Rights on the Other Side of
the Cold War Divide
MANY AMERICANS TOOK PART IN STRUGGLES FOR RIGHTS DURING the period from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. In the last half of the 1950s, and the first half of the 1960s, efforts to promote racial equality in the South took center stage, starting with the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, which came at a time when southern cities and states were resisting compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. During those same years, there were also battles on college campuses and elsewhere over restrictions on speech and association left over from the early 1950s, when Senator Joseph McCarthy was riding high. By the mid-1960s, the issues that galvanized rights advocates in the United States were protests over the war in Vietnam and the closely connected issue of the rights of opponents of the draft. In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon’s violations of civil liberties had the unanticipated effect of mobilizing additional support for the rights cause, which contributed to his own forced resignation from office.
Though it was a fertile period for those promoting rights within the United States, few Americans were concerned in those years with efforts to secure rights in other parts of the world. The emergence of a rights movement in the Soviet Union in the 1960s was little noted, and relatively few in the U.S. joined Amnesty International, which developed far more rapidly in Europe. Americans concerned about rights in that era could be