Robert Kennedy Assassination

Midway through 1968 there had already been a number of historic events that led to and showed the stunning amounts of civil unrest and chaos that was present in the United States. Walter Cronkite’s reporting of the Tet offensive, various civil rights protests and marches, and Martin Luther King’s assassination are great examples of early 1968 of the social unrest. At this time, a young politician was gaining popularity and support throughout the country running on a platform broadly based on anti-war, racial and civil justice, and social change. This man was Robert F. Kennedy, a former US Attorney General, under his brother John F. Kennedy. Both Kennedy’s in their brief time in office together were big champions and supporters of civil rights.

In 1968 the Tet Offensive caused a big shift in American attitudes about the war in Vietnam to more anti-war. This led to the less widespread support of the incumbent President, Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1968 election. Robert Kennedy had previously not decided to run in this election because of the perceived popularity of Johnson. But after Johnson’s close win against Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, Kennedy declare his candidacy. Robert Kennedy’s main platform was one of social and economic justice and a more anti-aggression strategy in foreign conflicts. He was rapidly gaining support that peaked when he won the California primary. But the night of this victory he was gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan, and died shortly after.

Robert Kennedy’s assassination was so shocking and frightening to a lot of people especially people of color. They had seen John Kennedy, a huge champion of civil rights himself get shot, Martin Luther King Jr., the biggest characterin the civil rights movement get assassinated two months prior, and at the height of his popularity Robert Kennedy get assassinated. In the span of 5 years, arguably the three biggest figures in the civil rights movement were killed. Juan Romero, who was at the scene where Robert Kennedy was shot, said the event “made me realize that no matter how much hope you have it can be taken away in a second” (Telegraph). That was a common thought process that echoed across large sections of US citizens. There was so much promise for civil rights, whether it was the Kennedy’s in power or the amount of influence that MLK was gaining, but all of those central civil rights figures were killed within five years of each other.

Juan Romero is shown here holding up Robert Kennedy after he was shot June 5th, 1968 by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, CA

Robert Kennedy’s civil rights platform was not the only thing that endeared him to Americans. To a lot of people, he was someone who would restore their faith in the US and its government after the difficult times in 1968 and with the Vietnam War. The nation was very divided at this point and Kennedy was someone who could restore “Americans’ belief in their integrity and decency” (Clarke). Theodore White a passenger on the train carrying Robert Kennedy during his funeral said when the train “emerged from the tunnel under the Hudson that one could grasp what kind of a man he was and what he had meant to Americans” (Clarke). In total two million people showed up to watch the train carrying Robert Kennedy’s body travel from New York City to Washington D.C. If you look at the people in the crowd, it consists “of young and old, rich and poor, white and black, rural and urban, … and stood as testament to Kennedy’s broad appeal and the deep devotion he inspired across the country” (Berman).

Two million people showed up to see Robert Kennedy’s train go from New York to Washington DC before his funeral

Since his death, Robert Kennedy’s legacy has lived on. Joseph Palermo says that “Kennedy’s words cut through social boundaries and partisan divides in a way that seems nearly impossible today” (Palermo). Eric Holder, the attorney general under Barack Obama, says that Kennedy was his inspiration that the Justice Department “can and must – always be a force for that which is right” (Washington Post). Although Robert Kennedy’s assassination is not talked about as much today as MLK’s or his brother, John’s it still is a huge moment in US history to a lot of people, especially people who lived through it. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is because he was killed when he was so young and he had so much potential and left to do. King had already inspired millions and was seen as the leader of the civil rights movement, John was already three years into his presidency when he was killed, but there was so much left for Robert to do and accomplish, particularly as he was gaining steam in his candidacy. That is the main reason that for people in 1968, his death was a truly shocking moment, but while still being seen as a major event it is not talked about as much as MLK’s or JFK’s assassinations today.

Carter Sheridan

Allen, Nick. “Busboy describes Bobby Kennedy’s final moments.”  The Telegraph, 30 August 2015. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11834126/Busboy-describes-Bobby-Kennedys-final-moments.html

Berman, Andrew. “This Day in History: Robert F. Kennedy Assassinated.” GVSHP, 2 June 2013. http://gvshp.org/blog/2013/06/05/this-day-in-history-robert-f-kennedy-assassinated/

Clarke, Thurston. “Robert Kennedy and the 82 Days That Inspired America.” History NewNetwork,8 June 2008. https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/51186

Dionne, E.J. “Eric Holder and Robert F. Kennedy’s legacy.” Washington Post, 28 September 2014. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ej-dionne-eric-holder-and-robert-f-kennedys-legacy/2014/09/28/8c0b7360-45d2-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a0d651e933a0

Palermo, Joseph. “Robert Kennedy Would Be 90 Years Old Today.” The Huffington Post, 20 November 2015. https://web.archive.org/web/20160824134143/http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-a-palermo/robert-f-kennedy-would-be_b_8607490.html

 

Counterculture in Literature: “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”

The 1960’s was an iconic decade in history for the rise of the counterculture as it challenged the societal norms of the American public. This counterculture gained traction because people were fed up with the Establishment which was the dominant group of American society that pushed for the Vietnam war involvement and the traditional rules of work and ambition. A popular youth movement, known as hippies, embraced this counterculture way of living by rejecting the mainstream American life and creating their own distinctive lifestyle. They were dropping out of school, forgoing work, celebrating, in taking drugs, participating in open sexual relations, and promoting tolerance and love all for the idea of freedom from the Establishment and freedom for the individual.

Hippies in Haight Ashbury during the 1960’s

American journalist Joan Didion had chosen to remember this controversial way of living through the material object of an essay. Between 1965 to 1968, Didion wrote articles for magazines such as The New York Times Magazine, The American Scholar, and The Evening Saturday Post specifically on the hippie counterculture of California, and then at the end of 1968, she compiled her essays into a book called Slouching Towards Bethlehem. One of her most notable essays in this book was also titled “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” It was about the hippie counterculture in Haight Ashbury, a district in San Francisco that was very well known to be one of the first hubs of this culture in the United States. She specifically had sought out hippies in this area, and talked with them about life in Haight Ashbury. She had met people such Deadeye, a drug dealer; Gerry, his old lady; Vicki, a high school dropout who was following the rock band the Grateful Dead all over California; Norris, a man on acid; and Susan, a five-year-old girl on acid. These people’s lives were influenced by the hippie counterculture that overtook Haight Ashbury, and Didion painted that picture in her writing through the use of verbal montage from her experience there.This makes her essay choppy, strange, and hard but she does so to get her point across. Life in Haight Ashbury was random, messy, and bizarre.

George Harrison, lead guitarist of the Beatles, playing on the streets of Haight Ashbury

Just as the hippie counterculture was divergent to the societal norms of America, so was Didion’s stylistic of writing and content to the stylistic norms and content of journalism. Journalists at that time wrote with objectivity, facts, and disconnection from self to situation because they believed that this type of writing was the most effective way to report a story; however, Didion thought otherwise. Her writing was characterized with subjectivity, truth, and immersion of self and situation. Because she was reporting during a unique time in history at a very particular place, she wanted that to be represented in her essay. She encountered people who dropped out of school to rebel against their parents and the Establishment, runaways, acidheads who lived in a human feces-filled house with twenty other people, and a mother who had been giving her five-year-old girl acid for a year. She was brutally honest about the experiences she had while many journalists at that time weren’t. Journalists had been romanticizing these people because they were loving, accepting, and independent; however, Didion wrote differently with these harsh realities. Didion was also unique because these realities would typically evoke distressed emotions or some type of critique; however, Didion reacted with flat, composed responses with an undertone of extreme passivity. Here is an excerpt from her essay when she meets Norris, a man who partakes in acid:

Norris and I are standing around the Panhandle and Norris is telling me how it is all set up for a friend to take me to Big Sur. I say what I really want to do is spend a few days with Norris and his wife and the rest of the people in their house. Norris says it would be a lot easier if I’d take some acid. I say I’m unstable. Norris says all right, anyway, grass, and he squeezes my hand.

One day Norris asks how old I am. I tell him I am thirty-two.

It takes a few minutes, but Norris rises to it. “Don’t worry,” he says at last. “There’s old hippies too. (94)

This excerpt is the only part about Norris. Didion doesn’t introduce him, tell more of his story, or even respond in what you think would be typical. She just uses the encounter that she had with him, tells it from her perspective, then moves on.

This lackadaisical response mimics the atmosphere in Haight Ashbury. These bizarre situations happened all around town but no one cared. Hippies did their own thing because they believed in individual freedom so if someone wanted to take acid, let them take acid.

Despite Didion’s seemingly passive responses to this incredible phenomenon, her essay was a critique of this time period, and her title and introduction of her essay alludes to this. The phrase “slouching towards Bethlehem” comes from W.B. Yeats’s poem titled The Second Coming which was written after World War I. Yeats described the post war atmosphere as a kind of apocalypse specifically like the one in the Biblical book of Revelation. Didion titles her essay from this poem because she also believed that this counterculture was like an apocalypse because these people were throwing out the societal norms that had held America for so long. She also introduces the essay with another phrase from Yeats’s poem, “The center was not holding.” Again, this is her saying that societal norms could no longer contain the people in Haight Ashbury. They pursued their own ways and partook in their own desires which Didion believed was a sign society’s destruction.

While other journalists romanticized the long-haired hippies and their freedom, Didion tore this veil by allowing the scenes that she experienced narrate this story. She encounters acidheads and runaways who left their good, stable lives behind for a place they believed would bring independence, love, and acceptance but instead brought hunger, drug dependency, and homelessness. It was the realities that many hippies faced during that time yet people didn’t know about because it was hardly reported on. Her essay was a partial and material memory of this counterculture movement. It may have not been the dominant narrative but according to Zelizer, this partial memory helps create the mosaic memory of the counterculture. Lastly, her essay is material memory because her memory exists in the world rather than in her head. It’s embodied in her unique style of writing throughout her essays that has been shared to the public which allows it to be one of the collective memories of the counterculture in 1968.

 

 

Bibliography

  1. Andersen, Alexandra. “Essay: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion.” Daily Titan, 28 Oct. 2010, dailytitan.com/2010/10/slouching-towards-bethlehem/.
  2. Didion, Joan. Slouching towards Bethlehem. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968. New York. pp 84-127.
  3. Fakazis, Liz. “New Journalism.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 28 Mar. 2016, www.britannica.com/topic/New-Journalism
  4. Menand, Louis. “The Radicalization of Joan Didion.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/24/out-of-bethlehem.
  5. Schwartz, Carly. “Haight Ashbury In the 1960’s: A Vibrant Hippie History.” HuffPost, The Huffington Post, 16 Oct. 2012, www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/15/haight-ashbury-in-the-1960s_n_1967664.html.
  6. Zelizer, Barbie. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies,” Critical Studies in Mass Communications (June 1995): 214-239.

 

Catonsville 9: “Living humanly in the midst of death”

The term Catonsville 9 represents the burning of draft files in Maryland by 9 Catholic people. The primary event that lead to this was Baltimore Four—the anti-war demonstration of four Christians (two Catholics and two Pro

Figure 1. From left to right Philip Berrigan and Daniel Berrigan burning draft files in Catonsville.

testants) on October 27, 1967 in which human blood was poured on the draft records located in Baltimore Customs House[1]. The doers of this violent anti-Vietnam War protest were convicted. Despite the eventual sentences they were facing, the two Catholics Philip Berrigan and Thomas Lewis joined a later anti-war act on May 17, 1968 with the following seven people: Daniel Berrigan, David Darst, Marjorie Melville, Thomas Melville, George Mische, Mary Moylan, and John Hogan. The ages of the people in this Catholic group range between 26-49 (Berrigan).

Collectively, the group listed above, walked into Knights of Columbus Hall, Local Board 33 in Catonsville, Maryland where the draft files of local men were kept. Through using self-made napalm, they burned the 378 files outside of the Hall; the act was recorded on camera by reporters[2][3]. In the recording as well as in a press release, the 9 states that the purposes of the act were the following: denouncing the Vietnam War, urging Americans and people of faith to “sustain justice at home and promote peace abroad” (Peters 4).

In their trial, the participants of the act pleaded not guilty. Their charges were:

“The defendants did willfully injure and commit depredation against property of the United States; And willfully and unlawfully obliterate records of the Selective Service System, Local Board No. 33, located in Catonsville, Maryland; And did willfully and knowingly interfere with the administration of the Military Selective Service Act of 1967, by removing and burning the records of Local Board No. 33 located in Catonsville, Maryland, And by disrupting the official activities at the location of the Local Board No. 33. The indictment further charges that the defendants aided and abetted one another in committing these alleged offenses.” (Berrigan 2)

A witness stated that the 9 did not have any intentions of hurting the people who were there at the time—they wanted to save the lives of the boys who were going to be sent away to Vietnam. Lewis also states the aforementioned intention in his plea. In addition, Daniel Berrigan references Camus during the trial:

“The world expects that Christians will get away from abstractions and confront the bloodstained face which history has taken on today. The grouping we need is a grouping of men resolved to speak up clearly and pay up personally.” (Berrigan 13)

Both comments are striked by the Judge as being irrelevant to the charges that were against the 9. Philip Berrigan further pleads:

“We cannot ravage the ecology of Indochina, kill ten civilians for every soldier, and expect anything but do-or-die opposition. We cannot fight the abstraction of Communism by killing the people who believe in it. We cannot talk peace, while our deeds give the lie to our words. We can’t have it both ways.” (Berrigan 15)

Nonetheless, all of the nine Catholic people are found guilty. Daniel Berrigan continued his life as a fugitive from upon the trial. He was detected at anti-war rallies and religious services sporadically (Vesely-Flad). Concomitantly, the court decision was not welcomed in the US: demonstrations in the streets of Baltimore against the charges continued for weeks, support for the 9 came even as far away from Hawaii.

Predicated on Cathcart’s analysis, the use of napalm tells that this act utilizes a rhetoric of confrontation. The chemical creates violent consequences and is typically part of war equipment. As such, Catonsville 9 was not a peaceful and non-violent act against war. The other portion of the act, however, illustrates the rhetoric of guilt. In the press release[4] the 9 displayed a collective sense of guilt due to being citizens of a “war-waging country” and being followers of a Church that is an “accomplice” of the country. Consequently, through the burning of the draft files, the nine Catholics were attempting to both reveal and resolve the wrongdoings of the Vietnam War.

The particular use of napalm as opposed to any other inflammatory substance also carries a heavy meaning which can be divided into two broad categories: (1) portrayal of how the boys die (2) promotion of renewal from the ashes. The first item encourages the citizens to see a little bit of the violence the boys face abroad at home. The second item is hopeful in that it tells that turning back, withdrawing from the war and jeopardizing lives of young men, is still an option, and that the nation will heal—only if this mad fire is put away (Cathcart 243-4).

This event is significant in that it caused an awakening in the religious world about passivism. Anti-war acts started to emerge elsewhere in the US. With the death of Daniel Berrigan in 2016, his ideology and Catonsville 9 are commemorated positively. Usability and particularity of this site of memory inspired many. As James Carrol posits, D. Berrigan’s passivism and poetry was the hope to those who are scared and despairing in a violent environment. Although the Berrigan brothers are memorialized as decent human beings (Carrol). The seven people who were also part of Catonsville 9, are not very much remembered. One reason might be that the brothers were the leaders of the act; their faces are the instruments of today’s commemoration.

[1] As a symbol of life

[2] Recipe of the napalm is from the Green Beret Handbook.

[3] The 378 files include necessary information to draft the local men.

[4]“We, American citizens, have worked with the poor in the ghetto and abroad. In the course of our Christian ministry we have watched our country produce more victims than an army of us could console or restore.  … . All of us identify with the victims of American oppression all over the world. We use napalm on these records because napalm has burned people to death in Vietnam, Guatemala and Peru; and because it may be used on America’s ghettos. We destroy these draft records not only because they exploit our young men, but because these records represent misplaced power, concentrated in the ruling class of America. . .. We are Catholic Christians who take the Gospel of our Faith seriously . . . we confront the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country’s crimes.”

Sources:

Cathcart, Robert S. “Movements: Confrontation as rhetorical form.” (1978): 233-247. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10417947809372383

Peters, Shawn Francis. The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era. Oxford University Press, 2012. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=LXKf_6YpsQsC&oi=fnd&pg=PP2&dq=the+catonsville+nine+a+story+of+faith&ots=7hJhcdahAi&sig=FCSklOLDjZcCc_Fq2WujRq4vjjY#v=onepage&q=the%20catonsville%20nine%20a%20story%20of%20faith&f=false

Vesely-Flad, Ethan. “Surveillance= Security?.” Fellowship71.9-10 (2005): 4.

https://search.proquest.com/docview/209411150?pq-origsite=gscholar

Berrigan, Daniel. The trial of the Catonsville Nine. Fordham Univ Press, 1970.

http://ada.evergreen.edu/~arunc/texts/catonsvilleEdited.pdf

Carrol, James. Daniel Berrigan, My Dangerous Friend. The New Yorker, 2016.

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/daniel-berrigan-my-dangerous-friend

Lewis, Daniel. Figure 1. The New York Times, 2016.

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/01/nyregion/daniel-j-berrigan-defiant-priest-who-preached-pacifism-dies-at-94.html

The War on Drugs: A Calculated Political Assault on American Counter-Culture

Overview:

1968 was a tumultuous year in American history filled with war, civil unrest, and drastic transitions in American political identity.  Furthermore, 1968 was also a pivotal year in both the hippie and civil rights counter-culture movements.  The growing popularity of these movements directly challenged the authority of the “establishment” and led many Americans to lose confidence in their government.  In response to the growing popularity of the hippie and civil rights movements in conjunction with increasing public unrest, the United States Government would use the War on Drugs to discriminate against black Americans and those who endorse the political ideals of the hippie movement.

Propaganda:

In 1968, anti-drug propaganda heavily influenced the public’s perspective on drugs as well as greater collective memory surrounding drugs and drug use in 1968.  Anti-drug propaganda such as this film illustrates the materiality of memory that is associated with the War on Drugs in 1968 America.  Much of the anti-drug propaganda of 1968 employed scare tactics similar to those from the anti-drug movement of the 20s and 30s, an era commonly referred to as “Reefer Madness”.  One of the more notable pieces of 1968 anti-drug propaganda was the documentary “Marijuana,” an educational film which informed America’s youth on the dangerous psychological side effects of marijuana.

At one point in the film, a man that is high on marijuana kills his friend because he is experiencing a “bad trip”. Although the notion that marijuana can cause violent intensions in its users was untrue, it was one of the most effective factors in swaying Americans perspective away from marijuana’s increasing normalization.  In fact, most of the published propaganda regarding the effects of marijuana were either scientifically unproven or entirely fabricated.  Six years later though, the War on Drugs gained a much-needed scientific backing from the results of the Dr. Heath/Tulane Study.

In collaboration with Tulane University, Dr. Robert Heath conducted an experimental study evaluating the effects of marijuana on the brain function of primate test subjects [5].  The study ultimately concluded that smoking marijuana directly causes brain damage within its users stating, “the active ingredient in marijuana [THC] impairs the brain circuitry,” [5].  However, upon closer review, the study’s conclusion was found to be inaccurate as the brain damage observed in the test subjects resulted from asphyxiation during the experiment’s administration procedure, not from inhalation of THC [14].  Notwithstanding, the claim that marijuana causes brain damage provided the foundation for the illegalization of marijuana, fueled public anti-marijuana sentiments, and is referenced still today in spite of an abundance of contradicting studies.

Government Action:

In addition to anti-marijuana propaganda, 1968 also saw an increase in federal punishment for marijuana consumption, production, and distribution.  The Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs – a predecessor to the Drug Enforcement Agency – was founded in 1968 under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Reorganization Plan Number 1 [10].

Regarding his intentions behind his proposed drug polices, President Johnson states, “this 22-point program will, if adopted and put fully into practice, make the conditions of life for most law-abiding citizens safer, and thus freer and happier,”[11].  The presidential election of Richard Nixon in 1968 drastically redirected America’s drug enforcement strategies from targeting narcotic “pushers” and “peddlers” to targeting drug users themselves instead.

One piece of legislation that signifies this policy shift is the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.  The Controlled Substances Act of 1970, or CSA, ultimately increased federal jurisdiction on the regulation of controlled substances and would come to serve a vital role in the Nixon administration’s political agenda [13].   According to some of the Nixon administration’s top political aides, the policies in respect to the War on Drugs were more about the groups of people who used them rather than the drugs themselves.  In a 1994 interview, John Ehrlichan, one of Nixon’s key political advisors stated that the War on Drugs was meant almost entirely to target the individuals and ideologies that threatened the administration [12].  The Nixon administration’s ability to target its key political enemies, which it characterized as “the young, the poor, and the black,” was facilitated by the legislation of the CSA [8].  The CSA separated controlled substances into five categories, or schedules, which were tiered according to potential for abuse, with Schedule I substances having the highest potential and Schedule V substances having the lowest [13].

Drugs were the common denominator between each of Nixon’s political enemies.  This enabled the administration to establish hostile political tactics aimed at dismantling any and all political opposition [8].  John Ehrlichan again gives insight into the motives behind the administration’s tactics stating, “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” [1].

Memory and the War on Drugs:

The memory surrounding the War on Drugs is a critical aspect to consider when analyzing the American political spectrum both in 1968 and in society today.  Memory in 1968 regarding both drug use and the War on Drugs is considerably one sided and partial.  The Nixon administration concealed its motives behind the War on Drugs by fabricating a drug crisis that was “decimating a generation of Americans” when in reality, drugs were such a tiny health problem that they were statistically insignificant [8].  Moreover, the War on Drugs embodies processual qualities of memory.  In the decades since 1968, American memory on the War on Drugs has changed immensely due to the increase in research on certain drugs in addition to the emergence of the vernacular memory detailing the corruption of the Nixon administration and its manipulation of the American public through the War on Drugs.

Additional Information:

Marijuana Myths: http://www.mit.edu/~thistle/v13/2/myths.html

The War on Drugs: https://www.history.com/topics/the-war-on-drugs

Works Cited:

[1] LoBianco, Tom. “Report: Nixon’s War on Drugs Targeted Black People.”

CNN, Cable News Network, 24 Mar. 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/john-ehrlichman-richard-nixon-drug-war-blacks-hippie/index.html.

[2] “Marijuana (1968).” IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/title/tt0251221/.

[3] Miller, Max, director. Marijuana. Avanti Films, 1968.

[4] Burnett, Malik, and Amanda Reiman. “How Did Marijuana Become

Illegal in the First Place?” Drug Policy Alliance, 8 Oct. 2014, www.drugpolicy.org/blog/how-did-marijuana-become-illegal-first-place.

[5] Chandler, David. “Pot Is Safe, Right: Wrong, Says a Doctor: It Can Cause

Brain Damage.” PEOPLE.com, 9 Dec. 1974, people.com/archive/pot-is-safe-right-wrong-says-a-doctor-it-can-cause-brain-damage-vol-2-no-24/.

[6] “Decades of Drug Use: Data From the ’60s and ’70s.” Edited by Jennifer

Robinson, Gallup.com, 2 July 2002, news.gallup.com/poll/6331/Decades-Drug-Use-Data-From-60s-70s.aspx.

[7] History.com Staff. “War on Drugs.” History.com, A&E Television

Networks, 2017, www.history.com/topics/the-war-on-drugs.

[8] Baum, Dan. “Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of

Failure.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1996, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/books/chap1/smoke.htm.

[9] “LBJ Proposes New Bureau To Fight Drug Use.” The Desert Sun, 7 Feb.

1968.

[10] Kte’pi, Bill. “Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.” Encyclopedia of

Drug Policy. Eds. Mark A. Kleiman and James E. Hawdon. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2011. 109-110. SAGE Knowledge. Web. 24 Apr. 2018, doi: 10.4135/9781412976961.n50.

[11] Johnson, Lyndon B. “Lyndon B. Johnson: Special Message to the

Congress on Crime and Law Enforcement:” The American Presidency Project, 7 Feb. 1968, www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29237.

[12] Calabria, Stephen. “Nixon Invented War On Drugs to Suppress ‘Anti-

War Left and Black People.’” Nixon Invented War On Drugs to Suppress “Anti-War Left and Black People”, 5 Mar. 2017, herb.co/marijuana/news/nixon-policy-advisor-admits-invented-war-drugs-suppress-anti-war-left-black-people.

[13] Gabay, Michael. “The Federal Controlled Substances Act: Schedules and

Pharmacy Registration.” Hospital Pharmacy 48.6 (2013): 473–474. PMC. Web. 25 Apr. 2018.

[14] “Does Cannabis Kill Brain Cells? Cannabis Myths Debunked.”

Cannabis.info, 11 Nov. 2017, www.cannabis.info/en/blog/does-cannabis-kill-brain-cells-myths-debunked.

LGBT Rights Movement: The Patch Raid and Flower Power Protest

The Patch was a gay bar that opened in April 1968 on the Pacific Coast Highway in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA [1].

Gay Rights Movement In 1960s America. Photo: Timetoast.com.

In the midst of the LGBT rights movement, The Patch was raided in August 1968 by Los Angeles police officers after a four-month-long battle within the community. Patrons responded to the raid by protesting in what became known as the 1968 Flower Power Protest against the Los Angeles Police [2]. This marked an important moment of the gay rights movement as “one of the first sites of resistance against police harassment of gay meeting places and establishments” [3].

The Patch Raid and Flower Power Protest Against the Los Angeles Police Department

The Patch, formerly located at 610 W. Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles, CA. Photo: The Los Angeles Advocate, July 1968, page 19.

Because The Patch offered live music and allowed men to dance together, it became one of the most popular gay bars in Los Angeles once it opened in 1968. However, the police commission opposed many of the bar’s policies, and while they did not make arrests, they frequently visited to ensure patrons followed the law, ticketed parked cars, and refused to arrest bystanders who harassed patrons outside [4]. The local PTA and musician’s union also protested the bar, with tension in the community consistently building [5].  

LAPD checks IDs outside of The Patch, August 1968. Photo: Box Turtle Bulletin.

According to The Los Angeles Advocate, a local activist newsletter, the building tension “came to a head” on August 17, 1968, when officers entered the bar to begin checking IDs, which frequently resulted in patrons scattering from gay bars to avoid arrest or humiliation [6]. The owner of The Patch, Lee Glaze, however, encouraged patrons to resist intimidation from the police. “It’s not against the law to be a homosexual,” he said, “and it’s not a crime to be in a gay bar” [7]. The officers ultimately made two arrests for “lewd conduct.” But at Glaze’s urging, the remaining crowd of 250 stayed at the bar [7]. This marked the first act of resistance associated with this event.

Owner of The Patch, Lee Glaze. Photo: Box Turtle Bulletin.

Historians have been careful to note that with only two arrests made, this was not a full police raid as sometimes occurred at gay bars during this period, and that patrons did not leave after the arrests was already significant. But once the bar closed for the evening, Glaze bought all of the flowers from one of his patron’s flower shops, and invited the crowd to join him in taking them to the Los Angeles Police Department in protest, where the two patrons had been detained after their arrest [7].

Flower Power Protest of LAPD by patrons of The Patch, August 1968. Photo: Box Turtle Bulletin.

During the 1960s, flowers were frequently used as a means of peacefully protesting, and became known as Flower Power protests. Flowers were used as a symbol of peace during this act of resistance, and functioned as a site of usable memory [8]. By using flowers to protest the LAPD, patrons of The Patch peacefully protested their harassment and arrests, marking a second act of resistance against their treatment. By refusing to leave the bar after the raid and also protesting the police department, the patrons of The Patch demonstrated two acts of resistance.

A group of the Flower Power protesters from The Patch, pictured above at the LAPD Harbor Station after the two detainees had been released. August 1968. Photo: Press-Telegram.

The Patch and Gay Collective Memory

How is The Patch remembered? In short, it is seemingly forgotten in the gay collective memory of the United States. This is not altogether surprising, as Michael Schudson writes, “Distortion is inevitable. Memory is distortion since memory is invariably and inevitably selective” [9].

Today, one of the most iconic events of the modern LGBT rights movement in the United States is the Stonewall Inn riots of June 1969. In gay collective memory, the Stonewall riots are regarded as the turning point for gay liberation and are commemorated annually with pride parades in cities throughout the country [10]. But what about the important milestones and acts of gay resistance before Stonewall, including The Patch?

“Gay is Good” slogan created by gay rights activist Frank Kameny in 1968. Photo: “Gay Influence.”

While claims about Stonewall’s revolutionary importance continue, historians of sexuality have challenged the institutionalization of Stonewall, noting that the riots at the Stonewall Inn did not mark the first police raid, the first act of gay resistance against police, or the first instance of political organizing for gay interests [10]. Other events, such as The Patch raid and protest, have “failed to achieve the mythic stature of Stonewall and indeed have been virtually forgotten” [10].

At the time of The Patch raid and its subsequent protest, several other major acts of gay resistance and protest had occurred in response to police raids throughout the country. In San Francisco, significant raids took place at a New Year’s Ball in January 1965 and Compton’s Cafeteria in August 1966, and in Los Angeles, at The Black Cat in January 1967 [10]. These events, in addition to The Patch, seem to have been forgotten in the shadow of Stonewall’s annual pride commemorations.

Applying Barbie Zelizer’s [11] “Premises for Collective Remembering,” gay collective memory has been unpredictable in that it is not necessarily logical that The Patch has been forgotten, and it is difficult to determine why The Patch has become less significant. One can also see a rearrangement of time in gay collective memory with what Zelizer calls collapsing commemoration, in that Stonewall has come to represent a celebration of the acts of gay activism that came before it, including The Patch. While commemoration of Stonewall through pride parades is particular, it is also universal as it commemorates all acts of gay resistance and liberation, which again includes The Patch. The claims about Stonewall’s centrality to the movement also demonstrate the partiality and selectivity of memory: this one act could not liberate every individual represented by the LGBT rights movement in the United States, and its success is an achievement of the activism and events that came before it. If gay collective memory is a “mosaic,” as Zelizer suggests collective memories are, Stonewall and The Patch are each pieces of that dynamic mosaic.

Pride March on Christopher Street, New York, 1970. Photo: Time Out New York.

Armstrong and Crage offer a fascinating analysis of what they call “The Myth of Stonewall,” arguing that Stonewall’s successful commemoration was based on its mnemonic capacity and resonance in New York and other cities, and that this led to its institutionalization, rendering it “an achievement of gay liberation rather than an account of its origins” [11].

Though the gay collective memory at large has forgotten The Patch, it is an important site of memory for the Metropolitan Community Church. After being present for the night of The Patch raid and protest, Rev. Troy Perry cites his experience as part of his inspiration for founding a church that was welcoming of the LGBTQ community, which has spread throughout the world today [12] [13].

The LGBT rights movement continues to benefit from the annual commemorations of Stonewall, but celebration of this one event forgets The Patch and other specific, significant acts of the movement that came before Stonewall. While Stonewall and The Patch live on in the memory of individuals for whom these events have great personal significance, Armstrong and Crage’s argument offers a compelling explanation for the reasons The Patch Raid and Flower Power Protest have been forgotten in gay collective memory.

Pride Parade in New York City, 2010s. Photo: Time Out New York.

[1] The Box Turtle Bulletin. http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2015/08/page/2.

[2] Ibid.

[2] Faderman, Lillian and Stuart Timmons. L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. 2006.

[3] ‘Patch’ Fights Three-Way Battle. The Los Angeles Advocate (August 1968): 3, 25.

[4] The Box Turtle Bulletin. http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2015/08/page/2.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] ‘Patch’ Fights Three-Way Battle. The Los Angeles Advocate (August 1968): 3, 25.

[8] “Processual Flower,” 1968 in American Memory. https://1968inmemory.web.unc.edu/2018/04/processual-flower/.

[9] Schudson, Michael. “Dynamics of Distortion in Collective Memory,” Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains, and Societies Reconstruct the Past. Eds. Daniel L. Schacter et al. (1995), 346-364.

[10] Armstrong, Elizabeth A. and Suzanna M. Crage. Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth. American Sociological Review, 2006, Vol. 71, October. 724-751.

[11] Zelizer, Barbie. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies,” Critical Studies in Mass Communications (June 1995): 214-239.

[12] Founders Metropolitan Community Church. http://www.mccla.org/about-us/our-history/.

[13] Perry, Troy. “UFMCC Celebrates 30 Year Anniversary,” Whosoeverhttp://whosoever.org/v3i2/ufmcc.html.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Elizabeth A. and Suzanna M. Crage. Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth. American Sociological Review, 2006, Vol. 71, October. 724-751.

Faderman, Lillian and Stuart Timmons. L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. 2006.

Founders Metropolitan Community Church. http://www.mccla.org/about-us/our-history/.

“‘Patch’ Fights Three-Way Battle,” The Los Angeles Advocate (August 1968): 3, 25.

Perry, Troy. “UFMCC Celebrates 30 Year Anniversary,” Whosoeverhttp://whosoever.org/v3i2/ufmcc.html.

“Processual Flower,” 1968 in American Memory. https://1968inmemory.web.unc.edu/2018/04/processual-flower/.

Schudson, Michael. “Dynamics of Distortion in Collective Memory,” Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains, and Societies Reconstruct the Past. Eds. Daniel L. Schacter et al. (1995), 346-364.

The Box Turtle Bulletin. http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2015/08/page/2.

Zelizer, Barbie. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies,” Critical Studies in Mass Communications (June 1995): 214-239.

The Kerner Report and the Forgotten Politics of 1968

The 12 representatives of the Kerner Commission, together with Lyndon B. Johnson

“This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black; one white – separate and unequal.” [1]

This remains one of the most poignant lines that one remembers of the 1968 Kerner Report, a 426-page document released after seven months of the Kerner Commission’s investigation [2] into the growing Civil Rights unrest leading up to 1968. Set up in July 28, 1967, the Kerner Commission was elected by President Lyndon B. Johnson after major uprisings in Detroit, the “composition of the commission – heavily stacked with racial “moderates”” was notably lacking with “the voice of the “”militants.””[3] Ironically, this eventually lent the report much credibility to the severity of its findings. The Kerner Commission’s main purpose was to attempt to find the answers to three simple questions: “”What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?”” [1]

The book cover of the Kerner Report

The completed report’s findings  to these questions were shocking. “White society,” the presidentially appointed panel reported, “is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”[4] In other words, white racism was the root cause for the unrests, underscoring the limitations placed unjustly on African-Americans’ ability to escape from poverty. Its findings, cast alongside well-supported data and evidence of the various systemic issues that African Americans faced during that era, were also replete with many solutions – notably, which required a large amount of fiscal resources. Yet, despite the staggeringly negative results of the Kerner Report, the fact that it remains a rather forgotten memory of 1968 points to the convoluted political situation of that watershed year, as well as the way in which much of the racial issues of America might have been inadvertently swept under the rug with the distance of time.

The Nation’s Response to the Kerner Report

Needless to say, with just less than half a decade between the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [5] (and its subsequent Voting Rights Act of 1965) and the results of the Kerner Report in February 1968, the Commission’s findings generated much controversy. While much of white sentiments supported the enforcement of “law and order” [3] – the rhetoric of military force – to quell the uprisings, the Kerner Report instead reproached the use of force [4]. According to polls taken after the release of the report’s findings, while a large majority of blacks supported the results, 53 percent of white respondents refused to believe the claim that it was ‘white racism’ that caused the riots [4]. Evidently, “the common sense of purpose in the summer of 1965 had all but evaporated by the spring of 1968” [3].

The Report’s Failure

The back cover of the Kerner Report

Unfortunately, despite the progressive nature of the Kerner Report, it lacked the political impetus necessary to enforce the solutions that it had proposed. Shockingly, President Johnson not only refused to implement much of the report’s suggestions and proposed solutions, but ignored the report’s significance entirely [6]. The report’s findings of course, had far-reaching negative implications on Johnson’s political career. On one end, because the report’s suggestions were so fiscally demanding, the Johnson administration, constrained by America’s spending on the war in Vietnam could not simply shift resources to social reform. Furthermore, tax increases too were not an option for congress [4]. On the other end, Johnson felt deeply betrayed by the Kerner Commission who did not provide any indication at all of his domestic achievements in the years leading up to the report. Later, the commission even came under fire by then presidential candidate Richard Nixon, who insisted that white Americans had nothing to apologize for [7]. Admittedly, one must acknowledge the political challenges that Johnson had to negotiate: “Johnson found himself in the end in the worst of all possible political worlds, absorbing blame form foes for proposing the commission and from friends for not endorsing its conclusions” [3].

Yet, it was later made known in this interview from Fred Harris, the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission that not only did the report include pages that acknowledged Johnson’s concerted pro-Civil Rights policies, but that he had not even bothered to read the report. The interview is also significant for its behind-the-scenes look at the politics that embroiled the Kerner Report, alongside the general atmosphere of 1968 related through the eyes of Fred Harris, the former US Senator from Oklahoma. In this interview, the former Senator revealed information that compounded the controversy: the Kerner Report were never meant to be released to the public in the first place. It had been unintentionally leaked to the Washington Post, the media’s wide-reaching impact sensationalising much of the news. [8] Recalling the article’s title, ‘”White Racism Caused Black Riots”, Commission Says’, the former senator remarks that much of the Commission’s proposed solutions that were intended to address economic and social inequality for all racial groups, not just African Americans, went unreported. Embittered, President Johnson had thus refused to accommodate to the Kerner Commission, let alone read the report’s findings. With this discovery, Johnson’s stubborn rejection of the Commission and the Report is greatly undermined, for it suggests that he could have done far more.

Going further, it is also important to note that while Johnson did order the Commission to investigate the causes leading to the riots, the true intention behind creating the commission was rather, to uncover evidence that could support a possible conspiracy – what could be just a result of a masterminding organization or individual that orchestrated the entire uprising. [7] While this does not discount the seminal findings of the Kerner Report, this is very much a reflection of racial sentiments that surrounded much of 1968: a white refusal to believe that black racism was inherently systemic and unjust – not just the lack of hard work – as well as an acknowledgement of bipartisan politics that inhibited much of the progress of Civil Rights.

A Retrospective Assessment


Today, the evidence of racism described in the Kerner report remains prevalent the society and politics of America. While its name might have changed, its face remains the same. For instance, “”Black power” is out, “Black Lives Matter” is in.”” Despite the Report’s recognition of the rampant racism that pervades American society, the ongoing struggle against black racism shows the lack of impetus towards enforcing lasting policies and solutions that ends the systemic struggle that many black Americans face. More so, just as the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Report offered a timely reminder of the racism that remains a serious, legitimate issue today, my attempt at extracting the details of the Kerner Commission and its Report refuses to allow the distanciation of this important piece of memory to occur, for it is one that still holds much relevance today.

To find out more about the protests, anger and fervour that necessitated the Kerner Report, click here.

 

  1. Stone, Geoffrey R. “‘Our Nation Is Moving Toward Two Societies…”.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 12 July 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/geoffrey-r-stone/our-nation-is-moving-towa_b_10927438.html.
  2. Carter, David C. “Just File Them or Get Rid of Them.” The Music Has Gone Out of the Movement , edited by David C. Carter, University of North Carolina , 2012, p. 197 – 235.BiblioBoard. Web. 20 Apr. 2018.
  3. George, Alice. The 1968 Kerner Commission Got It Right, But Nobody Listened. 1 Mar. 2018, www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/1968-kerner-commission-got-it-right-nobody-listened-180968318/.
  4. History.com Staff. “Civil Rights Act of 1964.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2010, www.history.com/topics/black-history/civil-rights-act.
  5. Graham, Lester. “The Kerner Commission and Why Its Recommendations Were Ignored.” Michigan Radio, http://michiganradio.org/post/kerner-commission-and-why-its-recommendations-were-ignored
  6. “The Kerner Commission And The Search For Answers.” Tribunedigital-Chicagotribune, 11 May 1992, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1992-05-11/news/9202110788_1_kerner-commission-national-advisory-commission-illinois-national-guard
  7. Harris, Fred, and Alan Curtis. “Last Surviving Member of Kerner Panel: 50 Years Later, America Is Still Divided.” CNN, Cable News Network, 1 Mar. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/03/01/opinions/last-surviving-member-of-kerner-panel-says-america-still-divided-opinion-harris/index.html.

 

 

 

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

The My Lai Massacre was the most infamous incident of violence against civilians during the Vietnam War and one of the darkest chapters in the history of the US military. On March 16, 1968, a company of American soldiers murdered over 500 civilians in the small village of My Lai in the Quang Ngai province of South Vietnam [1]. The village was believed to be a stronghold of the Viet Cong during the war.

The Charlie Company of the US Army, led by Lieutenant William Calley, was ordered to destroy the village. When the unit arrived at the village, they found no Viet Cong guerrillas and only women, children, and older men eating breakfast. Despite capturing only three weapons from the village, Lt. Calley ordered for the entire population of the village to be shot. In addition to slaughtering over 500 men, women, and children, US soldiers also raped many Vietnamese women and razed the village to the ground [1].

The My Lai massacre was finally stopped by Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, an Army pilot who landed his helicopter between the soldiers and villagers and threatened to fire at Lt. Calley’s troops if they did not stop the massacre. When the violence ended, 504 Vietnamese were killed without firing a single shot at US soldiers. One soldier at the scene remembered the gruesome actions of the troops such as cutting the throats of victims and chopping their hands and limbs off and described how he “lost all sense of direction” in following his fellow soldiers [2].

 

Cover-Up

After the massacre, senior military officials acted quickly to silence any individuals such as Hugh Thompson who experienced the event firsthand. The Public Information Office of the US Army released a statement claiming that 128 Viet Cong militants were killed and made no mention of innocent civilians or the fact that the Charlie Company faced no resistance. Lt. Col. Frank Barker bragged that “the combat assault went like clockwork” [2].  Additionally, a United Press International account published on March 16, 1968 described the event as “bitter fighting” [3].

Cover-Up Exposed

Ron Ridenhour, a US soldier stationed in Vietnam but who was not at My Lai, heard rumors of the massacre that were corroborated by numerous soldiers and wrote letters to 30 government officials, including President Nixon, asking for an investigation into the events of March 16, 1968 [1]. In his letter, Ridenhour expresses shock that “not only had so many young American men participated in such an act of barbarism, but that their officers had ordered it” [4]. Ridenhour’s graphic vernacular account of the massacre deeply contrasted with the official narrative and sparked an internal investigation by the US Army. Lt. Calley was charged with the premeditated murder of 109 Vietnamese civilians but the military only released that Calley was charged with murdering an unspecified number of people. A New York Times story from September 7, 1969 stated that that charge against Calley “involves the deaths of more than one civilian”[3]. The subsequent investigation into the atrocities committed at My Lai resulted in 13 US soldiers accused of rape, 30 accused of murder, but only a lone conviction: Lt. William Calley, who only served 3 ½ years under house arrest [2].

Hugh C. Thompson Army helicopter pilot, meeting with newsmen after appearing before an Army hearing at the Pentagon into the original investigation of the massacre at My Lai, 1969. (Credit: AP Photo) [2]

Effect on War Effort

When the horrors and images of the My Lai Massacre finally became available to the public in November 1969, anti-war critics pointed to My Lai as an example of America’s loss of morality in fighting the war and the irony of the American government describing the “evil” and “cruel” communist North Vietnamese. The war crimes committed at My Lai helped to undermine American confidence in political and military institutions . Michael Uhl, a US military veteran who returned to My Lai 50 years later, described My Lai as the “tip of the iceberg” that allowed anti-war activists to give their version of what was actually happening in Vietnam as anti-war sentiment grew at home [5].

Vietnamese children about to be shot by US Army soldiers during pursuit of Vietcong militia, as per order of Lieutenant Calley Jr. (later court-martialed), an incident which became known as the My Lai Massacre, on March 16, 1968 in My Lai, South Vietnam. (Credit: Ronald S. Haeberle/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images) [2]

Effect on Vietnamese

While the discussion about the My Lai massacre is often centered on the mistakes made by the US military, the perspective of the Vietnamese civilians from My Lai is not often considered. This form of vernacular memory is critical to understanding the full story of My Lai. Pham Thi Thuan, currently 80 years old, described her experience hiding in a ditch from American soldiers with her two daughters among 170 bodies in an interview with USA Today. “I had to climb over so many bodies,” she said. “I was crying so much. I wondered what had happened, why we were the only ones left to survive” [5]. Do Ba, now 60, explained why he keeps a photo of Hugh Thompson, the US Army pilot who stopped the massacre, on a household altar surrounded by photos of ancestors. Do Ba explained how Thompson was like a father to him and how he “wouldn’t have survived without him” [5].

Relation to Memory

My Lai is notable not just because of the actual events that took place, but also in how its memory is processual in nature. The US Army’s initial account of My Lai shows both the usable and partial qualities of memory. By silencing witnesses, the Army ignored the reality of the situation by painting a picture of My Lai as a fierce battle against the Viet Cong and as evidence that the US was winning the war. After the vernacular memory of what actually happened at My Lai became public, opposition to the war continued to grow as the memory of My Lai proved to be unpredictable and was used for an entirely different purpose. Today, the massacre is viewed as an example of the horrors of war and played a large part in the shift in public opinion from glorifying war to understanding the harsh reality of it. The My Lai massacre is symbolic of 1968 as a whole because of the multiple and different perspectives associated with this event and the large gap between official and vernacular memory.

Works Cited

[1] “My Lai Massacre.” History.com. https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/my-lai-massacre

[2] Dalek, Matthew. “How the Army’s Cover-Up Made the My Lai Massacre Even Worse.” History.com. March 16, 2018. https://www.history.com/news/my-lai-massacre-1968-army-cover-up

[3] Shapira, Ian. “’It was insanity’: At My Lai, U.S. soldiers slaughtered hundreds of Vietnamese women and kids.” The Washington Post. March 16, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/03/16/it-was-insanity-at-my-lai-u-s-soldiers-slaughtered-hundreds-of-vietnamese-women-and-kids/?utm_term=.0bc59b2b4a1b

[4] Rothman, Lily. “Read the Letter That Changed the Way Americans Saw the Vietnam War.” Time Magazine. March 16, 2015. http://time.com/3732062/ronald-ridenhour-vietnam-my-lai/

[5] Maresca, Thomas. “50 years after My Lai massacre, survivors ‘had to cimb over so many bodies.’” USA Today. March 15, 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/03/15/50-years-after-my-lai-massacre-survivors-still-haunted-what-they-saw/427966002/

 

The First Women’s Liberation Conferences

The Two Conferences

1968 was a big year for women in America. The year marked a major step into what is now known as feminism. 1968 can also be credited for inspiring feminist events throughout the rest of time, mainly because of one of the fact that some of the first Women’s Liberation conferences occured on this year. The two conferences later became known as the Gainesville Women’s Liberation Conference and the Redstockings Women’s Liberation Movement.

 

The Gainesville Conference

The Gainesville Conference took place in Florida. It started after two local civil rights activists wrote The Florida Paper with the title Towards a Female Liberation Movement (pictured above). This paper helped lead Gainesville to host the Women’s Liberation Conference. The Florida Paper came to be known as “the paper that started it all.” It was written by Beverly Jones, who was upset in the local approach to women’s political ideas. Jones wrote the first part of the paper, while the next part was written by Judith Brown. Brown was a member of the civil rights students organization, which functioned under Jones. The paper itself stated that men had way too much at stake to make efforts to have women included as equals. Jones and Brown would come together later on in the conference, and the conference resulted in the continuation of The Florida Paper and it’s feminist content.

The conference was a huge step in the direction that has come to be known as the feminist movement. Since then, Gainesville has come to be associated with many civil rights movements, not only the feminist but african american rights, anti-war movements, and more. Later on, Carol Hanisch also moved to Gainesville to start a freedom for women project, which she does through the organizing of the Gainesville Women’s Liberation members.

 

The Redstockings Liberation Movement

The Redstockings Liberation Movement also held it’s first conference in 1968. They came to gain a reputation of representing a more radical take of women’s rights. The conference is a good example of the many women liberation groups that sprang up around America during 1968. The conference itself, as stated by Amy Kesselman, Heather Booth, Vivian Rothstein and Naomi Weisstein, incited some deep conversations on the experiences of women in America. In their book Our Gang of Four, they say that “I remember the conference as enormously stimulating. It pushed my thinking deeper about issues of personal life, and convinced me of the importance and the viability of an autonomous women’s movement.”

We can see that this is what early feminism needed to grow; discussion and a free space to express gender inequalities helped make the feminist movement grow, and both were provided for by these conferences.

Relationship to Memory

The effects of both these conferences can still be seen today. The fact that both conferences have lead to what is now known as the huge “Feminist Movement” is an amazing example of how memory can be credited to the success of these types of movements. The first Women’s Liberation Conferences yielded immediate results, some that could be seen within the very next year. An example is the First Women’s National Liberation Conference. At first, the conferences were held in an almost local style. However the discussions that took place in those conferences were so well received that eventually the National Women’s Liberation Conference was created. This is because many American women at the time did not have memory associated with “feminist” ideology. The conferences were the platform that were needed by many women in order to see their values they wanted in society.

 

The conferences both had one aim: to have Women’s lives, ideas, desires, and dreams to be no less important than men’s. When we look today, we can see that these are all core values that really sum up the modern-day feminist movement. This also shows that the memories that were created at the first conferences are still in use today.

On top of that, Gainesville is now seen as a city of civil rights activists. It has been the grounds of many protests on ideas beyond than the feminist movement. The Redstockings Movement is also still active; they have their own website and even their own monthly newsletter that people can sign up for online.  It is the memories that are associated with both these places that allow them to have a history and still function today.

 

Sources:

Administrator. “1968: Women’s Liberation Organizing Ignites … Celebrating 50 Years of Renewed Struggle.” Welcome to Redstockings, www.redstockings.org/index.php/main/classics-of-1968.

Kesselman, Amy, et al. “Our Gang of Four: Friendships and Women’s Liberation.” Our Gang of Four, web.archive.org/web/20130120065530/http://www.uic.edu/orgs/cwluherstory/CWLUMemoir/Kesselman.html.

“ORGANIZING PRINCIPLES.” What Is To Be Done, 1 July 2015, womenwhatistobedone.wordpress.com/shulamith-firestone-conference-2013/organizing-principles/.

User, Super. “National Women’s Liberation.” National Women’s Liberation – About, 2018, www.womensliberation.org/index.php/about.

“The Feminist Chronicles – 1968.” The Feminist Chronicles, 1953-1993 – 1968 – Feminist Majority Foundation, 2014, www.feminist.org/research/chronicles/fc1968.html.

“Radical Women in Gainesville.” UFDC – Radical Women in Gainesville Historical Exhibit : Overview – Radical Women in Gainesville, ufdc.ufl.edu/rwg/overview.

 

 

The photo that changed the world : 1968 “Earthrise”

As one of the most tumultuous years in American history drew to a close, the nation shifted their attention skyward to the live broadcast on December 24, 1968.  On Christmas Eve, three crews of Apollo Mission 8 entered lunar orbit and held a live broadcast, showing pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft. In front of the largest TV audience to date[1], U.S. astronauts described the experience of being the first humans in lunar orbit while transmitting close-up footage of the moon’s features. Millions around the world were watching and listening to broadcast. As their command module floated above the lunar surface, the astronauts beamed back images of the moon and Earth and took turns reading from the book of Genesis, closing with a wish for everyone “on the good Earth.”[2]

“We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice, and the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate”

— Borman during 40th anniversiry celebration in 2008

 

Left to right: Command Module Pilot James Lovell, Lunar Module Pilot William Anders, Commander Frank Borman

Mission 8 was planned to compete in the “Space Race” with the Soviet Union to assert the dominance of the space superpowers, as indicated by the 1968 rescue agreement. It carried the responsibility to take high-resolution photographs of the moon surface —both from the far side and the potential landing site of the near side. Also, it aimed to examine the perfect spot for potential landing(realized in 1969 by Neil Armstrong ) and ensured that the spot will provide the best chance of survival once astronauts landed. The mission was also famous for the iconic “Earthrise” image, snapped by Anders, which would give humankind a new perspective on their home planet. Taking this picture was not on the schedule and was taken in a moment of pure serendipity[3].

 

Before the well-known colored earthrise was finally captured, a black-and-white image was taken on Borman’s order. It is the first photo of earth taken by human beings.

the first photograph took about Earthrise — a black-and-white version

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anders: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty?

Borman: Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled. (joking)

Anders: (laughs) You got a color film, Jim.? Hand me a roll of color quick, would you?

Lovell: Oh man, that’s great! Where is it?

Anders: Hurry! Quick!

Lovell: Down here?

Anders: Just grab me a color. A color exterior. Hurry up.

Anders: Got one?

Lovell: Yeah I am looking for one. C368.

Anders: Anything, quick.

 

As Earth Day approaches on April 22, we are reminded by this picture of how the earth is one whole unit that needs to be protected. It’s easy for us now to take this understanding of the Earth for granted, but before the Space Age, it was relatively uncommon to view the Earth this way. The”Earthrise” photograph, taken from a distance of 378,700 kilometers, quickly became a literal and influential embodiment of this view, helping to inspire both the environmental movement and, in 1970, the first Earth Day[4].

Whole Earth Catalog is an icon for the environmental movement and a representation of the materiality of “Earthrise”

These images, along with hundreds of other still pictures taken of the whole Earth during Apollo’s nine flights to the Moon, helped to drive the momentum of a burgeoning green movement during the 1970s. They fuelled an awareness of the vulnerability of the Earth which still resonates with us today and shapes our behavior.

— Christopher Riley

 

As this picture was utilized in several ways, the most influential use is when “Earthrise as skull” showed up in one Earth Day poster. It is a conceptual image of the Earth as a skull rising over the surface of the Moon. This can represent deaths caused by environmental destruction on Earth and call on people to protect the environment as part of the Earth Day mission.

Conceptual image: Earthrise As Skull

“Earthrise” showcases various concepts of collective memories. For example, it demonstrates-along with the full-size model of Mission 8 itself exhibited in 1968 exhibit-several of Zelizer’s premises. Firstly, it represents materiality.  The photograph itself well embodies the materiality since after people imagine what the planet they are living is like, it gives them an authentic answer by sending this photograph from the outer space. Additionally, it was materialized by the U.S. Postal Service when a stamp (Scott# 1371) was issued to commemorate the Apollo 8 flight around the Moon. Another evidence of its materiality is that this iconic picture appeared on the cover of the Whole Earth Catalog[5], a counterculture magazine propagating ecology and Do It Yourself (DIY).  Moreover, this picture was demonstrated in a material way when it was handed to Rome’s Mayor as a gift and dubbed “The Picture of Rome”.  On the other hand, the memory of “Earthrise” is processual as it has transcended its original purpose that instead of just being a scientific and documentary record speaking only as photography from history, it related people to the environmental movement including Earth Day. The “Earthrise” picture also represents Schudson’s instrumentalization as the memory of it selects in the service of present interest.  In the 1960s and 70s, it was selected to cater the president’s wish to win the space race. With the end of the space race, it served to advocate the environmental protection when worldwide contamination was going to be severe. When the 45th anniversary of Apollo Mission 8 came, a simulation video was released which in some way demonstrated the brilliant technology era.

 

The stamp featured a detail (in color) of the “Earthrise” photograph, and the words, “In the beginning God…”, recalling the Apollo 8 Genesis reading

 

Apollo 8 commander Frank Borman (left) presenting “a picture of Rome” taken from the moon to Rome’s Mayor Rinaldo Santini (right).

 

NASA released a simulation video in 2013 on the 45th anniversary of Apollo 8 and the recording of three astronauts was first known to people.

 

Collective memory as it was, “Earthrise” is also a striking reminder of Earth’s vulnerability. We may have forgotten three courageous astronauts who died in the fatal fire of the Apollo 1 rehearsal test, the people who risked their lives getting to the Moon and who explored its dead landscape – a ‘beat-up’ world as they put it – but the view they brought back of that glittering blue hemisphere continues to mesmerize. Additionally, when everybody in the world–especially the Americans who suffered from its toughest year of history–lives in sorrow, the capture of the earthrise gives people the opportunity to see their planet as a whole and conveys a sense of peace, a stark contrast to wars at that time. Also, in great contradiction, while the moon was ‘dead as an old bone,’ the Earth was ‘the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos. Later after Mission 8 that year, amid the millions of letters from well-wishers around the world, the mission commander, Frank Borman, received a telegram from one American citizen that simply read: “Thank You Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”[6]

Sources

  1. NASA Content Administrator. “Apollo 8: Christmas at the Moon.” NASA, 19 Dec. 2014 https://www.nasa.gov/topics/history/features/apollo_8.html
  2. Greenspan Jesse. “Remembering the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve Broadcast.” History,23 Nov. 2015 https://www.history.com/news/remembering-the-apollo-8-christmas-eve-broadcast
  3. Robert Zimmerman. Genisis: The Story of Apollo 8. The Sciences, Nov/Dec 1998
    (pub Four Walls Eight Windows)”That Photograph” http://www.abc.net.au/science/moon/earthrise.htm
  4. Ernie Wright. “The Making of an Icon: Earthrise.” NASA, 24 April. 2018  http://nasawavelength.org/blog/making-icon-earthrise
  5. Catherine G. Wagley. “The Whole Earth: The Story of an Image That Changed The World.” Adobe Create Magazine, 18 April. 2016. https://create.adobe.com/2016/4/18/the_whole_earth_the_story_of_an_image_that_changed_the_world.html
  6. Jack Clemons. “Thank You for Saving 1968 (a parable for our times). Amazing Stories, 30 Dec. 2016 https://amazingstoriesmag.com/2016/12/thank-you-for-saving-1968/

Poor People’s Campaign

Poor People’s Campaign

Alexandra Simpson

The Poor People’s Campaign began in 1968 and is still an organization present day. The main event, a march, was held from May 12 through June 24, 1968 (Wikipedia). The march was originally planned to be on April 22, 1968 but was postponed due to MLK being murdered on April 8, 1968 (Cho). The march began in Marks, Mississippi Washington D.C (Wikipedia). The purpose was to gain economic justice for the poor people in the United States. The people demanded economic and human rights, the idea that all people should have what they need to live, for different backgrounds/races (Wikipedia). They also addressed the issues of unemployment, housing shortages for the poor, and the impact of poverty on the lives of Americans (Cho). At the beginning of the march, Mrs. King addressed the problem around welfare for poor mothers and their children (Franklin 1). At that point, the average child was receiving less than one dollar a day from the Dependent Children program (Franklin 2). The Poor People’s Campaign petitioned for the government to pass an Economic Bill of Rights that included a $30 billion annual appropriation for a real war on poverty, congressional passage of full employment and guaranteed income legislation, and construction of 500,00 low-cost housing units per year until slums were eliminated (Poor People’s Campaign). The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Committee of 100 and Martin Luther King Jr originally organized this event. It was later carried out by Ralph Abernath after King was assassinated (Wikipedia). About 5,000 demonstrators showed up during the first week of the protest, May 12-22 (Cho). The organization called for different groups of people to come together to make change. The Milwaukee Star informed people in the African-American community about this protest and its purpose as well as encouraged them to participate (Milwaukee Star).

Volunteers working on “Resurrection City” shelters in Washington, DC

The “Resurrection City” served as a symbol during the protest in Washington, DC. There were good and bad things associated with the makeshift city. The “City consisted of tents and shelter built by volunteers. The shelters were constructed by the campaign’s Building and Structures Committee (Wikipedia). A negative aspect was the unwillingness of Abernath and other leaders to go stay with the people staying Resurrection City (Mantler). An advantage of the “Resurrection City” was the unity it exhibited during the few week span of the demonstration. The government’s response to the protest in Washington, DC was based in fear. Many government leaders believed a riot would arise from the protests (Wikipedia). 20,000 soldiers were prepared for military occupation of the capital if the campaign became a threat (Wikipedia).

Many people were impacted positively during the duration of the march. A demonstrator named Gloria Arellanes said “I always told people, I learned more about people on that march than eve. I saw so many things, and observed so many things” (Mantler). As a result of participating in this movement, Arellanes got involved in other movements such as the Chicano movement (Mantler). This is significant because this campaign inspired others to get involved in more political campaigns to further change. There is a lot of distanciation associated with the memory of the original march. People seem to remember Martin Luther King Jr and his ties to the organization but there isn’t much to find about the actual event. When researching, it was difficult to find personal recounts of the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, DC in 1968. The narratization and use of MLK’s words from that time is also significant when analyzing this event. The Poor People’s Campaign is still an organization and it uses the memory of 1968 and Martin Luther King Jr to further its narrative for support. On the website, the organization asks for monetary donations to help their campaign. It does not list any physical demonstrations that could happen. From the news articles tagged on the website, it seems like the organization was just brought back. This is interesting and shows the processual aspect of memory. For a while, the organization strayed away from its purpose and was not participating in as much activism as they could’ve. It shows how people’s interests change over time and start to leave behind movements that were significant in the past when these problems seemed to be more pressing. Overall, the Poor People’s Campaign was a part of the memories of 1968 through its demonstration in Washington, DC.

Resources

Cho, Nancy. “Poor People’s Campaign (December 4, 1967 – June 19, 1968).” Black Past, www.blackpast.org/aah/poor-peoples-campaign-december-4-1967-june-19-1968.

“Dr. King’s Vision: The Poor People’s Campaign of 1967-68.” Poor People’s Campaign, www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/index.php/poor-peoples-campaign-1968/.

Franklin, Ben A. “5,000 Open Poor People’s Campaign in Washington.” The New York Times, 13 May 1968, search.proquest.com/docview/118419419/27B41A50A52E49EBPQ/1?accountid=14244.

Houston, Robert. “Constructing Tents. Resurrection City, Washington, D.C.” Smithsonian, Washington, DC, 1968, www.si.edu/exhibitions/city-of-hope-resurrection-city-and-the-1968-poor-peoples-campaign-6267.

Mantler, Gordon K. “Grassroots Voices, Memory, and the Poor People’s Campaign.” American Public Media, americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/king/mantler.html.

“Poor People’s Campaign.” Milwaukee Star, 30 Mar. 1968, infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=E66W56ERMTUyNDE5ODYyOS42NTg5MTU6MToxNDoxNTIuMjMuMjM5LjIzOA&p_action=doc&d_viewref=search&s_lastnonissuequeryname=4&p_queryname=4&p_docnum=1&p_docref=v2:12A7AE31A7B3CA6B@EANX-12CCE7D521B39428@2439946-12CCE7D52904F230@0-12CCE7D578EF0ED8@Poor People’s Campaign.

“Poor People’s Campaign.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Apr. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poor_People’s_Campaign.

Wright, Amy Nathan. “Labour, Leisure, Poverty and Protest: the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign as a Case Study.” Leisure Studies, vol. 27, no. 4, 14 Oct. 2008, pp. 443–458. Taylor & Francis Online, doi:10.1080/02614360802456964.