The 1960s Cultural Revolution

By John C. McWilliams | Go to book overview

2
The New Left and the End of Consensus

At 4:30 P.M., on February 1, 1960, four unknown "well-dressed Negro students" from North Carolina A&T College entered the Woolworth store in Greensboro. An hour later they had secured their place in history. In an impulsive act of defiance, they challenged the store's discriminatory policy by refusing to leave until they were served a cup of coffee at the "whites-only" lunch counter. The bold action of these student activists set in motion a revolution that won the admiration of young white northerners and forged an informal alliance between them and southern blacks. By the end of February, the Woolworth sit-in was repeated in twenty southern cities.1 The sit-ins helped set a pattern for other attacks on the status quo in the early 1960s and had a catalytic effect on the emergence of what sociologist C. Wright Mills called the "New Left."2 A combination of idealism, rising expectations, and a huge baby boomer generation fueled "the Movement," as it was more popularly referred to. It was short-lived, lasting only a decade, but by 1970, it had profoundly altered the nation's institutions, its citizens, and even its conscience.


"WE DIDN'T START THE FIRE": REVOLUTIONARIES IN THE MAKING

The wave of radicalism that swept over the United States in the 1960s was part of the same thread interwoven in American political culture since the colonial era. Samuel Adams and his Sons of Liberty, almost always portrayed in history textbooks as American patriots. were radicals in their

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