Daily Life in the United States, 1960-1990: Decades of Discord

By Myron A. Marty | Go to book overview

10 Civil Rights and Group Identities

By the late 1960s it was obvious that if enacting civil rights laws was difficult, changing practices was going to be even harder. Still harder was changing attitudes. Growing impatience by blacks was understandable. A year after his speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, when he spoke hopefully of his dream that "someday" freedom would ring in America, Martin Luther King, Jr. published a book entitled Why We Can't Wait. Challenges to his leadership by more radical figures--Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and the Black Panthers, among others--and changing circumstances in 1967 compelled him to become more radical too.

African Americans

Television networks that year brought the nation live coverage of riots in Detroit. Scenes of looting, fires, injuries, and deaths reminded viewers of the riots in Watts two years earlier. The next year a commission appointed by President Johnson to investigate the causes of civil disorders formally reported that the United States was moving toward two societies, "one black, one white--separate and unequal."

Did it have to be that way? In the year that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke passionately of his dream for America, novelist James Baldwin acknowledged that creating one nation had proved to be "a hideously difficult task." The past that blacks had endured, a past "of rope, fire, torture, castration, infanticide, rape; death and humiliation; fear by day and night, fear as deep as the marrow of the bone," had forced them each day to "snatch their manhood, their identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it." In so doing, Baldwin wrote in The FireNext Time

The Fire Next Time

-87-

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