bother with them. “My life would have been one big happy memory if I did not have any worries” Harpel says, “Instead, I have sad memories of my childhood because I never got to do what I wanted and just be a child.” [6] As soon as she got home from school, she had to help her siblings with their homework and then do the chores. Cleaning and cooking were almost always her responsibility, for as long as she can remember. Her siblings contributed, but with her being the oldest a majority of the tasks fell on her.

Harpel was also forced to help out by getting a job. She started working around the age of twelve. Her mother found her a job as a babysitter for the local district attorney. She would babysit for them any night of the week when the family needed help.  She also had to clean the house when it was asked of her. Harpel said, “The job was not so bad because I already knew how to take care of children and how to clean a house, because they were both things I was doing for my own family.” [7] She normally received around $8 dollars a week and of that money she could only keep $2-$3 if she was lucky. Either all of the money, or most of it, went to things for the house. Her job was not for her own benefit or enjoyment, it was simply to help provide for the family. After babysitting and cleaning, Harpel would attempt to do her homework. Sadly, schoolwork was not always an option, because whatever she needed to do to for herself came last.

Harpel recalls the moment of receiving her diploma was “one of my proudest moments because I felt like I achieved something completely and solely for myself.” [8] Yet this moment turned sour because he mother told her that if she had not forced her to attend school every day, she would never have graduated. Harpel particularly remembers this moment because it was the first time when she fully realized that her mother was unable to show any love towards her. Harpel had been so proud of herself for achieving something special and her mother had stripped her of it. Parents are supposed to be happy for their children’s success,  but Harpel sadly did not receive that. Luckily for her and her siblings, however, there lived a kind elderly women down the street who would always help out the girls whenever their mother was not around and father was at work. She would open up her home for the girls, so they would have a place to bathe.

Harpel notes, “Also, there was no running water or a flushing toilet. We would have to use a bucket to flush the toilet. We had no tub either to bathe in.” [9] Her living conditions were a prime example of the poverty she was in. The house she grew up in only had two bedrooms, and she does not remember her parents ever sleeping in one. Each room to her memory had a double bed and the sisters shared those two beds. The living room was the only place with heat during the winter, and Harpel believes her parents used to sleep on the floor by the fire to stay warm. Every other place in the house though was without heat, because they could not afford a heating system. The house also lacked appliances such as a washer and dryer. If laundry needed to be done, Harpel would have to take it to the nearby laundry mat. The money she made from working would contribute to things as such. Her family was unable to afford a house as nice and simple as the Levitt model homes that were being produced around the nation. Not everyone could afford to enjoy the new American lifestyle .

As Harrington wrote, “The poor are not like everyone else. They are a different kind of people. They think and feel differently; they look upon a different America than the middle class looks upon.” [10] In the early 1960s, Harrington showed the growing divide that existed in America. Most people did not want to acknowledge the troubles of that time though. Instead the people wanted to only see the good in the nation that was happening, and not work on fixing the hardships that still existed. Poverty was a problem that needed to be dealt with, and unfortunately for many it was an issue that people forgot about. Irene Brown, a sociologist of Emory University, points out that, “The odds of being poor for the cohort born between 1959 and 1964 is 33 times that of the oldest cohort.” [11] In other words, poverty actually increased as the baby boom continued. “For every cohort of white household heads born since the beginning of the baby boom,” Brown observes, “each new generation has been facing a higher risk of impoverishment than the cohorts preceding it.” [12] The issue of poverty was not properly addressed and taken care of during the rise of the baby boom, and thus families such as Harpel’s had to suffer growing up. Yet too many historians have overlooked their struggles in their happy depictions of the post-war era.


[1] Michael Harrington, The Other America (New York: Penguin Books, 1962), 14.

[2] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 70.

[3] Email interview with Ann Marie Harpel, March 22, 2015.

[4] Email interview with Ann Marie Harpel, March 22, 2015.

[5] Brands, 70.

[6] Email interview with Ann Marie Harpel, March 23, 2015.

[7] Email interview with Ann Marie Harpel, March 23, 2015.

[8] Email interview with Ann Marie Harpel, March 23, 2015.

[9] Email interview with Ann Marie Harpel, March 23, 2015.

[10] Harrington, 146.

[11] Irene Browne, “The Baby Boom and Trends in Poverty” Social Forces Vol. 73 No. 3 (Mar. 1995): 1071-1095 [JSTOR].

[12] Browne, 1088.


The Hippie Counterculture: A Teen Finding his Place Within It

By: Kendal Packo

It’s the end of the 1960s and it’s the hippies versus the Establishment. Living in the midst of the social whirlwind was Bill Packo, a high school student from Randallstown, Maryland. Packo’s vantage point of this time is unique; he was an avid athlete and a dependable student, who was also involved in the music scene. “I wasn’t a hippie by any means”, Packo claims, “but I had a group of friends that were hippies… I would go to parties and I would just drink, but there were drugs like LSD and Quaaludes, hash, pot… they were doin’ it all.”[1] And these were in fact two of the trademarks of the hippie generation: music and drugs. Historian H.W. Brands acknowledges the relationship between the two, stating, “Their music matched their taste in drugs. The Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and other new bands sang of getting high and staying high… Marijuana was for socializing, methamphetamines and cocaine for partying, LSD for probing the mysteries of the psyche.”[2] The hippies used both the music and the drugs to detach from society and create a social movement that shook the United States. Packo offers multiple memories that complicate Brands’ understanding of what it meant to be, or not to be, a hippie, and how the music could exist without the drugs.

The sudden prevalence of drugs was alarming for society in the end of the 1960s. One article from the Boston Globe in August of 1967 sought to express some of the concerns that non-hippies had about LSD, one of the most commonly used drugs of the time. It claimed that this drug would “lead the user to feel that he has found the answers to life’s problems, a chemically centered religion, or values that transcend his society and culture.”[3] Their scientific logic may or may not have been valid, but it certainly demonstrates society’s concern for the effects this drug would have on society. Packo validates that the invention of LSD helped to ignite the hippie movement. He explains, “There’s a little neighborhood in San Francisco called Haight-Ashbury where the hippie movement really began. A guy named Timothy Leary invented LSD and all the hippies… flocked to San Francisco. That was like the hippie headquarters. All they did was do drugs and have sex and hang out and protest the war.”[4] Brands mentions Haight-Ashbury and Leary in his book, and even quotes one of Leary’s famous catchphrases, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”[5] The phrase was meant to encourage people to disengage from societal norms through the use of psychedelic drugs. One of the primary ways in which people did this was by protesting the war. Both Packo and Brands agree that peace was at the core of the hippie values. Packo himself disagreed with U.S. involvement in Vietnam, but unlike the extreme hippies, this did not lead him to completely rebel against the social order.

Promotion of peace and protestation of the war in Vietnam were largely asserted through music during the ‘60s and ‘70s.  As Packo’s interest in music developed, he became more in-tune with the anti-war efforts. He explains, “Music was really an important way for the hippies to be heard.”[6] Packo became directly involved in the music scene as a result of his friendship with a man named Doug Robinson. Packo elaborates, “He played guitar and piano and started a musical group called Crude Oil. It was five of us and we played different parties and small get togethers. I’m not sure if we ever got paid but it was a lot of fun… We would just listen to music all the time.”[7] And this is what defined many young people just like Packo. He used music as both an escape, and also a way to connect with his friends. In fact, his participation in his band led to some amazing experiences. One of the most memorable nights of his teenage years, he claims, was during the summer of 1969. He tells of him and his band mates, “We won tickets to a concert at the Baltimore Arena to hear a group called Blind Faith. Eric Clapton was the guitar player and after the concert we got to go back stage and we hung with him for a while. But during the concert, an MC fromtimes mag a radio station [in Baltimore] came out on the stage and said ‘Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, we have our first man on the moon.’ July 20, 1969—it was a great night.”[8] Knowing how monumental this night would be for America, Packo still couldn’t refuse the free tickets; “Most people were excited to stay home by their TVs,” he added, “but Eric Clapton was a god to us, and there was no chance that we were going to miss out on that concert.”[9] This story combines an epic night for a music fan with one of the greatest achievements for American modern technology, creating a lasting memory for Packo.

Another one of the most monumental events of the ‘60s was Woodstock, the three-day music festival in Bethel, New York during August of 1969, which featured some of the biggest names in music during that time. Some of the acts included Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who, Creedence Clearwater, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Packo didn’t attend the festival, but in a way was still able to experience it first hand. After a visit to his grandparents’ house in Connecticut, he recalls an abnormally long ride home on the New York Freeway. The cause of the delay was a mass of people walking along the freeway. Packo remembers, “A five hour drive for us to get home took ten hours because of all the congestion. We didn’t know what it was from; we found out later it was Woodstock. All we saw were hitchhikers and hippies everywhere—it was crazy.”[10] This concert, it turns out, was not expected to be as momentous as it was, and news of it hadn’t even traveled far enough for Packo to hear about it beforehand.[11] Although Packo didn’t consider himself a hippie, this coincidental encounter with the hippies was yet another reason why they were an inspiration for his musical interests.

While the culture of the hippies was certainly unprecedented, Packo downplays the magnitude of the generation gap that many people claim existed between the hippie generation and their parents. He describes a solid relationship with his parents, claiming they rarely argued and they shared many common political views. His personal experience illustrates an article printed in The Washington Post in 1973, which featured a study showing that the hippie generation and their parents were in agreement on most political and social concerns, such as integration and war.[12] These two sources suggest that many people, including Brands, may exaggerate the generation gap. Slight difference in opinion and social habits between generations is common, and Packo is proof that many members of the counterculture resided in the middle of the spectrum between ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘free spirit drug-addict’. It is the memory of the protestors and the rioters that has branded the hippies as being completely defiant toward their parents and society at large. While older generations also opposed the Vietnam War, it was the members of the hippie generation who protested in striking ways. “[They would] burn the American flag, which is illegal, women would burn their bras and men would burn their draft cards,”[13] recalls Packo. While his parents disagreed with the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, they were shocked at the hippies’ utter defiance towards the country. He comments, “My parents and their friends felt the burning of the draft cards was un-American and unpatriotic. My parents grew up during World War II when it was the citizens’ duty to defend our country.”[14] Because of the varying opinions and reactions of the hippie generation and the generations that preceded it, it is difficult to make a claim that the hippies were completely isolated from the remainder of society. There were undoubtedly many critics of the hippies, given that their era was a pivotal one in American history. However, to say that they rebelled against everything that their parents stood for is a complicated and misleading assertion, according to Packo’s memory.

Packo doesn’t deny the impact that his generation had on society, and that it made revolutionary changes for young people. The hippie movement and the battle against the ‘Establishment’ ended in a victory for the youth of society because “it just changed the way people thought of young people,” Packo claims. He elaborates, “Young people had a say in things now, you know? They could give their opinions. Before, you were just a kid… [kids] were to be seen, not heard. The hippie movement let young people not only make noise, but to actually be heard and not just ignored.”[15] The credit for these changes may be due to the extreme hippies, but had an effect on all young people, including those like Packo who were caught in between. While interested in the music, he stayed in school, got along with his parents, and stayed away from drugs. Packo embodies a large population that over the years has been overshadowed by the stories of the most unrestrained of hippies. Maybe he wasn’t a hippie by popular definition, but a part of the counterculture nonetheless.

[1] Email interview with Bill Packo, March 24, 2015.

[2] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 146.

[3] Herbert Black, “LSD Makes Hippies Only Think They Love,” Boston Globe 1960-1983 (24 August 1967) [Proquest].

[4] Email interview with Bill Packo, March 24, 2015.

[5] Brands, 147.

[6] Email interview with Bill Packo, March 24, 2015.

[7] Phone interview with Bill Packo, March 25, 2015.

[8] Phone interview with Bill Packo, March 25, 2015.

[9] Phone interview with Bill Packo, April 29, 2015.

[10] Email interview with Bill Packo, March 24, 2015.

[11] Phone interview with Bill Packo, April 29, 2015.

[12] William Chapman, “Study Minimizes 1960s Generation Gap: Changes of ‘60s Not So Drastic,” The Washington Post, Times Herald (16 September 1973) [Proquest].

[13] Email interview with Bill Packo, March 24, 2015.

[14] Phone interview with Bill Packo, March 25, 2015.

[15] Phone interview with Bill Packo, March 25, 2015.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s: Life in Birmingham

By Rachel Glick

In 1963, Birmingham, Alabama was at the center of the revolutionary Civil Rights movement. However, Melvin Glick’s testimony shows that this “revolution” was hard to actually see in daily life. Glick, as an observer and participant, saw first hand the effects of the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham. On the surface, the political successes and famous marches and protests seemed to change little. H. W. Brands’ book, The American Dream, does a good job of summarizing the key moments of the movement, noting the hardships and struggles on the way, but he only briefly mentions frustration that many people felt during this time. Glick’s testimony adds depth to Brands’ account, offering an illustration of the ways segregation and discrimination persisted despite the advances of the Civil Rights movement.

Glick grew up in rural Pennsylvania, where he knew no black people until high school. He recalls that despite being taught by his Mennonite parents that “all people were to be treated with respect, and that there was no difference between races,” he had little understanding of race and racial slurs.[1] Pigeon, Michigan, where Glick and his wife taught at a church school, was just as detached from the world of racial tension as Parkesburg, Pennsylvania had been. They moved to Birmingham in 1963 so Glick could work in the University of Alabama hospital laboratory and attend the Medical Technology School. “For me this was like moving to a different culture in another part of the world,” Glick remembers. “I immediately noticed that all the black people lived in one area of Birmingham, mostly in the Bessemer, Alabama area…Driving through Bessemer was an ordeal because it was so difficult to breath, and from the chocking smell of sulfur from the iron smelting going on continuously.”[2] He learned not to hold the door for a black woman, as she would simply wait for him to go through first and got used to the phrase “separate but equal.” A few months after they moved, four little girls died in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. The victims rode segregated ambulances to the hospital.[3] The possibility of integrated neighborhoods had white families contemplating “to move over the mountain into the next ring of suburbs…”[4] This snapshot of life in the south is typical of the 1960s, but Birmingham was especially bad. The “particularly ugly form of racism” of police and officials launched the city into the spotlight, setting the stage for many of the historical moments of the Civil Rights movement to take place.[5]

Glick quickly noticed the “separate but equal” mentality that many people had. Everything was separate: separate doors, waiting rooms, water fountains, and schools. Even the courthouse was segregated. However, equal was another matter. Glick drove past a black school everyday on his way to work. The playground was gravel and children had to walk outside to get to different classes or the restroom.[6] The nearby white school was a “modern brick building” with “plenty of playground equipment plus baseball diamonds, basketball courts, and soccer fields.”[7] The famous Brown v. Board of Education case was in 1954. This was 1963. The ruling to desegregate public schools was flawed because of its demand that states do this “with all deliberate speed,” a rather ambiguous phrase.[8] Brands notes that this resulted in “foot-dragging” by the Jim Crow south.[9] As “momentous” as the decision was, it did little to help immediately.[10] Even when schools were officially desegregated, they were not necessarily integrated. Paul Mokrzycki makes the distinction between the desegregation of schools and integration: “Integration…entailed a complete and seamless incorporation of African Americans into every facet of academic life…”[11] This was still a problem in 1972, when Glick and his family moved to Indianapolis. He recalls seeing the beginning of integration of white neighborhoods and the subsequent “white flight.”[12] As blacks moved in, whites moved out.[13] Schools remained mostly desegregated, even if it was not legal desegregation.

Glick enrolled in the Medical Technology School at the University of Alabama in Birmingham in 1964. This was just a year after George Wallace famously (and literally) attempted to stand in the way of the desegregation of the university in Tuscaloosa.[14] Vivian Malone and James Hood were the first black students enrolled in any University of Alabama classes. Glick’s 1964 Medical Technology class had only ten people; one of them was Wilma Ann Barnes, the first black woman attending the university in Birmingham. “On the first day of school, all of us agreed to go as a group, with Wilma, into the white section of the University Hospital dining room,” Glick remembers.[15] Barnes was the second to last student in the line, followed by Glick. First, the other students sat down at a table together, followed by Barnes and then finally, Glick beside her. “The order was deliberate. We knew we were breaking a taboo in that room. The others could appear to have no choice in the matter, because Wilma chose to sit down at their table after they were already seated. However I could have chosen to sit elsewhere and it was obvious what was happening. I heard the hisses and mutterings as I sat down, and saw the glares of hatred from some of the people facing me.”[16] They continued this routine for several days and after awhile no one paid them any attention. There is hardly any information on Barnes available, even though she was technically the first black student to graduate from the University of Alabama. The Medical Technology program was only twelve months long, so she graduated alongside Vivian Malone in 1965. A short article was written about the event in the magazine Jet. It mentions Barnes by name but she was a “Mystery Girl” then and still is now.[17] The integration of the cafeteria was apparently a success. No one bothered them, as Glick said. But they still made sure Barnes was not alone at lunchtime, an indication that although the new status quo would not be challenged openly, it was not entirely accepted.

Brands’ summary of the Civil Rights movement and incidents like the integration of the hospital cafeteria seem to point to the success of the movement, yet Glick stated outright that he could see no improvement in the treatment of black people in Birmingham. Brands focuses on struggle to pass legislation, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which would end legal discrimination based on race. President Johnson’s “promise,” as Brands puts it, seemed “distant” and “irrelevant” to many black people.[18] Glick remembers witnessing a bowling alley employee refuse a black man trying to rent shoes. “The black man asked, ‘what about the court ruling?’ The bowling alley employee said, ‘we have no court ruling against us and we’re not going to rent to you. Now why don’t you just leave and not create any trouble?’”[19] This incident illustrates the frustration that Brands mentioned. Changing the laws did not erase people’s prejudices, so discrimination continued.

Glick did not attend any of the demonstrations or marches in Alabama, but he did have a sense of the danger in Birmingham. In one instance, his job at the university hospital required him to run medical tests on a black man “castrated and left lying along the road” by the KKK.[20] Bombings often occurred in places he had been recently. These were sobering reminders that the city was not entirely safe. But that violence was not restricted to the south. “I hadn’t realized that the heart of the KKK movement was in the small towns around central Indiana,” Glick remembers.[21] In a 1975 article for the Chicago Tribune, Michael Hirsley describes a Klan picnic in rural Indiana. He ends with a chilling quotation from a young boy contemplating a burning cross: “Looking at the cross, he said, ‘All we need are two niggers on the ends, you know it?’”[22] The corruption of many southern governments and the police force made the height of the civil rights movement no safer for blacks than they had been in the decades after the Civil War, when lynching was publicly accepted. “Black residents expected to be harassed by white police officers…” Brands notes.[23] Unfortunately that statement is still true in many areas of the United States today.

Glick’s recollections seem to contradict the popular interpretation that the Civil Rights movement radically, and quickly, changed in the daily lives of black Americans. “In discussions with neighbors there was just as much prejudice against blacks as there had been before, but there was a fear that changes were coming and that they would need to adjust to the changes.” Glick recalls.[24] The Civil Rights movement made huge leaps in the demolition of legal discrimination and segregation, but the system of oppression persisted for many years on its own. Laws were easier to change than the prejudices that had been instilled in the population for decades, a fact that is still relevant today.


[1] Email interview with Melvin Glick, March 20, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Bomb Victims Rode Segregated Ambulances to Hospital, Morgue.” Chicago Daily Defender, September 18, 1963. [ProQuest]

[4] Email interview with Melvin Glick, March 20, 2015.

[5] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 111.

[6] Email interview with Melvin Glick, March 20, 2015.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Brands, 86.

[9] Ibid, 86.

[10] Ibid, 86.

[11] Paul Mokrzycki, “After the Stand Comes the Fall: Racial Integration and White Student Reactions at the University of Alabama, 1963-1976,” The Alabama Review 65, no. 4 (2012): 290-313

[12] Email interview with Melvin Glick, March 20, 2015.

[13] Brands, 151.

[14] Ray Abrams, “Air of Nervous Peace Hangs Over U. of Ala. Campus.” Afro-American, June 22, 1963. [ProQuest]

[15] Email interview with Melvin Glick, March 20, 2015.

[16] Ibid.

[17] “Second Negro in Alabama Graduation A ‘Mystery’ Girl,” Jet 28, no. 2 (1965): 43 [Google Books].

[18] Brands, 148.

[19] Email interview with Melvin Glick, March 20, 2015.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Michael Hirsley, “Klan in Indiana Dishes Out Beans, Hate at Picnic,” Chicago Tribune, July 19, 1975. [ProQuest]

[23] Brands, 148.

[24] Email interview with Melvin Glick, March 20, 2015.

The Impact of the Vietnam War on The Civil Rights Movement

By Christina Braxton

           Black men, like Dennis Braxton, the subject of my interview, served their country during the Vietnam War only to return home to be treated like second-class citizens. This was the recurring theme throughout my interview. We also discussed the anti-war movement, the civil rights struggle and his involvement in the Black Panther Party.

Mr. Braxton, now 67 years old, decided to enlist in the Navy in 1967 and served until 1971. For three consecutive years, he spent about three months each year in Vietnam. By the time Braxton had enlisted, major Civil Rights legislation had already been passed. However, laws were one thing, implementation was another. When telling the story of how he ended up in Vietnam, Braxton explains:

“I went into aircrew training and anti-submarine warfare and I did real good in my training. I went into the West Coat anti-submarine squadron again because since Viet Cong didn’t need any submarines, I didn’t think I’d be in an area that was fighting a war anytime soon. I got assigned to my squadron of choice after finishing my training and I was flown into a duty station in the Philippines. It turns out that part of my squadron was rotating through Vietnam because they had changed the mission of the squadron to drop the submarine equipment into the jungle and check for Viet Cong. So I ended up in Vietnam anyway. [1]

Braxton also explained that discrimination in the navy was just as bad as discrimination outside of the navy. Before serving, Braxton was a student in Bluefield, Virginia, which was an extremely segregated part of the country. As an electronics technician, he was truly in the minority because most blacks served as cooks, mechanics, and deck workers. Blacks were constantly looked down on and were assumed to be “dumb, ignorant, and uneducated”. [2] Braxton goes on to explain that “There was a built in resentment from the white folks because they thought they were smarter, better, and more sophisticated and thought they were superior to black folks.” [3] When I asked Braxton what the hardest thing to deal with , he answered, “The hardest thing to deal with was the fact that people were giving me orders that were dumber than I was and they didn’t have the vision, common sense, or level of education that I did. They had the same fears and had the same limitations that I did but back then, no one looked into that in detail.” [4]

In 1964, the movement against the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War began and many were peaceful protests on the campuses of universities across the United States but some became violent. This movement also incorporated civil rights, free speech, and the women’s rights. Anti war protests increased in frequency once Americans became aware of the violence that was happening overseas due to growing television coverage. As the death toll rose, many Americans began to question the country’s role in the war and in the draft, specifically. Many American’s saw the country’s involvement as immoral and unnecessary. In the book Chronicles of a Two-front War: Civil Rights and Vietnam in the African American Press, the author, Lawrence Allen Eldridge states, “the President was allowing his calendar to be monopolized by the Vietnam War, and the far-off war was pulling the attention of the American people away from the vivid stories of the civil rights struggle.” [5] H.W. Brands claims that many Americans “asked whether the status of a small country far away justified the expenditure of American blood and treasure.” [6] This made black participation in the war more difficult because blacks were not accepted as citizens in the United States and to make matters worse, they were participating in a war that was increasingly unpopular. Braxton remembers feeling conflicted:

“On one hand, I’m a representative of the United States of America. On the other hand, I’m not getting the full benefits of citizenship. And what made it even worse was that most citizens were against the Vietnam War. So for black men it was a little bit different. When we wore the uniform wanting to be respected as a black person, the country didn’t respect us as a people of color. And to make things worse, we were fighting in a war that people didn’t agree with in the first place. So it made it weird. [7]

Braxton returned to the United States in February of 1971 and was honorably discharged from the Navy on March 11, 1971. When he returned to California in 1971, he describes the area as “hippie-land.” [8] Peaceful protests were now extremely common but movements like the Black Panther Party also rose in popularity. One of the first things Braxton did when released from the Navy was to join the Black Panthers. They were not always a violent organization, but they would use violence as one of their tools. In American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 by H.W. Brands states that “ Even as King and other civil rights leaders were advocating nonviolence and urging blacks to work within the existing political system, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and a cadre of militants declared the system incurably corrupt and told African Americans to take their grievances to the streets.” [9] Braxton stated bluntly that, “they didn’t have any tolerance for peaceful protesting.” [10]



[1] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

[2] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

[3] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

[4] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

[5] Eldridge, Lawrence Allen. Chronicles of a Two-front War: Civil Rights and Vietnam in the African American Press. Columbia [Mo.]: University of Missouri, 2011. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 26, 2015).

[6] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 148-151.

[7] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

[8] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

[9] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 148-151.

[10] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

Audio snippet from Braxton interview:


The Cold War Gets Warmer: A Former Member of the Air National Guard Recalls the Era of the Berlin Crisis

By Jessica Snydman

The New Jersey Air National Guard 177th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Matthew Snydman is on the far left.  Courtesy of Matthew Snydman.

The New Jersey Air National Guard 177th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Matthew Snydman is on the far left. Courtesy of Matthew Snydman.

Matthew Snydman joined the New Jersey Air National Guard (NJANG) in his early 20’s. He was young, recently married, and working at a sweater factory in Philadelphia, PA.[1] It was the late 1950’s and at the same time, the United States found itself in a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union.[2] In 1957, the Soviets shocked the West when they launched Sputnik, the world’s “first artificial earth satellite.”[3] The advancement proved the Soviets were developing military technology at a faster rate than expected. [4] As Matthew Snydman recalls, “the Sputnik satellite was different [from other developments in outer space and missile technology at the time] because we really didn’t want to hear anything good about the Russians and especially them beating us on anything.”[5] In response to Sputnik, the United States increased their efforts in building new military and space technology, but advancements on both sides of the conflict did not come without a price. As historian H.W. Brands explains, “the paradoxical effect of the arms race was that the more weapons the two sides deployed, the less secure they were.”[6]  Snydman’s experience in the Air National Guard confirms the wisdom of that insight.

Two years after the launch of Sputnik, Snydman enlisted in the NJANG .[7] When asked why he decided to enlist he said, “There may have been a draft at that time but most of my friends were joining the NJANG as a chance to fulfill our obligation to our country and at the same time, begin our families and working careers. I think the choice of the Jersey Guard was because there were more openings available at the time than in Pennsylvania [his home state] and also the Air Force seemed a little more glamorous than the Army.”[8]

In June of 1961, Kennedy met with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, where they discussed the looming issue of what to do about Berlin.[9] The city of Berlin was divided between the free, NATO-occupied Western half, and the East German and Soviet controlled, communist Eastern half.[10] Because the city of Berlin was situated “110 miles behind the Iron Curtain” in East Germany, “surrounded by Soviet troops,” the stakes were high for NATO and Western powers in West Berlin.[11] Therefore, when Khrushchev threatened “to make a peace treaty with East Germany, which would end Western access to Berlin,” Kennedy reacted firmly.[12]  Soon after the meeting in Vienna, Kennedy addressed the nation in regards to how the United States would react to the Soviet Union, declaring he would increase military forces to prepare for conflict if need be, including the Air National Guard.[13]

Matthew Snydman’s unit, the 177th Tactical Fighter Squadron (177th TFS), was called into active duty that summer as a result of the speech. He remembers there being “mucho, mucho excitement!” at the prospect of being activated into the regular Air Force, saying he was “happy to finally [be] doing something more productive”.[14] Stationed at a base in Atlantic City, NJ, the 177th TFS was never actually deployed during their active duty, however. Snydman describes his work as “a refueler, the guy who, after the plane was down and positioned, plugged in my tank truck line to a port under the wing, watched the gallon counter and filled the plane with gas (JP4 fuel),” adding, “I drove a 10,000 gallon tank truck back and forth, back and forth.”  He admitted it was “Boring as hell”.[15] For the most part, however, he remembers the time as being enjoyable. He sarcastically described it as a “tough life, living on or near the beach, water skiing and drinking a little beer and going to work and driving a truck and not thinking about much except if and when we were leaving for Germany which we never did”.[16]

Fortunately for Snydman, and the world, the combat deployment never came.



[1] Email interview with Matthew Snydman, March 25, 2015.

[2] Unknown, “The Widening Conflict, 1953-1963,” in Cold War: An International History, (New York: Westview Press, 2014). [Credo Reference]

[3] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 95.

[4] Unknown, “The Widening Conflict, 1953-1963”. [Credo Reference]

[5] Email interview with Matthew Snydman, March 25, 2015.

[6] H.W. Brands, American Dreams, 96.

[7] Email interview with Matthew Snydman, March 25, 2015.

[8] Email interview with Matthew Snydman, March 25, 2015.


[9] Unknown, “Kennedy, John Fitzgerald (1917-1963),” in A Dictionary of Contemporary History – 1945 to the Present, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999). [Credo Reference]

[10] John F. Kennedy, “Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Berlin Crisis, July 25, 1961,” John F Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum (accessed March 2015). http://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/JFK-Speeches/Berlin-Crisis_19610725.aspx

[11] Kennedy, “Radio and Television Report.”

[12] Unknown, “Kennedy, John Fitzgerald (1917-1963).” [Credo Reference]

[13] Kennedy, “Radio and Television Report.”

[14] Email interview with Matthew Snydman, March 25, 2015.

[15] Email interview with Matthew Snydman, March 25, 2015.

[16] Email interview with Matthew Snydman, March 25, 2015.

Understanding US History Through Political TV Ads

KennedyThe Living Room Candidate website, courtesy of the Museum of the Moving Image, has collected televised presidential campaign advertisements from 1952 to the present day. They offer a great window for understanding some key trends in US history since 1945.

Here is a pioneering TV ad from the 1952 campaign, presented in what was then popular movie newsreel style, for the Republican campaign of Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Think carefully about what the commercial is emphasizing –and also what it omits.

Compare that 1952 effort to this more polished, 1960 John F. Kennedy campaign ad, designed to invoke some of the more popular TV jingles of the 1950s.

Perhaps the most famous (or infamous) ad in the history of modern presidential campaigns appeared as a paid advertisement on TV only once –the so-called “Daisy ad” from 1964. Students should be able to explain what this ad was about, and why it was so powerful and controversial.

The Richard Nixon campaign in 1968 revolutionized the use of TV commercials in presidential contests, relying on them more than any other previous campaign organization. These two notable examples show some of the new techniques of advertising and also help highlight the shift in national climate since 1952.

The foreboding nature of those 1968 ads helps explain the strategy of calculated optimism behind this biographical short from the 1976 Jimmy Carter campaign.  What’s also especially useful about this effort is how it captures several political and social trends from modern US history.

In the 1984 presidential election, Ronald Reagan won 49 out of 50 states. This commercial, known popularly as the “Morning Again in America” ad helps illustrate the broad appeal of the reelection campaign –and the sophisticated selling techniques of modern presidential politicking.

Cronkite on Vietnam

Here are video clips of Walter Cronkite’s original February 27, 1968 CBS Evening News Broadcast on the Tet Offensive and also an oral history from Cronkite about that pivotal TV moment recorded in 1999.  Explain why this was such a pivotal moment in the history of US involvement in Vietnam.

The result of rising anti-war sentiment in the Democratic primaries and clear signposts of mainstream concern from sources such as Cronkite’s February special report convinced President Lyndon Johnson to announce on March 31, 1968 that he would not seek reelection after all.  Here is the full broadcast of his address to the nation that evening.  His remarks on quitting the presidential race begin around the 38 minute mark.

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