Peace and Freedom: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements of the 1960s

Peace and Freedom: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements of the 1960s

Peace and Freedom: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements of the 1960s

Peace and Freedom: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements of the 1960s

Synopsis

Two great social causes held center stage in American politics in the 1960s: the civil rights movement and the antiwar groundswell in the face of a deepening American military commitment in Vietnam. In Peace and Freedom, Simon Hall explores two linked themes: the civil rights movement's response to the war in Vietnam on the one hand and, on the other, the relationship between the black groups that opposed the war and the mainstream peace movement. Based on comprehensive archival research, the book weaves together local and national stories to offer an illuminating and judicious chronicle of these movements, demonstrating how their increasingly radicalized components both found common cause and provoked mutual antipathies.

Peace and Freedom shows how and why the civil rights movement responded to the war in differing ways--explaining black militants' hostility toward the war while also providing a sympathetic treatment of those organizations and leaders reluctant to take a stand. And, while Black Power, counterculturalism, and left-wing factionalism all made interracial coalition-building more difficult, the book argues that it was the peace movement's reluctance to link the struggle to end the war with the fight against racism at home that ultimately prevented the two movements from cooperating more fully. Considering the historical relationship between the civil rights movement and foreign policy, Hall also offers an in-depth look at the history of black America's links with the American left and with pacifism.

With its keen insights into one of the most controversial decades in American history, Peace and Freedom recaptures the immediacy and importance of the time.

Excerpt

In February 1966, world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali was in Miami, training for his title defense against Ernie “the Octopus” Terrell. One afternoon a television reporter sought All’s reaction to the news that the Louisville Draft Board had upgraded his draft status from 1-Y to 1-A, thereby making him eligible for immediate induction into the United States Army. All’s retort, “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong,” helped define an era. Fourteen months later Ali refused induction, explaining “I am not going ten thousand miles from here to help murder and kill and burn another poor people simply to help continue the domination of white America.” All’s response to the war in Vietnam seemed to many to epitomize a new militancy within Black America. The October 1966 platform of the Black Panther Party demanded that all African Americans be exempted from military service—“Black people should not be forced to fight … to defend a racist government that does not protect us.” The Panthers refused to “fight and kill other people of color who, like black people, are being victimized by the white racist government in America.” Stokely Carmichael and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) attacked the war too. Speaking at one antiwar march, Carmichael defined the draft as “white people sending black people to make war on yellow people to defend land they stole from red people.”

It was not just black militants who were critical of America’s actions in Vietnam. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the nation’s most important and most respected civil rights leader, also condemned the war in the strongest possible way. In the spring of 1967, King bitterly denounced the “madness of Vietnam” and called on his government to take the initiative in halting the conflict. Indeed, by the time that the Paris Peace Accords were signed in January 1973, every major civil rights leader had spoken out against the war.

The years between 1960 and 1972 saw the emergence of two of the most significant social movements in American history—the African American freedom struggle and the movement to end the war in . . .

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