THE CIVIL RIGHTS Movement and the escalating war in Vietnam were the two great catalysts for social protest in the sixties. Since the end of the Civil War many organizations had been created to promote the goals of racial justice and equality in America, but progress was painfully slow. It was not until the sixties that a hundred years of effort would begin to garner the attention necessary to force a modicum of change. There was little consensus on how to promote equality on a national level --groups such as the NAACP, CORE, and Dr. Martin Luther King's SCLC, endorsed peaceful methods and believed change could be affected by working around the established system; other groups such as the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Nationalist Movement advocated retaliatory violence and a separation of the races. There were numerous marches, rallies, strikes, riots, and violent confrontations with the police. National leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X would be assassinated, violence would claim the lives of young and old, and rigged all-white juries mocked justice in cases involving crimes perpetrated by whites against African Americans. Restaurants, hotels, night clubs, public facilities, and the school systems were still segregated during the early sixties, and educational and job opportunities for minorities were far below those available to the white majority. The African-American community, being in the minority, depended on the support of the white population, and at least in terms of sentiment, those caught up in the spirit of the hippie movement took the cause of racial justice and equality to heart, and often to the streets. 

Where Do We Go from Here

Martin Luther King, Jr. Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community.
Boston: Beacon Press, 1967.
Special Collections Department

THE MOST INFLUENTIAL and well known of the Black leaders that emerged in the sixties, Dr. Martin Luther King, was president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He and his followers organized numerous marches, rallies, and strikes to call attention to the systematic discrimination against minorities that was endemic in American society. His belief was in nonviolent confrontation with the authorities and a prodding of the conscience of the white majority to effect social change. He convinced President Kennedy and later President Johnson to push for legislation to end discrimination and was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1964. On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated in Memphis while there to organize a garbage workers strike.

To bear witness

To Bear Witness.
Boston: Unitarian Freedom Fund, 1965.
Special Collections Department

TO BEAR WITNESS is a pictorial essay of one of the most celebrated marches of the Civil Rights era. Organized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., supporters attempted to march from Selma to the Alabama State Capitol on March 7th, 1965. That rally was broken up by police who were televised beating men, women, and children, and dispersing the crowds with water cannons and attack dogs. On March 17, United States District Judge Frank M. Johnson, ordered state and county officials "to permit and protect" the marchers on the fifty mile walk from Selma, Alabama, to the courthouse in Montgomery. The National Guard was called out to preserve the peace and on March 25th the protesters began the march. It was estimated that forty thousand men, women, and children completed the journey.

Fight for Freedom

Langston Hughes. Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP.
New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1962.
Special Collections Department

FOUNDED IN 1909, the NAACP was formed from an organization of black militants called the Niagara Movement led by W.E.B. DuBois. DuBois became the editor of the NAACP publication, CRISIS. The NAACP focused on litigation, legislation, and education to achieve racial equality in America. Through the ensuing decades there would be many legal battles, often in the Supreme Court, and the organization gained renown for these hard fought, though often slowly won victories. In 1967, the NAACP boasted a membership of over 400,000, but it was often criticized by other black organizations for not being more radical in its efforts to effect equality. Langston Hughes, celebrated novelist, poet, playwright, and essayist, wrote this history of the most enduring of all the civil rights organizations.

Autobiography of Malcolm X

Malcolm X and Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
New York: Grove Press, 1966.
Special Collections Department

BORN MALCOLM LITTLE, Malcolm X began his real education in a prison library where he was serving time for robbery. Upon his release, he joined the Nation of Islam whose leader Elijah Muhammad preached that the black race was superior to the white, that the white race was inherently evil, and that total separation was the only way to achieve racial equality. Malcolm X rose quickly through the ranks, attracting numerous converts with his fiery oratory skills, organizational abilities, and tireless work. In 1964, disturbed by Elijah Muhammad's accumulation of wealth, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and started his own organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which vowed to promote greater harmony among all nationalities and races. He was warned repeatedly that some of his former associates were plotting to kill him, and on February 22, 1965 three men shot him to death as he gave a speech in the Harlem Ballroom.

Soul on Ice

Eldridge Cleaver. Soul on Ice.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.
Special Collections Department

SOUL ON ICE, a series of essays about the situation of alienated blacks in America, was written while Cleaver was in prison serving time for drug dealing and rape. Inspired by the teachings of Malcolm X and believing that armed insurrection and the establishment of a separatist black state was the only way to achieve racial equality, Cleaver, upon release from jail, joined the Black Panthers and was appointed their Minister of Information. Despite the great success of Soul on Ice and the acclaim Cleaver garnered from the white liberal and black communities, he was arrested in 1968 in a shootout with police. One Panther was killed, and Cleaver and a police officer were wounded. Rather than face charges, Cleaver fled the country and began a seven-year tour of communist and Muslim countries such as Cuba, Algeria, North Vietnam, and the Soviet Union, where he was welcomed as a celebrity political prisoner. In 1975, disenchanted with the actual workings of communism, Cleaver returned to the United States to face federal charges. The most serious of the charges were dropped and he was sentenced to serve 1,200 hours of community service. Cleaver later toured the country giving talks that were inspired by his conversion to Christianity.

Black Power

Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America.
New York: Vintage Books, 1967.
Special Collections Department

STOKELY CARMICHAEL BECAME president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1966 where he gained national prominence as the originator of the term "Black Power." He had been active in the organization during the Freedom Rides and had run a successful campaign to increase voter registration in Lowndes County, Mississippi. In 1967, Carmichael left the SNCC and joined the Black Panthers where he rose to the position of Prime Minister. This book, written with Charles V. Hamilton, is a call for "black people . . . to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community . . . to define their goals, to lead their own organizations, and to support those organizations . . . a call to reject the racist institutions and values of this society." Frustrated with the Panther's seeming acquiescence to white radicals, Carmichael resigned in 1969 and left the country to live in Guinea, West Africa.


LeRoi Jones. Home.
New York: William Morrow & Co., 1966.
Special Collections Department

LEROI JONES, WHO took the Muslim name Amiri Baraka, was one of the most influential of the Beat poets and playwrights. By the mid-sixties, he was promoting separatist ideals and no longer felt he could associate with whites, including his former wife, Hettie, and their children. His writings of this period reflected a militant's perspective and called for a complete separation of the races. Some of the essays in this book include, "Black is a Country," "What does Non-violence Mean," and "The Legacy of Malcolm X and the Coming of the Black Nation." By the early seventies, Jones began to see intolerance and racism in the advocacy of separatism, and his work changed to reflect a new perspective that attempted to unify all races.