As the 1950s drew to a close numerous commentators bemoaned the placidity of the times. Society seemed self-absorbed, complacent, even bored. Students swallowed goldfish and prepared themselves for jobs on the corporate ladder (or, in the case of women, for raising children). Old Left and pacifist organizations dwindled in size and significance. Unions stagnated and worker militancy became a thing of the past. Social critics dubbed youths the "silent generation " and announced that we had entered an era in which ideological differences mattered little.
The sit-ins served notice that much of this commentary had been groundless. Students flocked to the civil rights movement;, radical organizations emerged and the counterculture flourished. By the end of the decade, one Gallup Poll revealed that Americans considered student unrest to be the nation's number one problem, more so than inflation, unemployment, crime, or taxes. Vietnam became synonymous with a nightmare abroad and never-ending demonstrations at home. Women, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, gay men and women formed their own liberation movements.
This chapter contains documents written by activists representing different facets of "the movement, " as the collection of social protests came to be known. One theme that stands out is the link between the civil rights movement and the many other movements of the decade. The specter of black men and women risking their lives for freedom inspired others to do the same. As Bernice Reagon observed, the challenging of one boundary or barrier led to the challenging of others. In addition, many activists moved from the struggles against white supremacy in the South in the early 1960s to other liberation movements in the