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Massive black rebellions, constant strikes, gigantic anti-war demonstrations,
draft resistance, Cuba, Vietnam, Algeria, a cultural revolution of seven
hundred million Chinese, occupations, red power, the rising of women,
disobedience and sabotage, communes & marijuana: amongst this chaos,
there was a generation of youths looking to set their own standard – to fight
against the establishment, which was oppressing them, and leave their mark
on history. These kids were known as the hippies. There were many stereotypes
concerning hippies; they were thought of as being pot smoking, freeloading
vagabonds, who were trying to save the world. As this small pocket of teenage
rebellion rose out of the suburbs, inner cities, and countryside’s,
there was a general feeling that the hippies were a product of drugs, and
rock music; this generalization could have never been more wrong. The hippie
counterculture was more than just a product of drugs and music, but a result
of the change that was sweeping the entire western world. These changes were
brought about by various events in both the fifties and the sixties, such
as: the end of the “Golden Years” of the fifties, the changing economical
state from the fifties to the sixties, the Black Panther Party, women moving
into the work force, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and John
F. Kennedy Jr., the war in Vietnam, the Kent State protest, and finally the
The electric subcurrent of the fifties was, above all, rock’n’roll,
the live wire that linked bedazzled teenagers around the nation, and quickly
around the world, into the common enterprise of being young. Rock was rough,
raw, insistent, especially by comparison with the music it replaced; it whooped
and groaned, shook, rattled, and rolled. Rock was clamor, the noise of youth
submerged by order and prosperity, now frantically clawing their way out.
The winds of change began to sweep across America in the late fifties. The
political unrest came with fear of thermo-nuclear war and the shadow that
had been cast by Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. The civil rights leaders were unhappy
with President Eisenhower’s reluctance to use his powers for their cause,
in spite of the fact that the nation was becoming more receptive to civil
rights reforms. With black organizations becoming more militant, Eisenhower
needed to acknowledge the growing movement, and govern accordingly.
World politics were still dominated by the conflict between the capitalist
nations, led by the USA, and the Communist countries, led by the USSR. The
bonds that were keeping people loyal to their leaders were breaking down.
In 1960 there was a major split between Russia and China. The Chinese decided
that the Russians were betraying Communism and set off on what they hoped
would be the world revolution against capitalism.
During the fifties, the economic situation was in a constant state of growth.
The United States were prospering and the government was clinging to the
“golden years.” The rise of the giant corporations had a profound effect
on American life. A few hundred corporations controlled much of the
nation’s industrial and commercial assets and enjoyed a near monopoly
in some areas. The mega corporations dominated the seats of economic and
political power. They employed millions of workers, a large percentage of
whom populated the suburbs that were growing across the country.
The changing American economy also experienced dramatic shifts in the composition
of the work force. Fewer workers went into traditional fields such as
manufacturing, agriculture, and mining, and more went into clerical, managerial,
professional, and service fields. In 1956, for the first time in the
nation’s history, white collar workers outnumbered blue collar ones,
“and by the end of the decade blue collar workers constituted only 45 percent
of the work force.” The sexual composition of the work force also changed
as more and more women entered the labor market. The influx of women into
the work world that had been accelerated by the Second World War continued
in the postwar period.
The political groups, and the negative feelings that they harbored towards
the present administration, only kindled the flames of revolution. The previous
generation was clinging to the “good times” of the fifties, and the youth
were looking for a niche to call their own. With the drastic change in child
population after the Second World War, divorce became less taboo. As a result,
single mothers were forced into the labor market, and with these jobs came
independence. The 50’s and all its political, and social change, was
only the breeding ground for the free thinking generation that was to follow.
In America, a group of militant blacks called the “Black Panther Party” had
been dubbed “American’s Vietcong.” They were tired with the roadblocks
and discrimination that were plaguing the civil rights leaders, like Dr.
Martin Luther King. They decided to get equality by whatever means necessary.
Their members had been involved in shoot-outs with the police, which were,
by the radical community, dress rehearsals for the coming Armageddon.
The hippie movement was new in the early 60’s, the men only beginning
to grow their hair long and some of them still wearing suits, the women as
yet uncertain about fitting in. The introduction of the television in the
50’s brought a new information medium to the general public. With
television, people became more informed, and developed individual opinions,
instead of the bias opinions that were “spoon fed” to them by newspapers,
radio etc.. The youth began to break free of the shackles that were the fifties.
They considered their parents conformists , and they wanted a way to break
free of the molds cast for them.
As a reaction to the growing violence of the 1960’s, many people turned
to the ideals of peace and love. Ironically, many of those who were seen
to be in favor of peace – including President John Kennedy, his brother Bobby,
the black civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and many unarmed civil
rights workers – were themselves murdered. The horrors of the war in Vietnam
dramatized what many saw as drift towards destruction, and their reaction
was to seek a genuinely peaceful way of life. Across the world, youth took
up the slogan “Make Love not War”, and the Love Generation emerged. Many
of these were hippies – people who dropped out of conventional society to
take up a lifestyle based on peace, loving relationships and often mystical
religions. Many more who were not fully hippies were influenced by their
ideas and fashions, especially using the soft drug cannabis and the
hallucinogenic drug LSD.
“The New Era” referred to Kennedy promising vigorous attempt to manage a
world whose old stabilities had broken down. Kennedy received credit for
recognizing that international and domestic crises required an active response,
even if that response was “mediating, rationalizing, and managerial,” a policy
of “aggressive tokenism.” Abroad, the new frontier had the virtue of working
towards “political stabilization” with the Russians; it was deeply committed
to avoiding nuclear war – although Kennedy showed no interested in general
Meanwhile Black Americans took President Kennedy at his word and pressed
for civil rights against racial discrimination. On 20 May, 1963 , “400 federal
marshals (government policemen) had to be sent to Montgomery, Alabama, after
a peaceful demonstration by black people had been attacked by a mob of 1500
whites.” Local police had refused to act, even though this was the third
attack on blacks in a week. “On 21 May, 1963, 100 whites attacked the church
where the black leader, Martin Luther King, was preaching. The demonstrators
continued despite this when black Freedom Riders, calling for civil rights
for blacks, marched through Alabama and Mississippi to New Orleans. 27 Black
freedom Riders were arrested when they arrived in Jackson Mississippi.”
On 12 June 1964, the President Kennedy sent a Civil Rights Bill to Congress,
which, if passed, would make equality a legal right. “On 28 August, 1964,
between 100,000 and 200,000 black people, led by Martin Luther King,” marched
in Washington in support of the Civil Rights Bill. But the violence still
did not stop. In September, 1964, a black man was shot dead in Alabama, four
blacks were killed when a church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed, Medger
Evers of the Advancement of Colored People was murdered, and six black children
were killed when a house was burnt down.
Kennedy had been a controversial President. Many Americans opposed his support
for black people, while others were angry at his failure to kick the Communists
out of Cuba. The extreme right wing had threatened to kill him, but no one
took these threats seriously. Kennedy had been warned it was a dangerous
to drive through the streets of Dallas in an open car. The President felt
that he should be able to drive openly anywhere in the country, and few people
On 22 November, 1963 as Kennedy drove slowly through crowd-lined streets
of Dallas in an open car, together with his wife, Jackie, and Governor Connally
of Texas, three or more shots were fired at the car. Kennedy was shot through
the throat and head, and Governor Connally was also hit. The President’s
driver immediately raced for the Parkland Hospital, with Jackie Kennedy covered
in her husbands blood cradling her husband’s head. With those fatal
shots, came the end of “Camelot” as his administration was referred to as.
On April 4 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. That night,
eighty riots broke out. Federal troops were dispatched into Baltimore, Chicago,
Washington, and Wilmington. “Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, ordered police
to shoot to kill arsonists and the main looters.” The actions by Richard
J. Daley, were a sign of respect of King. Ironically, a year before, Daley
was against having King speak in the city of Chicago.
King’s following had fallen off in the years leading up to his death.
His moment had passed. Since the triumph of his Slema campaign, which climaxed
in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, he had turned to the urban poor, but his strategy
of nonviolence, national publicity, and coalition-building seemed unavailing.
Just a week before his death, his hopes for a non violence march in Memphis,
in support of striking garbage workers, had been dashed by the window-smashing
of a few dozen black teenagers. King had become a hero without a strategy,
but a hero he undeniably was at a moment when the larger movement craved
heroes and disowned them with equal passion. For liberals, even for many
black militants and radicals, he was the last black hope. When he was murdered,
it seemed that nonviolence went to the grave with him, and the movement was
“free at last” from restraint.
There are times when an entire culture takes the shape of a single event,
like rows of iron fillings lined up by the force of a magnet. What is
assassination, after all, if not the ultimate reminder of the citizen’s
helplessness – or even repressed murderousness? Instantly the killing creates
an abrupt contest between Good and Evil, albeit with a wrong ending. With
the enlightened establishment’s great men gunned down, a self-proclaimed
black revolutionary gunned down, there was an eerie feeling among the common
people, a democracy of sudden death. The southern civil rights movement had
been deeply bloodied, of course. Dozens of blacks were killed in the urban
riots of the North from 1964 on, and, as we have already seen, the riots
of the North inspired the white radicals to start a movement of their own.
These radicals would take the form of the “Hippy.”
In 1954 Vietnam had been divided into the Communist North, under Ho Chi Minh,
and capitalist South, under Ngo Dinh Diem, after the Communists had forced
the French to abandon Vietnam. Since 1954 a guerrilla force, the National
Liberation Front (know as the Vietcong), backed by the North, had been gradually
gaining strength. The United States had been sending arms to Diem since 1954,
and in 1960 President Kennedy decided to send American military advisors
to South Vietnam to train Diem’s army.
Just as the black movement was fighting for equality and civil rights, the
hippie movement took on the fight against the drafting of young men to Vietnam.
Many protests were staged throughout the 60’s to end the war, especially
the “March to End the War in Vietnam” held at the Independence memorial in
During 1965, the Vietnam War intensified. The USA put more and more effort
into it, and the South Vietnamese government’s lack of control became
apparent. In August it was estimated that the Vietcong controlled a quarter
of the country, the government about half and the rest was not controlled
by anyone. In the Vietcong area, the Communists had taken land from the few
rich landowners and given it to the many poor peasants. This obviously made
them more popular with the peasants. The south Vietnamese army was now too
weak to fight the Communists, and the US decided it would take over the fighting
leaving the Vietnamese to defend the land they controlled.
The war in Vietnam increased trouble in America. Blacks pointed out that
black soldiers in Vietnam suffered unfairly: “10% of the population of the
United States was Black, 12.5% of the American army was black, 14.6% of the
battle dead was black. On 23 April 1967, Muhammad Ali called the war “a race
war. Black men are being cut up by white men.” On 28 April 1967, Muhammad
refused the call-up to the US army. The World Boxing Association stripped
him of his world title, and on 21 June 1967, he was found guilty of avoiding
the draft. Muhammad Ali was given a five year jail sentence, and appealed.
By the first of August 1967, so many black uprisings had taken place during
the ‘Long Hot Summer’ that a map had to be produced to show where
they had taken place.
1967 had been the year of the hippies, peace and love. 1968 was a year dominated
by violence and ideas of revolution and change. It was the year of New Left
- socialists who rejected both capitalism and communism – whose ideas inspired
students revolt throughout the world. The New Left argued that violence was
caused by capitalism, and the continuing, escalating war in Vietnam, where
the most powerful capitalist force was waging war on a small Asian country.
As the Students moved to the Left, and the youth movement grew, so did the
idea of fighting back against the State. The idea of a single world revolution,
grew. On April 30, 1970, President Nixon ordered the “incursion” of Cambodia,
with this announcement the students went into action. By May 4, 1970, a hundred
student strikes were in progress across the country. At Kent State University
in Ohio, students burned down the ROTC building. On the same day, National
Guardsman at Kent State responded to taunts and a few rocks by firing their
M-1 rifles into a crowd of students, killing four, wounding nine others.
Kent State was a heartland school, far from elite, the very type of campus
where Nixons “silent majority” was supposed to be training.
After these and many other violent incidents at protests, the intensity of
the movement began to dwindle. The great changes that they were fighting
for were not coming about. The protests were not getting any sympathy or
support, and greater numbers of hippies left the protests and adopted a “peace
and love” side of things. The climax of the hippie movement was in Woodstock,
1969. It was where all of the violence and aggression of protesting was laid
aside and the true ambiance of the 60’s was expressed.
Woodstock, in June, had been the long-deferred Festival of Life. So said
not only Time and Newsweek but world-weary friends who had navigated the
traffic-blocked thruway and felt the new society emerging, half a million
strong, stoned and happy on that muddy farm north of New York City.
Both critics and fans concede that Woodstock has become part of the mythology
of the 1960s, even if the actual event did not necessarily represent the
musical or political taste of most young Americans at the time. Some say
it symbolized the freedom and idealism of the 1960s. Critics argue that Woodstock
represented much of what was wrong with the 60’s: a glorification of
drugs, a loosening of sexual morality and a socially corrosive disrespect
Whether one is a supporter or a critic, it is undeniable that Woodstock was
one of the major climaxes of the hippie movement: a culmination of all of
the peace and love ideals in one place. After Woodstock, the movement was
on the downswing. One could argue that Woodstock was the grand finale, with
the seventies arriving soon after it and there was a general “been there,
done that”(interview) mentality which created the seventies, a decade of
disco, and doom, never quite living up to the intensity of the sixties.
The 1960’s, then, did more than just “swing”. Many of the values and
conventions of the immediate post- war world were called into question, and
although many of the questions had not been satisfactorily answered by the
end of the decade, society would never be the same again.
In conclusion, the hippy culture arose as a result of vast political changes
occurring in North America and beyond and not as a result of drugs and music.
The drugs and music were a by-product of the hippy culture, but by no means
a reason for it’s occurrence. The previous pages cite the more relevant
political and social milestones, which, I believe were directly responsible
for the evolution of the hippy culture. These milestones affected everyone,
one way or another, either directly or indirectly. They changed the way people
thought. You would be hard pressed to find someone over the age of about
forty-five who, to this day, cannot remember what they were doing the day
Kennedy was shot, and how they were affected by it. The sixties simply evolved;
a microcosm of numerous political and social change that swept the then current
generation. The hippies were simply reacting to changes in society and, in
reacting to these changes, left an indelible mark on the history books of
Archer, Jales. The Incredible Sixties. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
Benson, Kathleen, and Haskins, James. The Sixties Reader. New York: Viking
Collier, Peter, Horowitz, David. Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts
About the’60s. New York: Summit, 1989.
Dickstein, Morris. Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties. New York:
Basic Books, 1977.
Gitlin, Todd. The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. New York: Bantam,
Ingham, John. Sex’N’Drugs’N’Rock’N’Roll. Toronto:
Canadian Scholars Press, 1988.
Kostash, Myrna. Long Way From Home:The Story of the Sixties Generation in
Canada. Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 1980.
Martin, Elizabeth. 57 Edgemore Dr., Etobicoke, Ontario. Interview, 12 February
Oakley, Ronald. God’s Country: America in the Fifties. New York: Red
Rosen, Obst. The Sixties: The Decade Remembered Now, by the People Who Lived
Them. Toronto: Random House Publisher, 1977.
Roy, Andy. Great Assassinations. New York: Independent Publishing, 1994.
Stern, Jane, and Micheal. Sixties People. New York: Knopf, 1990.
Tucker, Ken, and Stokes, Geoffrey, and Ward, Ed. Rock of Ages: The Rolling
Stone History of Rock and Roll. New York: Rolling Stone Press, 1986.
Weiss, Bill. King And His Struggles. New York: Penny Publishing, 1987.
Yinger, Milton. Countercultures: The Promise and Peril of a world Turned
Upside Down. New York:
Macmillan Publishing, 1982.
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