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.




  1. Andersen, Alexandra. “Essay: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion.” Daily Titan, 28 Oct. 2010,
  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,
  4. Menand, Louis. “The Radicalization of Joan Didion.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017,
  5. Schwartz, Carly. “Haight Ashbury In the 1960’s: A Vibrant Hippie History.” HuffPost, The Huffington Post, 16 Oct. 2012,
  6. Zelizer, Barbie. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies,” Critical Studies in Mass Communications (June 1995): 214-239.


The March on the Pentagon: A Day to Remember

“I saw courage both in the Vietnam War and in the struggle to stop it. I learned that patriotism includes protest, not just military service.” John F. Kerry
New York Daily News published this on Oct. 22, 1967. (NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

It was 1967, and sentiment against the Vietnam War was in the air nationwide. The counterculture was flourishing on the heels of the Summer of Love. Organizers from Mobe  — the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam — initially called for a massive march on Washington. When activists Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman got involved, a plan was hatched to exorcise and levitate the Pentagon (which would, of course, have the secondary effect of ending the war). When the day came, about 100,000 protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial as part of what seemed like a typical Washington, D.C., rally. After the speeches from David Dellinger and Benjamin Spock, and after the Peter, Paul and Mary performance wrapped up, about half the crowd marched over the Memorial Bridge to the Pentagon.

The crowd marches over the Memorial Bridge to the Pentagon.

This is when things got interesting. Several hundred people started chanting and singing, since, as Time magazine dutifully explained:

“By chanting ancient Aramaic exorcism rites while standing in a circle around the building, they could get it to rise into the air, turn orange and vibrate until all evil emissions had fled. The war would end forthwith.”(1)

Meanwhile, on another side of the building, several thousand federal troops and a couple hundred U.S. marshals tried to protect the Pentagon steps using tear gas, rifle butts and arrests to stay on top of the chaos.

There were other big marches in Washington in opposition to the Vietnam War. Starting in 1965 they had practically become a semi-annual event.  There will be more—and larger—ones later.  But the March to Confront the War Makers on October 21, 1967 was different.  It signaled a new phase in the anti-war movement that incorporated the rising youth counter  culture on a large scale for the first time and willingness for more aggressive confrontation of authority. 

An iconic image of the March on the Pentagon. (Magnum Agency) Jan Rose Kasmir, I added an interview of her to my sources, if you’re interested, her story is really interesting. (4)
An antiwar demonstrator places flowers into the barrels of rifles while blocking the Pentagon on Oct. 21, 1967. (Bernie Boston/The Washington Star Collection)







Images of young people putting flowers in the barrels of Army M-15s became iconic(Flower Power). But soon more militant demonstrators were challenging the line.  Arrests began.  Small groups managed to get partially up the steps of the building.  Others found an unguarded access ramp and charged in.  They were met with rifle butts and sheathed bayonets and particularly by the aggressive batons of Federal Marshals who busted several heads. Tear gas was used on the crowd and there was some chaos and panic.

Among the first to be arrested after the demonstrators got to the Pentagon was author Norman Mailer, who attempted to cross a police line at the building’s river entrance. He did not resist when two U.S. marshals led him away by the arm. Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “nonfiction novel” The Armies of the Night recounts the scene there, including the author’s arrest and subsequent overnight imprisonment while hoping to make it back to New York in time for a cocktail party.


Military police face screaming anti-Vietnam War demonstrators at the Pentagon in Washington on Oct. 21, 1967.

After the arrest many people left the Pentagon but the majority of the demonstrators continued to stand by.  Many sang America the Beautiful and other patriotic and anti-war songs as the battle raged.  By 7 pm things had settled down.  Authorizes announced that the permit for the demonstration had expired.  Most of the remaining demonstrators drifted away, but about 7,000 chose to stay.  No move was made to dislodge them, but as overnight temperatures dropped, many more left. (2)

Some of the demonstrators were determined to disrupt military operations by storming the Pentagon.

At dawn a few hundred left to march to the White House to “wake up LBJ.”  There were more arrests there, including those charged with picking flowers in Lafayette Park.  A few hundred others stayed behind to keep a vigil at the Pentagon.  At midnight the remaining 200 were rousted or arrested.

Send them home signs in the March.

What did the protest, young voices all achieve? News coverage suggested that antiwar activists had far to go in winning over the public. Commentary highlighted isolated acts of outlandishness, while conservatives focused on the presence of Communist groups. Though split about the wisdom of the war, Americans agreed overwhelmingly that, as one poll phrased it, peace marches amounted to “acts of disloyalty against the boys in Vietnam.” Still, in the near term, the march fueled the movement’s energy and surging sense of power and hope. But it also framed antiwar opposition for many as a countercultural project and in so doing served to widen the chasm between hawks and doves.(3)

March as depicted in the film, Forest Gump with Tom Hanks.

Despite all the anti-war efforts nearly 20,000 Americans had been killed in Vietnam, and the war would claim 38,000 more lives before the U.S. finally withdrew in 1975. But the march on the Pentagon became a defining moment of the antiwar movement and held its place on many minds as a part of the collective memory of the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement. (another great video, it didn’t show up as a video file when I post the URL but definitely check it out if you’re interested.)


  1. Schreiber, E. M. “Anti-War Demonstrations and American Public Opinion on the War in Vietnam.” The British Journal of Sociology, vol. 27, no. 2, 1976, pp. 225–236. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  2. The Time Magazine. Protest the Banner of Dissent. 1967.,33009,841090-9,00.html
  3. The Washington Post. The day anti-war protestors tried to levitate the Pentagon. 2017.
  4. The New York Times, March on the Pentagon, Oral History. 2017.
  5. The Guardian. That’s me in the picture: Jan Rose Kasmir at an anti-Vietnam war rally at the Pentagon, in 1967. 2014
  6. Mailer, N. (1968). The Armies of the Night. US: New American Library.
  7. Wikipedia. Opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War.


  1. “Anti-Vietnam War Activists March on the Pentagon Ca. 1967.” Films Media Group, 1967, Accessed 24 Apr. 2018.
  2. Protesting Vietnam War. Ny Daily News. 2016.
  3. The Day Anti-Vietnam War Protestors Tried to Levitate the Pentagon. Washington Post. 2017.
  4. Google Images. Norman Mailer. The Armies of the Nights.
  5.  Anti-Vietnam War Protest. Youtube.
  6. Forest Gump with Tom Hanks film scene.

Oznur Ikiz


The “Yip In” at Grand Central Park—Memory Amidst Tragedy


On December 31, 1967 a counter-cultural group called the Yippies were created to mobilize a new nation in America, a new imagined community, not rooted in political ideology, but rather rooted in revolution. By promoting sexual liberation, the anti-war movement, and a society not bound by the stigmatized use of drugs, the Yippies’ goal was a unified, rebellious, and unpoliticized nation group designed to combat the ever increasing governmental influence and conservative ideals of the time within America (Krassner 156). To put in the words of Abbie Hoffman, one of the founders of the Yippie movement, she states

“We shall not defeat America by organizing a political party. We shall do it by building a new nation—a nation as rugged as the Marijuana leaf” (Abbie).

Flag of the Youth International Party
This is the official flag of the Yippies. The black stands for anarchy. The red stands for socialism. The green stands for marijuana.

To symbolically illustrate this, the Yippies created a flag—a marijuana leaf juxtaposed against a black background and a red five pointed start.

In addition to the flag, as a means to promote their increasing growth in 1968, Abbie Hoffman decided to host a “Yip In” (sit-in) to gain an increasing amount of media attention at Grand Central Station (Gitlin 237).


Originally, Paul Krassner, another founding father of the Yippie movement, suggested that the “Yip In” be held on the Ides of March when Julius Caesar was assassinated. However, Abbie Hoffman contested the idea of using the Ides of March  because the “Yip In” was supposed to symbolically emphasize life, not death—in her words, to celebrate the “spring equinox” and encourage “spring mating” (Raskin 134). As a result, the Grand Central Station, which metaphorically represents the bustling of life within the US, was the place chosen to represent the life of the Yippie movement—a living representation of the site of memory (Gitlin 237). Below you’ll see the flyer the “Yippies” used to capture their joy, excitement, and overall enthusiasm for life while prommoting the event at that Grand Central Station.

The Yippies’ flyer used to promote the “Yip In” at Grand Central Station. Here you’ll find the enthusiasm and the vivacity of the Yippie movement.

However, the intent to cement the “Yip In” at Grand Central Station as a symbol for the joy of life was soon overshadowed by the impact of what actually occurred at the event. On March 23, 1968 soon after 12:00 am, 50 police officers unleashed cherry bombs on the crowd and beat the Yippies with bats after a sporadic encounter. Over the course of the next couple hours, 61 people were arrested, multiple individuals were hospitalized, and the place became remembered as a place of tragedy (Time). Below I’ve highlighted some pictures that highlight the incident.

Undercover policemen remove a Yippie from the Grand Central Station in 1968.
The “Yip In” had around 3,000 to 6,000 individuals–a number that is contested among the memory of those there.


After analyzing various news articles from primary sources, I found that within just a few days different individuals captured varying perspectives, memories, and contesting views of the significance of the “Yip In.”

For some, the “Yip-In” became a symbolic representation and memory of the anti-war demonstrations happening in the US. In an article written in the New York Times just a day after the event, a reporter named Michael Stern through his narrativization reveals this as he describes the event as a “militant anti-war demonstration”, “an invasion”, and a gathering that became an “anti-war rally” (Stern).

However, in contrast to that select and partial memory, others remembered the site as a place in which minorities, the Yippies, courageously faced opposition in light of police brutality. In an article from the Time written on April 5, 1968, the first thing recalled about the “Yip In” was the tenacity and the vivacity of the Yippies. In the first sentence, the article describes the Yippies as “pouring into the vast main concourse of Manhattan’s Grand Central Park, 3000 strong” (Time). In addition, the article describes them as “celebrants” that were “battered but unbowed” (Time). As a result, Time magazine paints a picture, a working memory, of the event at Grand Central Station that invokes triumph rather than defeat in light of injustice and police brutality.

For others, The “Yip In” became remembered as a site that signified  opposition to free speech in light of counter-cultural movements. Below is a short snippet between Steve Rutt, a reporter for the “Radio Unnameable” broadcasting station, and a witness at the Grand Central “Yip In.” In this segment, the witness states this event highlighted “brutalization to control opposition, to control freedom of thought” (“Radio Unnameable”).


Nearly five decades later, the “Yip In” is predominantly remembered not as a counter-cultural revolution or a movement seeking to evoke life, but a symbolic representation of police brutality amidst minorities. Because memory can be partial and usable, one can clearly see why today, in light of the police brutality within the US, the memory of the “Yip In” would resurface.

An article published in 2017 in a news source called the Timeline captures this select and usable memory of the “Yip In.” Photo after photo the Timeline focuses on police brutality. In one picture, Don McNeill, another news reporter from The Village Voice, is seen with blood running down his face.

Don McNeill, a news reporter for The Village Voice, is seen with blood running down his face after the police pushed him against a glass window.

However, in resurfacing the memory of the “Yip In” in light of police brutality, these sources tend to forget the underlying cause of the Yip In—the joy and excitement of life—a memory in direct contrast to tragedy and brutality. Further, they tend to forget the contesting ways the “Yip In” was originally remembered (i.e. to promote the anti-war agenda, counterculture, etc.). However, as seen in both the memory just days after the “Yip In” as well as the memories nearly 50 years later, in both cases memory becomes partial, selective, and usable.

By Louis Allen

Work Cited

Abbie Hoffman, Woodstock Nation, back cover. Vintage Books, 1969.

Dave Martucci. Yippie Flag. 30 Oct. 1996.

Dundon, Rian. “These photos of the radical Left riot in Grand Central show Yippies and cops squaring off.” Timeline, 28 Aug. 2017.

Gitlin, Todd. The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. New York, Bantam Book, 1987, pp. 237.

Ortega, Tony. “Yip In Turns into Bloody Mess as Police Riot at Grand Central Station.” The Village Voice, Village Voice, LLC. 19 Apr. 2010.   

Paul Krassner, Confessions of a raving, unconfined nut: misadventures in the counter-culture, Page 156, Simon & Schuster, 1993.

“‘Radio Unnameable’: March 22, 1968 – Grand Central ‘Yip In.'” Youtube, uploaded by Columbia, 3 Nov. 2016.

Raskin, Jonah. For The Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman. Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1996, pp. 134.

Stern, Michael. “Political Activism New Hippie ‘Thing.’” The New York Times, 24 Mar. 1968, pp. 72.

“Youth. The Politics of YIP.” Time, 5 Apr. 1968.,33009,900067,00.html


John Sinclair, the Icon and the Man

[1] Ann Arbor resident, Marsha Rabideau, holding the White Panther Party flag at 1520 Hill Street
In 1968, the White Panther Party emerged as a radical group that emphasized counterculture of the period that would eventually raise enough political power to draw the attention of FBI counter-intelligence. Established as the counterpart to Huey Newton and Bobby Seale’s Black Panther party, it was considered a dangerous left-wing activist organization with intent to confront culture and combat it by any means necessary. However, its rise to power would not have been as effective if not for one of the most influential countercultural leaders of the sixties John Sinclair, who is considered a living symbol of revolutionary action.

Early Life

[2] Picture of John Sinclair taken in 1969, a year after starting the White Panther Party as an offshoot of the Black Panther Party
His early life demonstrates an educated background as a member of the class of 1960 at Albion College in Albion, Michigan. After one year, he dropped out and instead attended the currently named University of Michigan-Flint where he graduated from in 1964. Sinclair began his activism as a member of an underground newspaper known as the Fifth Estate known for its politically and socially radical standpoint [5]. It was during this time that Sinclair also developed a taste for free jazz which led to his beliefs in the power of music. As a freedom seeker in 1968, he along with Leni Sinclair and Lawrence “Pun” Plamondon created an anti-racist political group in response to a statement by Black Panther’s Huey Newton about forming their own party that would allow white people to support the Black Panthers. Sinclair’s motivation to bring about cultural revolution gathered the masses making him one of the most influential countercultural leaders in 1968.

Activism in 1968

[3] MC5 poster designed by Gary Grimshaw with the White Panther Party’s symbol in the center
During the turmoil of 1968, Sinclair was a known poet, writer, and political activist that had a passion for music. Inspired by the Black Panther Party’s policies, The White Panther party advocated action against the state with claims such as abolishment of standard currency, true equality with no racial barriers, free sexual behavior and substance use, and many more that would theoretically give power to the common masses [6]. The party’s rising popularity was in part due to a band managed by Sinclair at this time called MC5 that campaigned for the White Panthers. Under his guidance, MC5 embraced Sinclair’s revolutionary politics performing at anti-war rallies such as the anti-Vietnam rally broken up at the 1968 Democratic National Convention [7]. However, some individuals without the same conviction and revolutionary spirit as Sinclair strayed away from the White Panther’s political agenda, including the members of MC5. Sinclair’s actions grew more radical over time, including an attack on the CIA. John Sinclair, while serving his legendary 10 year sentence for possession of marijuana, was charged for a bombing that occurred at the CIA recruitment office located at Ann Arbor [8]. The White Panther Party saw this as the government trying to shut down the party due to the threat of its nature and thus support for John Sinclair rose. These events would lead to Sinclair being remembered as a revolutionary among revolutionaries, rallying the people under a banner defined by its militant actions seeking to overturn a political agenda in the pursuit of Sinclair’s definition of freedom.

Aftermath: Where is Sinclair Today?

[4] Recent image of John Sinclair now remembered as an influential revolutionary and activist of his time

Sinclair continues his practices as a poet and a writer to this day. In his own time he also makes radio shows and broadcasts on a website called Radio Free Amsterdam [9]. A blog interview taken by an anonymous individual sought to hear Sinclair’s claims on freedom as they were in 1968. However, he now claims to have been wrong about a lot in 1968. Sinclair did not regret the things he stood for but rather meant that things have changed and that he would no longer stand by some of the stuff he said, such as how music was a weapon of revolution since now he sees it as a tool of oppression. He even has a statement that if he could go back he would. Another interview with The Guardian revealed Sinclair’s thoughts on his own idea of revolution [10]. The interviewers asked when his revolutionary dream died:

“Early 1975. That’s when the movement folded. President Nixon was removed from office, the Vietnam war ended, and it seemed everybody went back to their day jobs. I didn’t have a day job and I didn’t want one, so I became a poet and a community activist again.”

Sinclair, John

While the article may be four years old, it still demonstrates that over at least 46 years his ideology has changed with age. He rarely thinks of the past because he sees no good in focusing on things that can never change. Nevertheless, he still recognizes revolution as a constant in the nation as there will always be individuals who act only to change society.

Sinclair in Memory

John Sinclair has shown that he remembers his role in 1968 differently from the public. People remember Sinclair the icon, not the man. His memory is captured in his actions that can be traced back to White Panther speeches, rallies, and banners. Sinclair was admired for his actions and courage to defy norms, and therefore he is conveniently remembered as an influential figure in public memory. It is this circulation of recollection among members of a community that believe in the White Panther’s mission that create Sinclair’s falsified image as documented by the John Sinclair Foundation in Amsterdam, Holland. Public memory of John Sinclair shows that people remember his deeds as a revolutionary activist, form ways to record his history from a collective interpretation of the past, but forget him in his late age and his opinions of his place in 1968 in an attempt to preserve his past image as the founder of the White Panther Party.

– Tyler Robertson

Works Cited

[7] Blobaum, Dean. “Chicago ’68.” Chicago ’68: Myths of Chicago ’68, 2010,

[5] “Fifth Estate Records (1967-2016, Bulk 1982-1999).” M Library Special Collections Research Center Finding Aids, Fifth Estate,

[3] Grimshaw, Gary. “MC5 White Panther Poster.” Lofty.

[4] Hieber, Glenn. “Modern image of John Sinclair.” The Ann Arbor News,

[9] “Now, An Intimate Conversation With John Sinclair.” The Bigfoot Diaries,

[10] O’Hagan, Sean. “John Sinclair: ‘We Wanted to Kick Ass – and Raise Consciousness’.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 3 Mar. 2014,

[6] Sinclair, John. “Luminist Archives.” White Panther Party Program,

[2] Sinclair, Leni. “John Sinclair, circa 1969,” The Ann Arbor Chronicle,

[1] Sinclair, Leni. “Marsha Rabideau at 1520 Hill Street.” Ann Arbor District Library,

[8] Zbrozek, Christopher. “The Bombing of the A2 CIA Office.” The Michigan Daily, 24 Oct. 2016,

Miss Black America Pageant


Since it’s kickoff in 1921, the Miss America Pageant had been a popular national thrill showing off the beauty of American women. The issue was, the Miss America Pageant did not include the whole population of American women, but solely the lily white women. Despite getting rid of the law that barred African American women from competing in the Miss America pageant in 1950, the pageant had refused to accept any African American women. In 1967, an entrepreneur named J. Morris Anderson asked his young daughters what they wanted to be when they grew up, and both excitedly responded “Miss America!”. This conversation helped bring the racial hypocrisy that the Miss America Pageant operated under to J. Morris Anderson’s attention. Thus the idea of the Miss Black America Pageant as a counter pageant was born. With the help of Phillip H. Savage, the director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, they succeeded in holding first national pageant for African American women [1][2].

The first Miss Black America pageant was held on August 17th, 1968, the same day as the Miss America pageant, in the same city (Atlantic City, New Jersey), only four blocks away from where the Miss America Pageant was being held. This planning was not an accident, and was timed in order to directly counter protest the Miss America Pageant. The Miss Black America Pageant started at midnight, in an attempt to gain audience and media attention from the individuals leaving the Miss America Pageant[6].


At its core, the Miss Black America Pageant was constructed in response to the mainstream media idea that “black was ugly”. Throughout history, mainstream media and entertainment had often described African American features as unattractive. Light skin, “good” (not curly) hair, and a narrow nose were what was advertised as attractive. African American parents often attempted to alter their children’s features by pinching their noses as infants or having young children wear close pins on their nose, or straighten their hair. The Miss Black America Pageant was and is a key part to the Black is Beautiful movement. It advertised and exemplified the true beauty of the African American community. The Miss Black America Pageant also worked to counter many of the issues that had caused so many feminist complaints of on the Miss America Pageant. For starters, through the Miss Black America pageant, they contestants were dressed in long dresses and gowns, as compared to the mildly sexualizing and flashy outfits of the Miss America Pageant. The Miss Black America Pageant from the start also encouraged appreciation of African heritage, as well as gave their contestants a pedestal to discuss the civil rights issues of their time. This in part was brought about by the drive and civil awareness of the individual who won the first Miss Black America pageant in 1968, Saundra Williams [5].

Saundra Williams

Saundra Williams, the first Miss Black America, helped to give the pageant as well as the ideals of the Black is Beautiful a solid foothold and representative. For her presentation in the pageant, Saundra Williams sported the all-natural African styled Afro, and a long white beaded gown that she made herself. Below are images of Saundra Williams and her hairstyle/homemade dress.

For her demonstration, she performed the “Fiji”, a traditional African dance, and discussed her feminist ideals about how she believes that men and women should equally share household work, work which at that time was expected to be done by women. She was the perfect public figure to win Miss Black America, exemplifying not only an attractive woman who was proud of her African American features and heritage, but was intelligent, bold, and progressive in her views. After she was crowned Miss Black America, she was asked her opinion on the Miss America Pageant. She responded by stating:

“Miss America does not represent us because there has never been a black girl in the pageant. With my title, I can show black women that they too are beautiful.” – Saundra Williams

Saundra Williams continued her involvement with the Miss Black America pageant, negotiating with NBC to get the pageant featured live on television during prime time in 1977 [4][6].

Miss Black America Now

Miss Black America is a pageant that is still put on today, maintaining it’s same core ideals, emphasizing the beauty of and appreciation for African American heritage, as well as creating a platform for the discussion of the racial tensions and civil rights issues of today. Throughout it’s history, it has had a number of big names advocate for it, and featured African American public figures such as Stevie Wonder, Spike Lee, and namely Oprah Winfrey. Oprah even competed in the Miss Black America Pageant, representing her state as Miss Tennessee. The Miss Black America Pageant has and continues to open doors for ambitious African American women, and disposes of the negative ideas surrounding African American features and heritage. But the first pageant in 1968 still holds it’s place in American memory in fighting the mainstream media and helping to expand the Black is Beautiful cultural movement.

MBA in Memory

The Miss Black America pageant often does not get as much attention even though it was a large movement for the African American community at that time. It is often forgotten due to the feminist protests surrounding the Miss America pageant and all the attention they received. It is also a common misconception that the Miss Black America pageant had ties to the feminist protests. This is false, in fact many African American women did not feel the protests represented them at all and most did not take any interest in it. The feminist protests of the Miss America pageant was primarily made up of young to middle aged white women. I found it interesting that in the physically recorded history and memory, a movement made up of white women absorbs all the historical attention away from a protest movement by the African American community. But, despite the misconceptions and memory warping, the Miss Black America pageant continues to forward its original message, helping to spread the Black is Beautiful cultural movement throughout the African American community.

Below is a short 2 minute documentary on the Miss Black America Pageant


  1. 1st ‘miss black america’ pageant to be staged in atlantic city. (1968, Aug 31). Chicago Daily Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1966-1973) Retrieved from
  2.  Contest slated to select miss black america. (1968, Aug 29). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  3. Dow, Bonnie J. “Feminism, Miss America, and Media Mythology.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Michigan State University Press, 30 Apr. 2003,
  4. Admin. “HomePage.” Welcome to the Miss Black America Pageant,14 Apr. 2018,
  5. Welch, Georgia Paige. “‘Up Against the Wall Miss America’: Women’s Liberation and Miss Black America in Atlantic City, 1968.” Feminist Formations, Johns Hopkins University Press, 24 Sept. 2015,
  6. Vorwerck, Molly. “Groundbreaking 1968 Pageant Proved Black Is Beautiful.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 16 Feb. 2018,

The Orangeburg Massacre

How a College Protest Turned Deadly

Timeline of Events:

On February 5, 1968, a small group of students staged a sit in at a local bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina [1]. Orangeburg was a politically active city with a history of protest, and Martin Luther King had visited the town to speak on occasion [1]. The conflict began when Harry Floyd, a white man who owned All-Star Bowling Lanes, refused entry to African Americans despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race. Students from South Carolina State College, a predominately Black institution at the time, sat calmly at the lunch counter until the police were called and the business closed early [2].

Harry Floyd, owner of the segregated bowling alley in Orangeburg, S.C., over which civil rights demonstrations ended in the death of three students in 1968. [3]
The following day, the students returned. This time, 15 students were arrested [2]. Hearing of the arrests, a large crowd of students from South Carolina State and nearby Claflin College gathered in a nearby parking lot [1]. When they were told the arrested students would be released, the crowd began to calm, but shortly after, a fire truck arrived. The fire truck sparked chaos as the protesters feared that fire hoses would be used against them. Panicking, many of the students were pushed against glass doors, breaking them. In response, law enforcement officers waded through the crowd, beating some students violently with wooden batons [3]. The crowd dispersed.

The next morning, Orangeburg mayor E.O. Pendarvis attempted to address the situation by meeting with the students. He agreed to share some of their requests, which included eliminating discrimination in public spaces and creating a biracial human relations committee, with the city council. However, South Carolina Governor Robert McNair had already called in the National Guard, further exacerbating tensions [1].

On the evening of February 8th, 1968, a crowd of 200 to 300 students gathered on South Carolina State’s campus, confronted by law enforcement. Some shouted “Black power” while many began to sing “We Shall Overcome” [1]. Later that night, some students lit a bonfire to keep warm, and the patrol officers called in a fire truck, increasing tensions. Around 10:30 p.m. patrolman David Shealy was injured by a thrown object [1]. Minutes later, a fellow officer responded by firing a shot into the air to “calm the crowd” [2]. Nine state highway patrolmen, disoriented or thinking that they were being fired upon, opened fire into the crowd of students [1]. Chaos ensued as students ran and screams rang out. 28 were injured and three were left dead – Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith, and Delano Middleton. Samuel and Henry were South Carolina State students while Delano was a high school student. All three were 18 years old [2].

On February 8, 1968, police opened fire on a group of civil rights protesters outside of South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. Three people died and many more were injured, making the event one of the deadliest in the SC Civil Rights Movement. [4]
The three young men who were murdered: Henry Smith and Samuel Hammond, both SCSU students, and Delano Middleton, a local student at Wilkinson High School. [7]
The Aftermath:

Upon examination, it was discovered that the officers had used buckshot, a higher caliber ammunition than the standard protocol birdshot used for riot dispersal [1]. Among the 28 injured, all but two had been shot in the back, sides, or soles of their feet – they had been shot as they fled. There was no evidence that any of the students had firearms [1;2].

The massacre received some national media attention that was short lived, and many newspapers contained significant errors [3]. For example, the Associated Press claimed that there was a “heavy exchange of gunfire” despite the fact that the students did not fire a single shot [3]. Situated right after the Tet Offensive and weeks before MLK’s assassination, the Orangeburg massacre was quickly forgotten in the stream of media, though African American communities remembered it much more vividly and the shooting sparked several marches and vigils at the University of Chicago and several South Carolina Schools [3].

Cleveland Sellers, center, stands with officers after his arrest in Orangeburg, S.C., where three were killed and others wounded during a demonstration on Feb. 8, 1968. [5]
The nine officers responsible for the shooting were brought to trial for use of excessive force at the campus protest, but all were acquitted [2]. The only conviction resulting from the Orangeburg massacre was that of Cleveland Sellers, a representative for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was accused of “inciting the riot” and spent seven months in prison before being pardoned 25 years later. To this day, the Orangeburg Massacre remains the bloodiest Civil Rights event in South Carolina  history [2].

Significance and Memory:

Fifty years after the massacre, on February 8th, 2018, the survivors commemorated the event on South Carolina State University grounds. Today, there is a memorial on the site dedicated to Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith, and Delano Middleton, where slabs of rock emblematic of graves stand and an educational sign with their photos. Long after the fact, several documentaries and books have been published on the Orangeburg Massacre. However, the Orangeburg Massacre has been largely left out of the modern dialogue, and today, the survivors still fight for recognition of the crimes perpetrated against them. Thomas Kennerly, a senior present at the protest, has lingering questions about the events of February 8th, 1968: “We still ask ourselves ‘Why?’ It was said we had weapons. We had no weapons. We had nothing to defend ourselves” [3].

Today, you can visit the South Carolina State College Historic District and the site of the Orangeburg Massacre. There are active academic buildings from the Civil Rights Movement period, as well as statues memorializing the three black students who lost their lives in the massacre. [8]
Part of the answer lies in the fact that the Orangeburg Massacre is situated within a deep history of violence against African Americans.  Jack Shuler, a professor at Denison university, says, “It was part of the longer story, which goes back to the founding of the community” [1]. While it was largely forgotten during the tumultuous year of 1968 and later overshadowed in American memory by the Kent State shooting, where four white students were killed during an anti-Vietnam protest, two years later [4], forgetting the Orangeburg Massacre has significant social repercussions. Jim Clyburn, a student arrested for sitting in, says “Orangeburg and Jackson (State) had both suffered similar situations as Kent State, but they were black schools. And believe it or not, the powers did not value black lives as they did white lives” [3]. The Orangeburg Massacre is not an isolated event – it is one piece of the timeline of violence against Blacks in America, and one that unfortunately is not often included in history lessons.

Cleveland Sellers Jr., on the South Carolina State University campus two weeks before the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Orangeburg Massacre. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff. [7]
In 1969, the deaths of three Black students received limited media coverage. Today, such an occurrence would incite a massive uprising – and rightfully so. Only more recently has the issue of police brutality been covered extensively by the media, in large part due to the Black Lives Matter movement. Current media coverage better recognizes that the systemic racism that caused the Orangeburg Massacre is still very present today, 50 years later. The fact that documentaries of the Orangeburg Massacre are being made and that some national media sources are actually covering stories of violence against African Americans, such as the murders of Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Stephon Clark, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, and many more, aids in more widespread recognition of the disparities in the use of force against African Americans versus whites. The difference in media coverage of the Orangeburg Massacre 50 years ago compared events of today shows the ways in which society has changed, as more stories of violence against Blacks are actually being covered in the news, but the fact that such events still take place indicates that there is still also much that needs to be changed in American society.

In this way, the memory of Orangeburg is usable. Remembering the events of February 8th, 1968, and recirculating the story ensures that the Black narrative in America is not forgotten. Speaking on historical amnesia, Reid Toth, a professor at University of South Carolina Upstate, says of the media coverage of the Orangeburg Massacre: “That is part of the overall benign neglect of failing to address events, whether they’re positive or negative, that impact the black community” [1]. Drawing the attention of the public in a way that wasn’t done after the Orangeburg Massacre may finally help bring about the justice that the victims of the Orangeburg Massacre are still waiting on. In remembering the Orangeburg Massacre, Cecil Williams, South Carolina State’s school photographer in 1968, says he keeps a photo of the shells left behind after the shooting: “I keep them as a reminder than freedom isn’t free. You have to fight for it” [3]. Remembering what happened in the Orangeburg Massacre, acknowledging its place in history, and recognizing the systemic racism that caused it is crucial because only with that knowledge that we can take steps a nation to prevent tragedies like the Orangeburg Massacre from happening again.

Works Cited:

  1. Boissoneault, Lorraine. “In 1968, Three Students Were Killed by Police. Today, Few Remember the Orangeburg Massacre.”com, Smithsonian Institution, 7 Feb. 2018,
  2. Manos, Nick. “Orangeburg Massacre (1968).”The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed,
  3. Morrill, Jim. “50 Years after 3 Students Died in SC Civil Rights Protest, Survivors Still Ask ‘Why?’.”Charlotteobserver, Charlotte Observer,
  4. The State. “Shocking 50-Year-Old Photos from SC’s Bloodiest Civil Rights Protest.”Thestate, The State,
  5. Balaban, Samantha, et al. “50 Years After The Orangeburg Massacre, Looking For Justice In South Carolina.”NPR, NPR, 10 Feb. 2018,
  6. “Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968.”Zinn Education Project,
  7. Parker, Adam, et al. “Orangeburg Massacre Survivors Fight for Remembrance of Bloodiest Civil Rights Event in S.C. History.”Post and Courier, 8 Feb. 2018,
  8. “Orangeburg Massacre .” US Civil Rights Trail,


Leaflet Propaganda in Vietnam: Changing Opinion of the War

18 year-olds leaving their mothers and college education to traverse jungles in South Asia in hopes of finding a town full of enemy soldiers and not ordinary citizens. Returning home to being spit on and protested by fellow Americans after sacrificing their life for their country. This was the life of many Americans in 1968. The Vietnam War was one of the most divisive, challenging efforts in American history. Over 58,000 Americans and 3 million people in total were killed (3).

Because of the controversy, Northern Vietnam’s army, the Viet Cong, created propaganda to influence America on exiting the war. Much of this propaganda was on posters and in cartoons. One type was leaflet propaganda. This technique was first used in the 19th century and gained popularity, “During the First World War, when air disseminated leaflets were used on a massive scale” (7). Both the United States and the Viet Cong used leaflets. One example of the Viet Cong’s can be found below.

1. Source:

These leaflets, created by supporters of the Viet Cong, “were usually left where… Americans would pass by; along trails, near base camps” (6) so that American soldiers would see them. Also, this propaganda was “printed in Hanoi and shipped to…  the United States” to be distributed by protestors of the war (6). Because the communists knew that US citizens widely did not support the war effort, they wanted to discourage American soldiers from fighting in the war using the above leaflet propaganda. This particular leaflet is very effective in challenging the reasoning behind why American soldiers would leave a free land to fight abroad in a foreign country used to war. The use of the word “helluva” is extremely powerful because it mimics the language that Americans used during this time.


Pictured above is another example of Viet Cong propaganda which challenges how much America stands for its values when it is involved in a war and some soldiers are committing crimes against humanity. All of the propaganda was designed to make US soldiers and citizens question why they are fighting and turn against the government. The Viet Cong was trying to anger Americans and separate them because they knew many soldiers did not want to be fighting in the Vietnam War. These efforts were mobilized by liberal groups such as college campuses and Students for a Democratic Society (4).

These leaflets created great conflict in the United States. Supporters and protestors of the war argued for years on if the United States should be fighting in this war. For a country that is supposed to be “united”, this propaganda caused great disagreement. Much of the leaflets were designed and paid for by the Viet Cong and used by American citizens to protest the war. This represents Schudson’s concept of instrumentalization, or using the American ideals against their army as a rallying point.

Printing and distributing these leaflets represented a shift in power at the time. The younger, more progressive generation was able to express themselves and be heard. Instead of older members of the government making the decisions, students and young citizens expressed themselves and influenced many people’s opinions. This shift in power parallels the women’s rights and impoverished people’s movements, which can be read more about here and here.

Below is an example of an anti-war protest:

Leaflet propaganda is a type of psychological warfare, designed to attack the opponent’s morale. While the Viet Cong used leaflet propaganda heavily, the United States also utilized the effectiveness of psychological warfare. American efforts included printing counterfeit money and Operation Wandering Soul. Fake money was printed because it included currency on one side of the bill and propaganda about the war one the other (2). Operation Wandering Soul was used in Vietnam to capitalize the “Buddhist beliefs of the region… that the spirits of the dead are doomed to walk the earth in their own personal hell” (5). Therefore, the United States capitalized on this belief to scare the Viet Cong with recordings including phrases like “Don’t end up like me. Go home” (5).


Here is an example of an Operation Wandering Soul recording with audio beginning around 2:07, though it is in Vietnamese.

Though leaflet propaganda is not currently circulated in society, it has been used in recent wars. Zelizer’s view that memory is both usable and particular and universal applies to the use of this type of psychological warfare. Because the Vietnam war was so controversial, the memory of leaflet propaganda is often particular to that war, but its effectiveness was recognized and made applied to many different wars. For example, the United States dropped a “propaganda bomb” on Syria in 2015 as propaganda (1). This shows how the memory of the effectiveness of leaflet propaganda in the Vietnam War can be used and applied to different movements across the world in recent years.

As evidenced by a Google Search, leaflet propaganda is widely sold and often viewed as a collector’s item. Authentic and fabricated copies of propaganda are sold. This shows how the memory of this persuasion technique has been commercialized, through Schudson’s concept of instrumentalization. In the past, leaflet propaganda has been remembered as a persuasive way to be heard and influence a crowd.  Because copies of leaflets are being sold, they are now remembered as visually stimulating cards and collectors items instead of a method to persuade during harsh wars.

This is evidenced by its effectiveness in mobilizing American protests against the Vietnam War and its involvement in Syria, The Korean War, and others.


Leaflet Propaganda in Syria:



Works Cited:


  1. Brook, Tom Vanden. “U.S. Drops Propaganda Bomb on ISIL.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 26 Mar. 2015,


2. Campbell-Dollaghan, Kelsey. “4 Totally Fake Currencies That Changed the Course of Real Wars.” Gizmodo,, 5 May 2014,


3. Staff. “Vietnam War.”, A&E Television Networks, 2009,


4. Staff. “Vietnam War Protests.”, A&E Television Networks, 2010,



5. Hoyt, Alia. “Ghost Tape No. 10: The Haunted Mixtape of the Vietnam War.” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 16 May 2017,


6. Mosbaugh, Doc Ron. “EFECTIVENESS OF VIETNAM FLYERS AND PAMPHLETS.” Vietnam Veterans of 2nd Battalion 1st Marines,




  2. Leaflet North Vietnam Why. Duke,
  3. Lamothe, Dan. “How the U.S. Dropped These Gory Propaganda Leaflets over Syria.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 26 Mar. 2015,

The Alternate Feminist Movement

1968 was the year of women. It was an extremely vulnerable year in which many groups in society were insistent on changing their identities for the better. For example, many African Americans sought laws in which they were not discriminated simply because of their race. But there was another movement going on at the same time known as the feminist movement in which women demanded fairer political and social rights all throughout the United States. Originally called the women’s liberation movement, the feminist movement became part of the many societal shifts that took place in the year 1968. Women began to use their attitudes as power and publicly spoke out for the first time in history. The only problem was that there was no true set group with officers; not until Elizabeth Boyer and the Women’s Equity Action League.

For the first time in history, women were publicly protesting for equal rights.

Elizabeth Boyer

Born on November 12,1913, Elizabeth Boyer went to college at Bowling Green State University and studied as an American lawyer. She was extremely successful and even achieved her Masters in law at the age of 37. However, her most notable contribution was founding the Women’s Equity Action League in 1968 in Cleveland, Ohio. She was elected as the president of the organization and was even able to further its cause so greatly that they were able to establish their main branch in Washington, DC. Boyer was a large factor in the passing of the Title IX legislation and equal right for women would not have been possible without her. However, she unfortunately passed away in 2002 but she is commemorated by Bowling Green State with the Elizabeth Boyer award which recognizes students’ mothers and gives them financial aid. With this award, she will always be remembered throughout history as an advocate for women’s rights and will continue to guide women even after death.

“We saw a need for an organization that would coordinate other organizations and concentrate on economic advancement for women…”

-Boyer on the creation of WEAL.

Women’s Equity Action League and Their Purpose

Founded in 1968, the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL) was created as a separate branch from the National Organization for Women (NOW). Both were very similar in that they used the tactic of lobbying for institutional change and even some original members in the NOW were also in WEAL. Both organizations fought against sex discrimination in society; however, it was the finer details and instances of discrimination that separated the two. For example, the NOW was supportive of abortion, a topic that WEAL disapproved of. In addition, WEAL was more focused on women’s discrimination in education and economic ability. Throughout history, especially in the 1960’s and 1970’s, women were unfairly treated in the workplace and discriminated by men simply because of their gender despite the implementation of the Equal Pay Act. In fact, the wage difference the two genders was so extreme that the difference in lifetime earnings between men and women was around $38,000.

But WEAL believed that one of the biggest challenges women faced in society was that they were discouraged from entering a higher education level. Especially in the 1960’s, women were very discouraged from becoming more educated simply because of the ideal that the women were supposed to stay at home. They were almost forbidden from developing their career outside the home and were oppressed in a sense. So WEAL was determined to allow women to be able to pursue more diverse careers in the world besides the labor force and being a housewife. This organization also wanted justice for the women who did make it into higher level fields, such as medicine and law, and were still discriminated in the workplace. So WEAL’s method of attack was to file hundreds of sex discrimination cases against universities and companies and overwhelm them. By doing so they were able to support a larger cause such as the Equal Rights Amendment and Title IX. They even created a newsletter called the WEAL Washington Report in order to update their followers on the state of their cause.

Publication by WEAL on how budget cuts impact women.
Even men supported the feminist movement.


However, in 1989 WEAL was dissolved due to lack of funding. After being a strong force in the women’s movement for 20 years, the non-profit organization was unable to continue because of funding issues and was forced to dissolve. But its efforts will always be remembered because of how influential it was at the time. The specific designation for a group of people to fight for economic equality for women was unheard of at the time. It inspired many to join along and publicly fight against the government for the first time in history. WEAL was a catalyst for women in the United States to realize that enough was enough. They decided that they were no longer going to be limited in their advancement of their careers and wanted economic equality. Women finally realized that they could use their voices to lawfully and legally fight against job discrimination. They lobbied, filed grievances, and mobilized American women against the sexist ideals that were holding them back from succeeding. And although WEAL is no longer, their impact will always be recognized throughout history as an organization that sought nothing but legal justice for women. They changed society as a whole by not only supporting the economic advancement of women; but also allowing them to seek higher education.


Almquist, Vicki. “Women’s Equity Action League Closes Its Doors.”Proquest, 4th ed., vol. 2, Minerva’s Bulletin Board, 1989.

Burkett, Elinor. “Women’s Movement.”Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2 Aug. 2016,

Steenbergen, Candis. “Women’s Equity Action League.”Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 18 Dec. 2015, 

“WEAL Combats Discrimination.”Women in the Workplace,

“Women’s Equity Action League. Records of the Women’s Equity Action League, 1966-1979: A Finding Aid.”Women’s Equity Action League. Records of the Women’s Equity Action League, 1966-1979: A Finding Aid,



50 Year Tradition of Protests at Howard University over Black Equality in Education

March 1968 was a time of many protests in America and particularly in Washington D.C. Howard University stood at the center of this for a great deal of time. Howard University was a predominantly Black university that strived for strong education. Starting in 1965 protests were becoming more and more prevalent in society, beginning with a picket at Berkeley (Lowe and McDowell, 81). These student demonstrations started a ripple effect of student protests across the country. From 1965 until 1968, Howard University protests increased and additional issues of Black equality surfaced.

The Howard University Protest of March 1968 was located inside the School’s Administration Building where students congregated to get a reaction from school officials. The seizure of a university building pushed classes to be canceled for nearly a week. Several hundred students had rushed into the building and were insisting that their demands were to be met. A freshman at Howard in 1968, Jeffery Fearing, remembers students bringing mattresses from their dorms and into the administration building as part of the protest. These protests caused great controversy throughout the entire school. With many students involved, this event became monumental in history and especially a key part of 1968 as a year of turmoil. Students were fighting for their freedom and even though there was excitement about trying to protect these rights, there was also concern about the risk of being expelled. During 1968 and at the age of 18 you were required to enlist into the draft for the Vietnam War. However, there was a rule that stated while one was in college that they would be exempt. Therefore, the idea of pushing this protest to the limit worried many students who risked becoming expelled and later drafted (Heim, 1-2).

Students brought mattresses to the administration building during the protests.


The main demands that were being specified included the students pushing for changes in administrative policies, wanting more input in academic choices, and emphasizing the “relevance” of this Black university (Lowe and McDowell, 81). This word “relevance” is of great importance for these struggles as it’s emphasizing not only what you learn in a classroom but how you make it usable in real life situations (McDowell, Gilbert, and Doris, 385). Some of the specific demands that were requested included the official resignation of the President, James M. Nabrit Jr., removing obligatory ROTC participation, and the creation of African American history and culture programs. All of these demands relate back to getting equal rights throughout the university and conserving the idea of Howard being a historically Black school (Heim, 2).

After this 1968 protest, controversy struck up again in 1989. This event occurring only a little over twenty years after the first protest shows the importance and continuity of these ideas still today. This March 1989 protest, once again at the administration building, pushed for the university to reestablish itself as a Black university. The alumni from both of these years emphasized how the same issues were still reoccurring and now at 50 years that it has become a trend.

1968 protesters ensuring their voices are heard and representing Howard University as a Black university.


These protests are still causing issues today and as the 50th anniversary just passed us, we see the relevance that they still hold. The memory of the 1968 protest is not only present but now instrumentalization acts to put the memory to use. Although these protests seem to have happened over night, they went through a planning process that took months. On the 50th anniversary protests occurred once again asking for similar demands. These nine demands were created to encourage a broader view throughout the country (Heim, 1-3). Now 50 years later, the students demanded affordable housing, ensuring student safety is of the upmost importance with mental health and sexual assault prevention, and eliminating unnecessary tuition increases. Although these broader demands differ from those of 1968,  the overarching theme of all three of these protests has included Black rights and equality in education. The demand list was sent out on Sunday, March 25th 2018 and by Thursday, students were already crowded into the administrative building just like in 1968. This 50th anniversary of a protest turned itself into the longest protest in Howard University’s history. Although this is a very particular memory with the dates of the protest, it can be viewed as a partial memory in that multiple stories are heard about the exact background of these issues.

2018 protesters outside the administration building as they begin their protest over Black rights and education.


This 2018 protest is not only based upon these new demands but historic parts of this Black university. Students argue of “administrative negligence” and how this school needs to be emphasized as a safe place for Black students (Held, 1). They are calling for change and respect of equality in races. University students of 1968 returned for this rally. They believed that although issues with housing, tuition and self-determination are still apparent, the emphasis has shifted to centering the university around the student body (Heim, 2).

1968’s protests were ended by acceptance of some of the student demands, with the most important being African American studies added as an important topic of study at the university. However, the student equality issues were bigger than just Howard University and needed to be recognized throughout the US. These student protests represented voices that were not being heard. Students were protesting for their rights, and emphasizing the need for permanent changes as these stories can come and go even if we want them to last forever. This one protest is still prevalent today as 21 years later and 50 years later the university is still in the same position. This is a processual memory that continues to be important throughout many years. Howard University’s protest of 1968 serves as a memory of where we started with Black equality and the fight that is still occurring today.

A link to a source about Shirley Chisholm who spoke after the 1968 protests.

Works Cited:

Heim, Joe. “Echoes of the Past Reverberated in Howard University Student Occupation.” The Washington Post, WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post, 7 Apr. 2018,

Held, Amy. “One Week And Counting: Howard University Student Protesters Still Aren’t Budging.”  The Two-Way [BLOG]; Washington, NPR, 5 Apr. 2018,

Lowe, Gilbert, and Sophia McDowell. “Participant-Nonparticipant Differences in the Howard University Student Protest.” The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 40, no. 1,

McDowell, Sophia, et al. “Howard University’s Student Protest Movement.” Oxford Journals, vol. 34, no. 3,

Posted by: Rachel Sorensen

Aretha Franklin: Paying R-E-S-P-E-C-T to an American Icon

In 1965, renowned soul singer Otis Redding released a song, titled “Respect”, in an attempt to connect with working class men. Drawing upon the traditional family values at the time, Redding croons “Hey, little girl, you’re so sweeter than honey, and I’m about to give you all my money, but all I’m askin’, hey, is a little respect when I get home.” The song was a minor hit, but failed to gain significant traction following its release [7]. How can it be possible, then, that only two years later, a gospel singer from Detroit would transform Redding’s tune into a ubiquitous feminist and civil rights anthem?

On Valentine’s Day, 1967, Aretha Franklin walked into a New York City recording studio and belted what would become the most iconic seven letters in pop music. When her cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” was released two months later, it took the charts by storm, quickly becoming a number one hit, and catapulting the little-known gospel singer into a pop superstar [2]. Franklin’s “Respect” took off due to the song’s significance on both a personal and societal level.

Franklin chose to cover “Respect” for personal reasons. Drawing on issues on her own marriage at the time for inspiration, Franklin made subtle changes to Redding’s lyrics, including changing the aforementioned lyric from the original into “Ooo your kisses, sweeter than honey… And guess what? So is my money” [2]. She also added a new bridge to the song, which became one of the most iconic moments in music history. Asserting, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me!” along with the iconic “sock it to me!”, Franklin vents her sexual frustrations and desire for equal favor in a manner that completely subverts the meaning or Redding’s original song.

Franklin’s changes that made the song fit her own situation also satisfied a subconscious societal demand for this type of music. “Respect” immediately became a universal vernacular anthem of the Civil Rights movement and the feminist movement, both of which had picked up steam by the late 1960’s. Arguably most important, however, is that Franklin herself was a black woman, assertively asking for sexual appreciation in a way that perfectly aligned with the urgent nature of both movements. This shows the usability and unpredictability of human memory. While the meaning of “Respect” revolves around Franklin’s personal experiences, the fervent nature of the song and Franklin’s powerful vocals can make a good case that the song was written specifically to be used in these movements.

In 1968, the vernacular narrative of Franklin as a cultural leader in the Civil Rights movement became an official one. On February 16th of that year, then-Detroit mayor Jerome P. Cavanaugh designated the day as Aretha Franklin Day, dedicated to honoring her and her legacy [4]. Accompanying Franklin in the celebration was none other than Martin Luther King Jr., only two months before his assassination [5]. Franklin’s official recognition in 1968 continued, with her winning the Grammy award for “Best Female R&B Performance” and featured on the cover of TIME Magazine that June (Include this as a picture) [1][6]. Franklin, very self-aware, realized the impact she had on the social movements at the time and often performed publicly in support of King, actually a long-time family friend [5].

After seeing the vernacular and official reactions to Franklin’s cover, Otis Redding was ambivalent towards its success. Redding was not very pleased with Franklin garnering all of the praise for his song, but took it in stride and was admittedly impressed with Franklin’s rendition. When Redding performed the song at the Monterey Pop Festival in October 1967, he announced the song by saying “This next song is a song that a girl took away from me… she just took this song, but I’m still gonna do it anyway”. While the words sound negative on paper, the charm in Redding’s voice signals his appreciation for Franklin’s adaptation and the success she was able to achieve [7].

Today, any reference to “Respect” implies Franklin’s version, which remains a universally known and celebrated song. Rolling Stone recently labeled Franklin’s “Respect” as one of the five best songs of all time, dubbing it “the single that established her as the Queen of Soul” [2] . While Rolling Stone’s write-up does praise the song based on Franklin’s original intentions for it, there is little doubt that without the cultural momentum it capitalized on, “Respect” would have been able to amass the significance and longevity that it received. The song was released 51 years ago, and its ability to capture both Franklin’s particular desires as well as the universal trends that were reshaping American society at the time convey deep truths about the way American memory operates.



[1] “11th Annual GRAMMY Awards.”, 28 Nov. 2017,

[2] “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 7 Apr. 2011,

[3] “Aretha Franklin.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 19 Mar. 2018,

[4] “Celebrating Aretha Franklin Day.” IHeartRadio, 18 Feb. 2018,

[5] Dobkin, Matt. I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You: Aretha Franklin, Respect, and the Making of a Soul Music Masterpiece. St. Martins Griffin, 2006.

[6] “June 28, 1968 | Vol. 91 No. 28.” Time, Time Inc.,,9263,7601680628,00.html.

[7] NPR Staff. “’Respect’ Wasn’t A Feminist Anthem Until Aretha Franklin Made It One.” NPR, NPR, 14 Feb. 2017,