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

By Simon Hall | Go to book overview

Conclusion

Although every major civil rights group would come to oppose the war in Vietnam, they did so at different times and for different reasons. Understanding the reasons behind the contrasting response of black groups to the war helps to sharpen our perceptions of the civil rights movement itself. When, in January 1966, SNCC bitterly denounced the war in Vietnam, they were not merely subscribing to leftist dogma.1 When Roy Wilkins asked whether it was wrong for people to be patriotic and to support American troops fighting abroad, he was not simply towing the Johnson Administration line.2 The way in which civil rights groups responded to the war in Vietnam was shaped by a number of factors. Generational considerations had a part to play, with younger activists more likely to dismiss the pragmatic rationale for not opposing the war, for example. However, civil rights workers’ experiences in the black freedom struggle had a fundamental impact on how they viewed the conflict in Southeast Asia. It should come as no surprise that SNCC, the group most dedicated to grassroots organizing, was the first to publicly oppose the war in Vietnam.

Activists on the front lines of the black freedom struggle in the early 1960s learned some sobering lessons about white America. They realized that the federal government was not prepared to protect their lives. They discovered that the national media and white northerners took more notice when a white rather than a black activist was killed. They also learned that liberal Democrats were prepared to compromise their principles (and their black allies) for political expediency. The experiences of grassroots activists in the small towns and rural communities of the Deep South helped to transform them into radicals, made them much more critical of the United States, and explains why they were willing to oppose the war in Vietnam. James Forman understood that “five years of struggle had radically changed … many people, changed them from idealistic reformers to full-time revolutionaries.”3 The summer of 1964 stands as a turning point in the history of the civil rights movement. The rejection of the Freedom Democratic Party at Atlantic City, coming as it did at the end of a tumultuous summer of activism in Mississippi,

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Organizing Tradition 13
  • Chapter 2 - Black Power 39
  • Chapter 3 - Black Moderates 80
  • Chapter 4 - Racial Tensions 105
  • Chapter 5 - Radicalism and Respectability 141
  • Chapter 6 - New Coalitions, Old Problems 167
  • Conclusion 187
  • Notes 195
  • Bibliography 235
  • Index 255
  • Acknowledgments 263
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