Protests Then and Now–Protests of the 60s, about Peace and Love?

The protests of the 1960s, which continued into the mid-1970s focused on two issues: the unpopular war in Vietnam and the civil rights movements.  The purposes of the protests were clearly articulated and very specific.  Protesters opposed the draft, the war and inequality based on race, sex and class.

The protestors were often college students and young professionals.  They attended class, took exams, held responsible jobs.  On weekends and after hours they demonstrated.  While there were glaring exceptions to the norm, most protests were peaceful and most protesters went home to their own beds at night.  Despite being unpopular among parents, the police, and many educational and government officials, the response to these protests was generally reserved.

The deaths of 4 students at Kent State, May 4, 1970, at the hands of the National Guard, was perhaps the most tragic event associated with the peace movement.  The deaths of 4 African-American children in the Atlanta church, Sept. 15, 1963; the lynching of 3 civil rights workers involved in voter registration in Mississippi; involved in voter registration June 21, 1964; and the assassination of Martin Luther King, in Tennessee, April 4 1968, are the most often remembered deaths of the Civil Rights movement, but they do not stand alone.

Most demonstrations were peaceful.  Protesters marched, congregated in parks, on university campuses, and occasionally near military bases and government buildings.  They lit candles and bonded together.  They attended rock concerts like Woodstock and Cornstalk[1] where much of the music focused on peace, equality and empowerment.   But as much as memories of those who participated in those protests focus on commitment to love, peace, music and equality, some protesters turned violent.  Splinter groups, including the Weathermen, a faction of Students for a Democratic Society, developed radical agendas, called for violent revolution, became involved in criminal activities, took over university buildings and bombed banks and government buildings.

The Paris Peace Accords of 1973 ended U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.  All U.S. soldiers left Vietnam by 1975.  College campus calmed and the peace demonstrations came to an end.  The civil rights movement was transformed from protest marches to structured organizations over a period of time.  Cool heads would differ as to whether the protests caused the integration of schools, buses, restaurants, with the passage and enforcement of legislation.  However, there is no doubt that key legislation occurred almost simultaneously with the protests, including the passage and enforcement of laws such as Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1964 as amended in 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin; and Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex.

It was a time of love and hate, peace and violence, equality and class/racial struggles; but the times they were a changing!


[1] Seriously, Cornstalk was a big event in rural Kansas.

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