Author:
Columbus State Community College
Subject:
History, U.S. History
Material Type:
Module
Level:
Community College / Lower Division, College Credit Plus
Tags:
American History, Cscc009, Primary Sources
License:
Creative Commons Attribution
Language:
English
Media Formats:
Downloadable docs, Text/HTML

Education Standards

HIST 1152 American History since 1877 Primary Source Readings 5: The Affluent Society and 1960s

Overview

A collection of primary source readings for American History since 1877.

What We Want

The primary source readings in this course align with  The American Yawp open textbook by Stanford University Press.  While the original The American Yawp is accompanied by its own primary source reader called The American Yawp Reader, the selection of primary sources you will find in this course differ somewhat in that some of the text excerpts are from the same sources but might feature a different selection from the text. Some of the primary sources in this course are in addition to those found in The American Yawp Reader. 

Microsoft Word and PDF downloads of these readings are available.

To take this course for credit, register at Columbus State Community College.

This work, except where otherwise indicated, by Jennifer Nardone at Columbus State Community College is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.

What We Want

Stokely Carmichael[1]

 

The early Civil Rights Movement focused on desegregation of public

 

 

 

Stokely Carmichael was a U.S. civil-rights activist who in the 1960s originated the black nationalism rallying slogan, “black power.” Born in Trinidad, he immigrated to New York City in 1952. While attending Howard University, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and was beaten and arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for his work with Freedom Rider in 1961. After graduating from Howard University in 1964, Carmichael joined SNCC’s Mississippi Freedom Summer project. From Mississippi, he moved to Lowndes County, Alabama, helping to organize the Black Panther Party. Carmichael served as President of SNCC in 1966, the same year he coined the phrase “Black Power.” This essay was published shortly after Carmichael first used the phrase in a speech in Greenwood, Mississippi.

 

 

One of the tragedies of the struggle against racism is that up to now there has been no national organization which could speak to the growing militancy of young black people in the urban ghetto. There has been only a civil rights movement, whose tone of voice was adapted to an audience of liberal whites. It served as a sort of buffer zone between them and angry young blacks. None of its so-called leaders could go into a rioting community and be listened to. In a sense, I blame ourselves—together with the mass media—for what has happened in Watts, Harlem, Chicago, Cleveland, Omaha. Each time the people in those cities saw Martin Luther King get slapped, they became angry; when they saw four little black girls bombed to death, they were angrier; and when nothing happened, they were steaming. We had nothing to offer that they could see, except to go out and be beaten again. We helped to build their frustration.

 

For too many years, black Americans marched and had their heads broken and got shot. They were saying to the country, “Look, you guys are supposed to be nice guys and we are only going to do what we are supposed to do—why do you beat us up, why don’t you give us what we ask, why don’t you straighten yourselves out?” After years of this, we are at almost the same point—because we demonstrated from a position of weakness. We cannot be expected any longer to march and have our heads broken in order to say to whites: come on, you’re nice guys. For you are not nice guys. We have found you out.

 

An organization which claims to speak for the needs of a community—as does the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—must speak in the tone of that community, not as somebody else’s buffer zone. This is the significance of black power as a slogan. For once, black people are going to use the words they want to use—not just the words whites want to hear. And they will do this no matter how often the press tries to stop the use of the slogan by equating it with racism or separatism. An organization which claims to be working for the needs of a community—as SNCC does—must work to provide that community with a position of strength from which to make its voice heard. This is the significance of black power beyond the slogan…

 

BLACK POWER can be clearly defined for those who do not attach the fears of white America to their questions about it. We should begin with the basic fact that black Americans have two problems: they are poor and they are black. All other problems arise from this two-sided reality: lack of education, the so-called apathy of black men. Any program to end racism must address itself to that double reality.

 

Almost from its beginning, SNCC sought to address itself to both conditions with a program aimed at winning political power for impoverished Southern blacks. We had to begin with politics because black Americans are a propertyless people in a country where property is valued above all. We had to work for power, because this country does not function by morality, love, and nonviolence, but by power. Thus we determined to win political power, with the idea of moving on from there into activity that would have economic effects. With power, the masses could make or participate in making the decisions which govern their destinies, and thus create basic change in their day-to-day lives.

 

But if political power seemed to be the key to self-determination, it was also obvious that the key had been thrown down a deep well many years earlier. Disenfranchisement, maintained by racist terror, makes it impossible to talk about organizing for political power in 1960. The right to vote had to be won, and SNCC workers devoted their energies to this from 1961 to 1965. They set up voter registration drives in the Deep South. They created pressure for the vote by holding mock elections in Mississippi in 1963 and by helping to establish the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in 1964. That struggle was eased, though not won, with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. SNCC workers could then address themselves to the question: “Who can we vote for, to have our needs met—how do we make our vote meaningful?”

 

SNCC had already gone to Atlantic City for recognition of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party by the Democratic convention and been rejected; it had gone with the MFDP to Washington for recognition by Congress and been rejected. In Arkansas, SNCC helped thirty Negroes to run for School Board elections; all but one were defeated, and there was evidence of fraud and intimidation sufficient to cause their defeat. In Atlanta, Julian Bond ran for the state legislature and was elected—twice—and unseated—twice. In several states, black farmers ran in elections for agricultural committees which make crucial decisions concerning land use, loans, etc. Although they won places on a number of committees, they never gained the majorities needed to control them.

 

…This is the specific historical experience from which SNCC’s call for “black power” emerged on the Mississippi march last July. But the concept of “black power” is not a recent or isolated phenomenon: It has grown out of the ferment of agitation and activity by different people and organizations in many black communities over the years…Where Negroes lack a majority, black power means proper representation and sharing of control. It means the creation of power bases from which black people can work to change statewide or nationwide patterns of oppression through pressure from strength—instead of weakness. Politically, black power means what it has always meant to SNCC: the coming-together of black people to elect representatives and to force those representatives to speak to their needs. It does not mean merely putting black faces into office.

 

ULTIMATELY, the economic foundations of this country must be shaken if black people are to control their lives. The colonies of the United States—and this includes the black ghettoes within its borders, north and south—must be liberated. For a century, this nation has been like an octopus of exploitation, its tentacles stretching from Mississippi and Harlem to South America, the Middle East, southern Africa, and Vietnam; the form of exploitation varies from area to area but the essential result has been the same—a powerful few have been maintained and enriched at the expense of the poor and voiceless colored masses. This pattern must be broken. As its grip loosens here and there around the world, the hopes of black Americans become more realistic. For racism to die, a totally different America must be born.

 

This is what the white society does not wish to face; this is why that society prefers to talk about integration. But integration speaks not at all to the problem of poverty, only to the problem of blackness. Integration today means the man who “makes it,” leaving his black brothers behind in the ghetto as fast as his new sports car will take him. It has no relevance to the Harlem wino or to the cotton-picker making three dollars a day…

 

Integration, moreover, speaks to the problem of blackness in a despicable way. As a goal, it has been based on complete acceptance of the fact that in order to have a decent house or education, blacks must move into a white neighborhood or send their children to a white school. This reinforces, among both black and white, the idea that “white” is automatically better and “black” is by definition inferior. This is why integration is a subterfuge for the maintenance of white supremacy. It allows the nation to focus on a handful of Southern children who get into white schools, at great price, and to ignore the 94 per cent who are left behind in unimproved all-black schools. Such situations will not change until black people have power—to control their own school boards, in this case. Then Negroes become equal in a way that means something, and integration ceases to be a one-way street. Then integration doesn’t mean draining skills and energies from the ghetto into white neighborhoods; then it can mean white people moving from Beverly Hills into Watts…then integration becomes relevant. Last April, before the furor over black power, Christopher Jencks wrote in a New Republic article on white Mississippi’s manipulation of the anti-poverty program:

 

The war on poverty has been predicated on the notion that there is such a thing as a community which can be defined geographically and mobilized for a collective effort to help the poor. This theory has no relationship to reality in the Deep South. In every Mississippi county there are two communities. Despite all the pious platitudes of the moderates on both sides, these two communities habitually see their interests in terms of conflict rather than cooperation. Only when the Negro community can muster enough political, economic and professional strength to compete on somewhat equal terms, will Negroes believe in the possibility of true cooperation and whites accept its necessity. En route to integration, the Negro community needs to develop greater independence—a chance to run its own affairs and not cave in whenever “the man” barks…Or so it seems to me, and to most of the knowledgeable people with whom I talked in Mississippi. To OEO, this judgment may sound like black nationalism…”[2]

 

MR. JENCKS, a white reporter, perceived the reason why America’s anti-poverty program has been a sick farce in both North and South. In the South, it is clearly racism which prevents the poor from running their own programs; in the North, it more often seems to be politicking and bureaucracy. But the results are not so different: In the North, non-whites make up 42 per cent of all families in metropolitan “poverty areas” and only 6 per cent of families in areas classified as not poor. SNCC has been working with local residents in Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi to achieve control by the poor of the program and its funds; it has also been working with groups in the North, and the struggle is no less difficult. Behind it all is a federal government which cares far more about winning the war on the Vietnamese than the war on poverty; which has put the poverty program in the hands of self-serving politicians and bureaucrats rather than the poor themselves; which is unwilling to curb the misuse of white power but quick to condemn black power.

 

To most whites, black power seems to mean that the Mau Mau are coming to the suburbs at night[3]. The Mau Mau are coming, and whites must stop them. Articles appear about plots to “get Whitey,” creating an atmosphere in which “law and order must be maintained.” Once again, responsibility is shifted from the oppressor to the oppressed…

 

White America will not face the problem of color, the reality of it. The well-intended say: “We’re all human, everybody is really decent, we must forget color.” But color cannot be “forgotten” until its weight is recognized and dealt with. White America will not acknowledge that the ways in which this country sees itself are contradicted by being black—and always have been. Whereas most of the people who settled this country came here for freedom or for economic opportunity, blacks were brought here to be slaves. When the Lowndes County Freedom Organization chose the black panther as its symbol, it was christened by the press “the Black Panther Party”—but the Alabama Democratic Party, whose symbol is a rooster, has never been called the White Cock Party. No one ever talked about “white power” because power in this country is white. All this adds up to more than merely identifying a group phenomenon by some catchy name or adjective. The furor over that black panther reveals the problems that white America has with color and sex; the furor over “black power” reveals how deep racism runs and the great fear which is attached to it.

 

WHITES WILL NOT SEE that I, for example, as a person oppressed because of my blackness, have common cause with other blacks who are oppressed because of blackness. This is not to say that there are no white people who see things as I do, but that it is black people I must speak to first. It must be the oppressed to whom SNCC addresses itself primarily, not to friends from the oppressing group.

 

From birth, black people are told a set of lies about themselves. We are told that we are lazy—yet I drive through the Delta area of Mississippi and watch black people picking cotton in the hot sun for fourteen hours. We are told, “If you work hard, you’ll succeed”—but if that were true, black people would own this country. We are oppressed because we are black—not because we are ignorant, not because we are lazy, not because we’re stupid (and got good rhythm), but because we’re black…But it takes time to become free of the lies and their shaming effect on black minds. It takes time to reject the most important lie: that black people inherently can’t do to same things white people can do, unless white people help them.

 

…This does not mean we don’t welcome help, or friends. But we want the right to decide whether anyone is, in fact, our friend…We will not be told whom we should choose as allies. We will not be isolated from any group or nation except by our own choice. We cannot have the oppressors telling the oppressed how to rid themselves of the oppressor.

 

I HAVE SAID that most liberal whites react to “black power” with the question, What about me?, rather than saying: Tell me what you want me to do and I’ll see if I can do it. There are answers to the right question. One of the most disturbing things about almost all white supporters of the movement has been that they are afraid to go into their own communities—which is where the racism exists—and work to get rid of it. They want to run from Berkeley to tell us what to do in Mississippi; let them look instead at Berkeley. They admonish blacks to be nonviolent; let them preach non-violence in the white community. They come to teach me Negro history; let them go to the suburbs and open up freedom schools for whites. Let them work to stop America’s racist foreign policy.

 

There is a vital job to be done among poor whites. We hope to see, eventually, a coalition between poor blacks and poor whites. That is the only coalition which seems acceptable to us, and we see such a coalition as the major internal instrument of change in American society. SNCC has tried several times to organize poor whites; we are trying again now, with an initial training program in Tennessee. It is purely academic today to talk about bringing poor blacks and whites together, but the job of creating a poor-white power bloc must be attempted.

 

The main responsibility for it falls upon whites. Black and white can work together in the white community where possible; it is not possible, however, to go into a poor Southern town and talk about integration. Poor whites everywhere are becoming more hostile—not less—partly because they see the nation’s attention focused on black poverty and nobody coming to them. Too many young middle-class Americans, like some sort of Pepsi generation, have wanted to come alive through the black community; they’ve wanted to be where the action is—and the action has been in the black community.

 

Black people do not want to “take over” this country. They don’t want to “get whitey”; they just want to get him off their backs, as the saying goes…But our vision is not merely of a society in which all black men have enough to buy the good things of life. When we urge that black money go into black pockets, we mean the communal pocket. We want to see money go back into the community and used to benefit it. We want to see the cooperative concept applied in business and banking. We want to see black ghetto residents demand that an exploiting store keeper sell them, at minimal cost, a building or a shop that they will own and improve cooperatively; they can back their demand with a rent strike, or a boycott, and a community so unified behind them that no one else will move into the building or buy at the store. The society we seek to build among black people, then, is not a capitalist one…

 

AS FOR WHITE AMERICA, perhaps it can stop crying out against “black supremacy,” “black nationalism,” “racism in reverse,” and begin facing reality. The reality is that this nation, from top to bottom, is racist; that racism is not primarily a problem of “human relations” but of an exploitation maintained—either actively or through silence—by the society as a whole. Camus and Sartre have asked, can a man condemn himself? Can whites, particularly liberal whites, condemn themselves? Can they stop blaming us, and blame their own system? Are they capable of the shame which might become a revolutionary emotion?

 

We have found that they usually cannot condemn themselves, and so we have done it. But the rebuilding of this society, if at all possible, is basically the responsibility of whites—not blacks. We won’t fight to save the present society, in Vietnam or anywhere else. We are just going to work, in the way we see fit, and on goals we define, not for civil rights but for all our human rights.

 

 

[1] Originally published in The New York Review of Books, September 22, 1966. Full source here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1966/09/22/what-we-want/.

 

[2] Richard Jencks is an influential social scientist and writer, who served as editor of the New Republic from 1961-1967. The article referenced here by Carmichael, entitled Accommodating Whites, was published in the April 16, 1966. Jencks later joined the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he remains emeritus faculty.

[3] The Mau Mau Uprising/Rebellion was a revolt against British colonial rule in Kenya during the 1950s and 60s (although the origins of Kenyan resistance to British colonial rule dates back to the 1920s). After decades of guerilla fighting and resistance, Kenya became an independent country in 1963.

Letter from Birmingham Jail

Letter from Birmingham Jail

Martin Luther King, Jr.[1]

 

From the Birmingham jail, where he was imprisoned as a participant in nonviolent demonstrations against segregation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in longhand the letter which follows. It was his response to a public statement of concern and caution issued by eight white religious leaders of the South. Dr. King, who was born in 1929, did his undergraduate work at Morehouse College, then attended the integrated Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, one of six black pupils among a hundred students, and the president of his class, then went on to earn his Ph. D. from Boston University.

 

 

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all of the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

 

I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every Southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliate organizations all across the South, one being the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Whenever necessary and possible, we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago our local affiliate here in Birmingham invited us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promises. So I am here, along with several members of my staff, because we were invited here. I am here because I have basic organizational ties here.

 

Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown.

 

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.

 

You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Negro community with no other alternative.

 

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts. On the basis of them, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

 

Then came the opportunity last September to talk with some of the leaders of the economic community. In these negotiating sessions certain promises were made by the merchants, such as the promise to remove the humiliating racial signs from the stores. On the basis of these promises, Reverend Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to call a moratorium on any type of demonstration. As the weeks and months unfolded, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. The signs remained. As in so many experiences of the past, we were confronted with blasted hopes, and the dark shadow of a deep disappointment settled upon us. So we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community. We were not unmindful of the difficulties involved.

 

So we decided to go through a process of self-purification. We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" and "Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?" We decided to set our direct-action program around the Easter season, realizing that, with exception of Christmas, this was the largest shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this was the best time to bring pressure on the merchants for the needed changes…This reveals that we did not move irresponsibly into direct action.

 

You may well ask, "Why direct action, why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension."

 

…We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was "well timed" according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "wait." It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This "wait" has almost always meant "never." It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that "justice too long delayed is justice denied." We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights.

 

The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say "wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored";…when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodyness" -- then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

 

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "An unjust law is no law at all."

 

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority…segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful...So I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court because it is morally right, and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

 

Let us turn to a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow, and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

 

Let me give another explanation. An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because it did not have the unhampered right to vote. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up the segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout the state of Alabama all types of conniving methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties without a single Negro registered to vote, despite the fact that the Negroes constitute a majority of the population. Can any law set up in such a state be considered democratically structured?

 

…We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws.

 

…I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

 

In your statement you asserted that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But can this assertion be logically made? Isn't this like condemning the robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery?...We must come to see, as federal courts have consistently affirmed, that it is immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

 

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth of time…It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men…and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

 

You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I started thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of "somebodyness" that they have adjusted to segregation, and, on the other hand, of a few Negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because at points they profit by segregation, have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses.

 

The other force is one of bitterness and hatred and comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up over the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement[2]. This movement is nourished by the contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination. It is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incurable devil.

 

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need not follow the do-nothingism of the complacent or the hatred and despair of the black nationalist...And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble-rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who are working through the channels of nonviolent direct action and refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes, out of frustration and despair, will seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies, a development that will lead inevitably to a frightening racial nightmare.

 

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come. This is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom; something without has reminded him that he can gain it. Consciously and unconsciously, he has been swept in by what the Germans call the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America, and the Caribbean, he is moving with a sense of cosmic urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. Recognizing this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand public demonstrations. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations. He has to get them out. So let him march sometime; let him have his prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; understand why he must have sit-ins and freedom rides. If his repressed emotions do not come out in these nonviolent ways, they will come out in ominous expressions of violence. This is not a threat; it is a fact of history. So I have not said to my people, "Get rid of your discontent." But I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. Now this approach is being dismissed as extremist. I must admit that I was initially disappointed in being so categorized.

 

…Maybe I was too optimistic. Maybe I expected too much. I guess I should have realized that few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent, and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it...I (had hoped) that the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies. Instead, some few have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

 

In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and with deep moral concern serve as the channel through which our just grievances could get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

 

I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say, follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother. In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sidelines and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, "Those are social issues which the gospel has nothing to do with," and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which made a strange distinction between bodies and souls, the sacred and the secular.

 

I must close now. But before closing I am impelled to mention one other point in your statement that troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I don't believe you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its angry violent dogs literally biting six unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I don't believe you would so quickly commend the policemen if you would observe their ugly and inhuman treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you would watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you would see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys, if you would observe them, as they did on two occasions, refusing to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I'm sorry that I can't join you in your praise for the police department.

 

 

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

  

 

[2] Elijah Muhammad was the leader of the Nation of Islam from 1934 until his death in 1975. The Nation of Islam is an American religious (and political) movement, not to be confused with the global religion founded by the prophet Muhammad in the Seventh Century.

The Affluent Society

The Affluent Society

John Kenneth Galbraith

 

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith earned his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley and spent most of his academic career at Harvard University. He worked at the Department of Agriculture during the New Deal, served as deputy head of the Office of Price Administration during World War II, ran the Office of Economic Security Policy during the early years of the Cold War, and served as the Ambassador to India during John F. Kennedy’s presidency.

 

America’s uneven economic development from the Great Depression of the 1930s through the prosperity of the 1950s disturbed Galbraith, who thought the government should invest in infrastructure, public education, and programs to alleviate poverty. Instead, most of the wealth went into the private sector, exacerbating the growing concentration of wealth in the private sector.   

 

One of Galbraith’s most influential works, The Affluent Society, published in 1958, warned against the explosion of consumerism following WWII made possible by federal policies like the G.I. Bill, the Federal Highway Act, and Housing Act of 1949. The following excerpt comes from chapter 17: The Theory of Social Balance[1].

 

 

The final problem of the productive society is what it produces. This manifests itself in an implacable tendency to provide an opulent supply of some things and a meager yield of others. This disparity carries to the point where it is a cause of social discomfort and social unhealth. The line which divides our area of wealth from our area of poverty is roughly that which divides privately produced and marketed goods and services from publicly rendered services. Our wealth in the first is not only in startling contrast with the meager-ness of the latter, but our wealth in privately produced good is, to a marked degree. the cause of crisis in the supply of public services. For we have failed to see the importance, indeed the urgent need, of maintaining a balance between the two…

 

In the years following World War II, the papers of any major city - those of New York were an excellent example - told daily of the shortages and shortcomings in the elementary municipal and metropolitan services. The schools were old and overcrowded. The police force was under strength and underpaid. The parks and playgrounds were insufficient. Streets and empty lots were filthy, and the sanitation staff was underequipped and in need of men. Access to the city by those who work there was uncertain and painful and becoming more so. Internal transportation was overcrowded, unhealthful and dirty. So was the air[2]

 

The discussion of this public poverty competed, on the whole successfully, with the stories of ever-increasing opulence in privately produced goods. The Gross National Product was rising[3]. So were retail sales. So was personal income. Labor productivity had also advanced. The automobiles that could not be parked were being produced at an expended rate. The children, though without schools - subject in the playgrounds to the affectionate interest of adults with odd tastes, and disposed to increasingly imaginative forms of delinquency - were admirably equipped with television sets[4]. We had difficulty finding storage space for the great surpluses of food despite a national disposition to obesity. Food was grown and packaged under private auspices. The care and refreshment of the mind, in contrast with the stomach, was principally in the public domain. Our colleges and universities were severely overcrowded and underprovided, and the same was true of mental hospitals.

 

The contrast was and remains evident not alone to those who read. The family which takes its mauve and cerise, air-conditioned, power steered and power- braked automobile out for a tour passes through cities that are badly paved, made hideous by litter, blighted buildings, billboards, and posts for wires that should long since have been put underground. They pass on into a countryside that has been rendered largely invisible by commercial art. (The goods which the latter advertise have an absolute priority in our value system. Such aesthetic considerations as a view of the countryside accordingly come second. On such matters we are consistent.) They picnic on exquisitely packaged food from a portable icebox by a polluted stream and go on to spend the night at a park which is a menace to public health and morals. Just before dozing off on an air mattress, beneath a nylon tent, amid the stench of decaying refuse, they may reflect vaguely on the curious unevenness of their blessings. Is this, indeed, the American genius?...

 

These circumstances have caused a profoundly interesting although little recognized change in what may be termed the political economy of poverty. With the transition of the very poor from a majority to a comparative minority position, they ceased to be automatically an object of interest to the politician. Political identification with those of the lowest estate has anciently brought the reproaches of the well-to-do, but it has had the compensating advantage of alignment with a large majority[5]. Now any politician who speaks for the very poor is speaking for a small and also inarticulate minority. As a result the modern liberal politician aligns himself not with the poverty-ridden members of the community but with the far more numerous people who enjoy the far more affluent income of (say) the modem trade union member…

 

The poverty-stricken are further forgotten because it is assumed that with increasing output poverty must disappear. Increased output eliminated the general poverty of all who worked. Accordingly, it must, sooner or later, eliminate the special poverty that still remains. As we have just seen, this is not to be expected or, in any case, it will be an infinitely time-consuming and unreliable remedy. Yet just as the arithmetic of modern politics makes it tempting to overlook the very poor, so the supposition that increasing output will remedy their case has made it easy to do so too.

 

To put the problem another way, the concern for inequality had vitality only so long as the many suffered privation while a few had much. It did not survive as a burning issue in a time when the many had much even though others had much more. It is our misfortune that when inequality declined as an issue, the slate was not left clean. A residual and in some ways rather more hopeless problem remained. An affluent society, that is also both compassionate and rational, would not doubt, secure to all who needed it the minimum income essential for decency and comfort.

 

The corrupting effect on the human spirit of a small amount of unearned revenue has unquestionably been exaggerated as, indeed, have the character- building values of hunger and privation. To secure to each family a minimum standard, as a normal function of the society, would help insure that the misfortunes of parents, deserved or otherwise, were not visited on their children. It would help insure that poverty was not self-perpetuating…

 

To eliminate poverty efficiently we should invest more than proportionately in the children of the poor community. It is there that high-quality schools, strong health services, special provision for nutrition and recreation are most needed to compensate for the very low investment which families are able to make in their own offspring…into a countryside that has Much can be done to treat those characteristics which cause people to reject or be rejected by the modem industrial society. Educational deficiencies can be overcome. Mental deficiencies can be treated. Physical handicaps can be remedied. The limiting factor is not knowledge of what can be done. Overwhelmingly it is our failure to invest in people…

 

Poverty - grim, degrading, and ineluctable - is not remarkable in India[6]. For few the fate is otherwise. But in the United States the survival of poverty is remarkable. We ignore it because we share with all societies at all times the capacity for not seeing what we do not wish to see. Anciently this has enabled the nobleman to enjoy his dinner while remaining oblivious to the beggars around his door. In our own day it enables us to travel in comfort through south Chicago and the South[7]. But while our failure to notice can be explained, it cannot be excused. "Poverty," [British prime minister William] Pitt exclaimed, "is no disgrace but it is damned annoying." In the contemporary United States it is not annoying but it is a disgrace.

 

 

[1] John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society, 1958.

[2] Prescient  comment(referencing or showing knowledge about events to come), especially the reference to climate change.

[3] The Gross national product (GNP) refers to the value of all goods and services produced by country during the course of a year. This includes production and services in the United States as well as foreign products.

[4] To replace the “sex crimes” of the 1920s, perhaps? People were equally concerned about the dangerous influence of television on the morals of young people. Also rock and roll, the latest incarnation of the “devil’s music”

[5] The “Ancien Ŕegime” refers to the traditional French social structure made up of four “estates.” The First Estate consists of the clergy (France is primary Catholic), the Second Estate refers to the monarchy, nobility, and the political class. The Third Estate includes the peasantry and bourgeois (traditional French term for the merchant classes, i.e., the middle class). The Fourth Estate refers to those outside of the traditional social hierarchy, most notable a free and independent press. The suffering and abuse of the Third Estate, and the suppression of the Fourth Estate, led directly to the French Revolution in 1789.

[6] Ineluctable means inevitable or something that cannot be ignored.

[7] The Middle Class can travel through the Southside of Chicago and the Deep South without seeing the poverty surrounding them.

Industry and Industrial Man

Industry and Industrial Man

Clark Kerr[1]

 

The end of World War I1 was followed by a period of economic expansion, low unemployment, and rising living standards. Between 1946 and 1960, the gross national product more than doubled and ordinary citizens' incomes rose dramatically. In every measurable way--diet, housing, wages education, recreation-most Americans lived better than their parents had grandparents. In this affluent society, consumerism increasingly replaced economic independence and democratic participation as central definitions of American freedom.

 

A study of modem industrial society published in 1960 by Clark Kerr, the president of the University of California, Berkeley, and three other scholars, reflected the era's outlook. Freedom, they acknowledged, may well have been reduced "in the work place," but society offered a far greater range of "goods and services." Leisure activities, not work or politics, would henceforth be "the happy hunting ground for the independent spirit." And the role of intellectuals was not, as in the past, to criticize society, but to help stabilize it by promoting a "consensus" of ideas and values.

 

 

The industrial society is necessarily characterized by a substantial range and scale of activities by the government. In a society of advanced technology there are, by virtue of this technology, a larger number of activities for government; for instance, the need for roads and highways, the provision for airports, the regulation of traffic, radio and television, a result of modern means of communication. Urban development has the same consequences. Technology also creates a more complex problem for a military establishment, extending in many directions the activities of government. The more integrated character of the world increases the activities significant to international relations and hence typically the scope of government activities. The scale of some scientific applications and the capital needs of new technologies tend to increase the scope of public agencies. As income rises, the demand of consumers may be for services largely provided by governments, such as education, parks, roads and health services.

 

The industrial society and individual freedom, however, are not necessarily to be regarded as antagonists. A high degree of discipline in the work place imposed by a web of rules and a large range of governmental activities is fully consistent with a larger freedom for the individual in greater leisure, a greater range of choice in occupations and place of residence, a greater range of alternatives in good and services on which to use income, and a very wide range of subgroups or associations in which to choose participation. It is a mistake to regard the industrial society as antithetical to individual freedom by citing ways in which the scope of the public and private governments has increased without also noting ways in which the industrial society expands freedom. The role of government in countries entering upon industrialization, regardless of political form, may therefore be expected to be greater than before…

 

A network of relationships between managers and the managed and a complex of substantive rules is required to make the industrial system operative at the work place, quite apart from the issues concerned with who formulates or promulgates these rules. At any one time, the rights and duties of workers and of managers, indeed of all those in the hierarchy, must be established and understood by all those involved in the hierarchy. Answers must be provided to the many questions that arise in the course of operating a complex organization with managers and workers, and procedures are required to provide promptly such answers. The web of rules of the work place concerns compensation, discipline, layoffs, transfers and promotions, grievances, and a vast array of activity – factory, airline, railroad, mine, or office – and to the specific establishment…

 

The industrial society, as any established society, develops a distinctive consensus which relates individuals and groups to each other and provides a common body of ideas, beliefs, and value judgements integrated into a whole. There must be a consensus to permit the industrial society to function. Various forms of the industrial society may create some distinctive features of an ideology, but all industrialized societies have some common values. In the pure industrial society, science and technical knowledge have high values, and those engaged in advancing science and in applying it to industrial processes have high prestige and receive high rewards in the society. The pure industrial society eliminates taboos against technical change, and it places high values on being “modern,” “up-to-date,” and in “progress” for their own sake.

 

The function of making explicit a consensus and of combining discreet beliefs and convictions into a reasonably consistent body of ideas is the task of intellectuals in every society. Industrial society does not uniquely create intellectuals; they exist in all societies potentially, in the industrial society on account of the higher levels of general education, higher income levels, and greater leisure. There are also new patrons to the intellectuals as compared to pre-industrial society. A diversity of markets for intellectuals – the university, enterprise, labor organization, voluntary association, government, self-employment—tends to displace the old aristocratic patrons, function of formulating and restating the major values, premises, consensus of a society from time to time, of sweeping away the old and adopting the new or reconciling the industrial processes with the old order, plays a significant role in industrialization. The intellectuals accordingly are an influential group in the process of the creation and molding of the new industrial society…

 

The individual will be in a mixed situation far removed either from that of the independent farmer organizing most aspects of his own life or from that of the Chinese in the commune under total surveillance. In his working life he will be subject to great conformity imposed not only by the enterprise manager but also by the state and by his own occupational association. For most people, any true scope for the independent spirit on the job will be missing. However, the skilled worker, while under rules, does get some control over his job, some chance to organize it as he sees fit, some possession of it Within the narrow limits of this kind of "job control," the worker will have some freedom. But the productive process tends to regiment. People must perform as expected or it breaks down. This is now and will be increasingly accepted as an immutable fact. The state, the manager, the occupational association are all disciplinary agents. But discipline is often achieved by a measure of persuasion and incentive. The worker will be semi-independent with some choice among jobs, some control of the job, and some scope for the effects of morale; but he will also be confined by labor organizations, pensions, and seniority rules, and all sorts of rules governing the conduct of the job.

 

Outside his working life the individual may have more freedom under pluralistic industrialism than in most earlier forms of society. Politically he can be given some influence. Society has achieved consensus and it is perhaps less necessary for Big Brother to exercise political control. Nor in this Brave New World need genetic and chemical means be employed to avoid revolt. There will not be any revolt, anyway, except little bureaucratic revolts that can be handled piecemeal. An educated population will want political choice and can be given it. There will also be reasonable choice in the controlled labor market, subject to the confining limits of the occupation, and in the controlled product market.

 

The great new freedom may come in the leisure of individuals. Higher standards of living, more leisure, more education make this not only possible but almost inevitable. This will be the happy hunting ground for the independent spirit. Along with the bureaucratic conservatism of economic and political life may well go a New Bohemianism in the other aspects of life and partly as a reaction to the confining nature of the productive side of society. There may well come a new search for individuality and a new meaning to liberty. The economic system may be highly ordered and the political system barren ideologically; but the social and recreational and cultural aspects of life diverse and changing. Utopia never arrives, but men may well settle for the benefits of a greater scope for freedom in their personal lives at the cost of considerable conformity in their working lives.

 

 

[1] Original source: Clark Kerr, et al, Industrialism and Industrial Man: The Problems of Labor and Management in Economic Growth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960). Introduction from Eric Foner, Voices of Freedom: A Documentary Reader, (New York: WW Norton & Co: 2016).

The Cheerful Robot

The Cheerful Robot

C. Wright Mills

 

Charles Wright Mills was an American sociologist whose writings addressed the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War II society and advocated relevance and engagement over disinterested academic observation. Influenced by Marxist ideas and the theories of Max Weber, Mills was critical of capitalism, bureaucracies, and elite social classes, particularly in the United States. Even though he recognized that there is an inter-relationship between the individual person and their society as a whole that must be understood in the context of history and the nature of the people involved, Mills was unable to find viable solutions and methods of bringing about the social changes he saw as necessary to overcome the inequalities in human society. Mills taught sociology at Columbia University during the 1940s and 50s[1].

 

Freedom is not merely the chance to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them—and then, the opportunity to choose. That is why freedom cannot exist without an enlarged role of human reason in human affairs. Within an individual's biography and within a society's history, the social task of reason is to formulate choices, to enlarge the scope of human decisions in the making of history. The future of human affairs is not merely some set of variables to be predicted. The future is what is to be decided—within the limits, to be sure, of historical possibility. But this possibility is not fixed; in our time the limits seem very broad indeed.

 

Beyond this, the problem of freedom is the problem of how decisions about the future of human affairs are to be made and who is to them. Organizationally, it is the problem of a just machinery of decision. Morally, it is the problem of political responsibility. Intellectually, it is the problem of what are now the possible futures of affairs. But the larger aspects of the problem of freedom today concern not only the nature of history and the structural chance for explicit decisions to make a difference in its course; they concern also the nature of man and the fact that the value of freedom cannot based upon 'man's basic nature.' The ultimate problem of freedom is the problem of the cheerful robot, and it arises in this form today because today it has become evident to us that all men do not naturally want to be free; that all men are not willing or not able, as the case may be, to exert themselves to acquire the reason that freedom requires.

 

Under what conditions do men come to want to be free and capable of acting freely? Under what conditions are they willing and able to bear the burdens freedom does impose and to see these les as burdens than as gladly undertaken self-transformations? And on the negative side: Can men be made to want to become cheerful robots?

 

In our time, must we not face the possibility that the human mind as a social fact might be deteriorating in quality and cultural level, and yet not many would notice it because of the overwhelming accumulation of technological gadgets? Is not that one meaning of rationality without reason? Of human alienation? Of the absence of any free role for reason in human affairs? The accumulation of gadgets hides these meanings: Those who use these devices do not understand them; those who invent them do not understand much else. That is why we may not, without great ambiguity, use technological abundance as the index of human quality and cultural progress.

 

To formulate any problem requires that we state the values involved and the threat to those values. For it is the felt threat to cherished values – such as those of freedom and reason – that is the necessary moral substance of all significant problems of social inquiry, and as well of all public issues and private troubles.

 

The values involved in the cultural problem of individuality are conveniently embodied in all that is suggested by the ideal of The Renaissance Man. The threat to that ideal is the ascendency among us of The Cheerful Robot.

 

 

 

 

[1] Original source: C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (Oxford University Press, 1959). Introduction from: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/C._Wright_Mills.

The Hairpin Drop Heard Around the World

The Hairpin Drop Heard Around the World

Dick Leitsch

 

The Stonewall Inn, located in Greenwich Village on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, opened in 1967, and quickly became a popular gay and lesbian bar and nightclub. While Greenwich Village had a large gay, lesbian, and transgender community, it was still illegal to serve an “out” gay person in a restaurant or bar. In fact, three years before the Stonewall uprising, the Mattachine Society held a “sip-in” at the Julius Bar, located around the corner from Stonewall. Three gay men sat down at the Julius bar, identified themselves as gay, and ordered a drink. They were refused service and escorted out of the bar by police. The Mattachine Society began in Los Angeles in 1950, and soon had chapters around the country[1]. The members presented themselves as model citizens, in suits and ties. “It was our responsibility to make gay people look as respectable as possible,” as a member explained.

 

By the 1960s, younger gay and lesbian people rejected the Mattachine emphasis on respectability and “assimilation.” The Stonewall Inn was definitely not respectable. The mafia owners did not have a liquor license, so the bar claimed it was a “members only” club rather than a formal bar. To get around the law, the owners claimed members were charged an admittance fee which got them access to the “free bar,” which mostly consisted of watered-down beer and liquor served in dirty glasses (there was no sink in the Stonewall, only a bucket of dirty water). The gay community embraced Stonewall, and were not bothered by the illicit activities.

 

Police regularly raided gay bars, arresting patrons and staff, leaving them with a police record that identified them as gay. Owners, many of them associated with the Genovese Family (who owned the Stonewall), paid off police to keep the place open[2]. For the most part gay, lesbian, and transgender people did not resist arrest, knowing they could be charged with violations of the moral decency codes.

 

In 1969, the police decided to target gay clubs and bars on the Lower East Side as a result of the new mayor’s promise to restore law and order to the city. The night of June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn in what seemed like a routine raid. It was not. Stonewall patrons resisted arrest and fought back against the police. Other people gathered in front of the Stonewall and attempted to stop the police raid as well. By the early morning hours of June 29, the uprising included thousands of people protesting police brutality against the gay community.

 

A year after the Stonewall uprising, the first Christopher Street Liberation Day march took place, with thousands of people marching from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park. Gay and lesbian communities around the country held parades in solidarity with the Christopher Street Liberation Day. The march quickly grew into an annual celebration of “gay pride.”

 

Dick Leitch was an activist and journalist, and served as President of the New York City chapter of the Mattachine Society during the 1960s. As such, he was one of the three men who participated in the “sip-in” at Julius Bar in 1966. Leitch witnessed the Stonewall Uprising, and wrote an account of what he saw for the Mattachine Society Newsletter in June, 1969.

 

 

The first gay riots in history took place during the predawn hours of Saturday and Sunday, June 28-29 (1969) in New York’s Greenwich Village[3]. The demonstrations were touched off by a police raid on the popular Stonewall Club, 53 Christopher Street. This was the last (to date) in a series of harassments which plagued the Village area for the last several weeks.

 

Plainclothes officers entered the club at about 2 a.m., armed with a warrant, and closed the place on grounds of illegal selling of alcohol. Employees were arrested and the customers told to leave. The patrons gathered on the street outside, and were joined by other Village resident and visitors to the area. The police behaved, as is usually the case when they deal with homosexuals, with bad grace, and were reproached by the “straight” onlookers. Pennies were thrown at the cops by the crowd, then beer cans, rocks and even parking meters. The cops retreated inside the bar, which was set afire by the crowd.

 

A hose from the bar was employed by the trapped cops to douse the flames, and reinforcements were summoned. A melee ensued, with nearly a thousand persons participating, as well as several hundred cops. Nearly two hours later, the cops had “secured” the area.

 

The next day, Stonewall management sent in a crew to repair the premises, and found that the cops had taken all the money from the cigarette machine, the jukebox, the cash register, and the safe, and had even robbed the waiters’ tips!

 

Since they had been charged with selling liquor without a license, the club was reopened as a “free store,” open to all and with everything being given away, rather than sold[4].

 

A crowd filled the place and the street in front. Singing and chanting filled Sheridan Square Park, and the crowds grew quickly[5].

 

At first the crowds were all gay, but as the weekend tourists poured into the area, they joined the crowd. They’d begin by asking what was happening. When they were told that homosexuals were protesting the closing of a gay club, they’d become very sympathetic, and stayed to watch or join in. One middle-aged lady with her husband told a cop that he should be ashamed of himself. “Don’t you know that these people have no place to go, and need places like that bar?” she shouted.” Several hours later, she and her husband, with two other couples, were seen running with a large group of homosexuals from the nightsticks brandished by the TFP (Tactical Police Force).

 

The crowds were orderly, and limited themselves to singing and shouting slogans such as “Gay Power,” “We Want Freedom Now,” and “Equality for Homosexuals.” As the mob grew, it spilled off the sidewalk, overflowed Sheridan Square Park, and began to fill the roadway. One of the six cops who were there to keep order began to get smart and cause hostility. A bus driver blew his horn at the meeting, and someone shouted, “Stop the Bus!” The crowd surged out into the street and blocked the progress of the bus. As the driver inched ahead, someone ripped off an advertising card and blocked the windshield with it. The crowd beat on the sides of the (empty) bus and shouted, “Christopher Street belongs to the queens!” and “Liberate the street.”

 

The cops got the crowd to let the bus pass, but then the people began a slow-down-the-traffic campaign. A human line across the street blocked traffic, and the cars were let through one at a time. Another car, bearing a fat, gouty-looking cop with many pounds of gilt braid, chauffeured by a cute young cop, came through. The fat cop looked for all the world like a slave owner surveying the plantation, and someone tossed a sack of wet garbage through the car window and right on his face. The bag broke and soggy coffee grounds dripped down the lined face, which never lost its “screw you” look.

 

Another police car came through Waverly Place, and stopped at the corner of Christopher Street. The occupants just sat there and glared at the crowd. Suddenly, a concrete block landed on the hood of the car, and the crowd drew back. Then, as one person, it surged forward and surrounded the car, beating on it with fists and dancing atop it. The cops radioed for help, and soon the crowd let the car pass.

 

Christopher Street, from Greenwich Village to Seventh Avenue, had become an almost solid mass of people – most of them gay. No traffic could pass, and even walking the few blocks on foot was next to impossible. One little old lady tried to get through, and many members of crowd tried to help her. She brushed them away and continued her determined walk, trembling with fear and murmuring, “It must be the full moon, it must be the full moon.”

 

Squad cars from the Fifth, Sixth, Fourth, and Ninth Precincts had brought in a hundred or so cops, who had no hope of controlling the crowd of nearly two thousand people in the streets. Until this point, the crowd had been, for the most part, pleasant and in a jovial mood. Some of the cops began to become very nasty, and started trouble. One boy, evidently a discus thrower, reacted by bouncing garbage can lids neatly off the head of the cops. Others set garbage cans ablaze. A Christopher Street merchant stood in the doorway of her shop and yelled at the cops to behave themselves. Whenever they would head in her direction, she’s run into the shop and lock the door.

 

The focus of the demonstration shifted from the Stonewall to “The Corner” – Greenwich Avenue and Christopher Street. The intersection, and the street behind it, was a solid mass of humanity. The TPF arrived in the city buses. 100 of them debarked at The Corner, and 50 more at Seventh Ave and Christopher.

 

They huddled with some of the top brass that had already arrived, and isolated beer cans, thrown by the crowd, hit their vans and cars now and again. Suddenly, two cops darted into the crowd and dragged out a boy who had done absolutely nothing. As they carried him to a waiting van brought to take off prisoners, four more cops joined them and began pounded the boy in the face, belly, and groin with night sticks. A high shrill voice called out, “Save our Sister!” and there was a general pause during which the “butch” looking “numbers” looked distracted[6]. Momentarily, fifty or more homosexuals who would have to be describe as “nelly,” rushed the cops and took the boy back into the crowd. They then formed a solid front and refused to let the cops into the crowd to regain their prisoner, letting the cops hit them with their sticks rather than let them through. (It was an interesting sidelight on the demonstrations that those usually put down as “sissies” or “swishes” showed the most courage and sense during the action. Their bravery and daring saved many people from being hurt, and their sense of humor and camp helped keep the crowds from getting nasty or too violent)[7].

 

The cops gave up on the idea of taking prisoners, and concentrated on clearing the area. They rushed both ways on Greenwich, forcing the crowds into 10th Street and 6th Avenue, where the people circled the blocks and reentered Christopher. Then the cops formed a flying wedge, and with arms linked, headed down Greenwich, forcing everyone in front of them into side streets. Cops on the ends of the wedge broke off and chased demonstrators down the side streets and away from the center of the action.

 

They made full use of their night sticks, brandishing them like swords. At one point a cop grabbed a wild Puerto Rican queen and lifted his arm to bring a club down on “her.[8]” In his best Mario Montez voice, the queen challenged, “How’d you like a big Spanish dick up your little Irish ass?” The cop was so shocked he hesitated in his swing and the queen escaped[9].

 

At another point, two lonely cops were chasing a hundred or more people down Waverly Place. Someone shouted out that the queens outnumbered the cops and suggested catching them, ripping off their clothes, and screwing them. The cops abandoned the chase and fled back to the main force for protection.

 

The police action did eventually disperse the crowds, many of whom abandoned the cause and headed to the docks for some fun. By 2:30, nearly two hours after the bus had been delayed, the area was again peaceful. Apart from the two to three hundred cops standing around the area, it looked like an unusually dull Saturday night.

 

Then, at 3 a.m., the bars closed, and the patrons of the many gay bars in the area arrived to see what was happening. They were organized and another attempt was made to liberate Christopher Street. The police, still there in great numbers, managed to break up the demonstrations. One small group did break off and attempt to liberate the IND subway station at Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place, but the police, after a hurried consultation as to whether they could act on the “turf” of the Transit cops, went in and chased everyone out[10].

 

In all, thirteen people were arrested on Saturday morning – 7 of them employees of the Stonewall. Four more were arrested on Sunday morning, and many more were detained then released. Apparently, only four persons were injured…all of them cops. Three suffered minor bruises and scratches, and one a “broken wrist” (it was not specified whether it was the kind of “broken wrist” that requires a cast, or the kind that makes it noisy to wear a bangle bracelet…we presume it was the former).

 

Sunday night saw a lot of action in the Christopher Street area. Hundreds of people were on the streets, including, for the first time, a large leather contingent. However, there were never enough people to outnumber the large squads of cops milling about, trying desperately to head off any trouble.

 

The Stonewall was once again a “free store’ and the citizenry was treated to the sight of the cops begging homosexuals to go inside the bar that they had chased everyone out of a few nights before.

 

Inasmuch as all the cops in town seemed to be near The Corner again, the docks were very busy, and two boys went to the Charles Street station house and pasted “Equality for Homosexuals” bumper stickers on cop cars, the autos of on-duty cops, and the van used to take away prisoners.

 

One of the most frightening comments was made by one cop to another, and overheard by a MSNY member being held in detention[11]. One said he’d enjoyed the fracas. “Them queers have a good sense of humor and really had a good time,” he said. His “buddy” protested “aw, they’re sick. I like (race) riots betters because there’s more action, but you can’t beat up a fairy. They ain’t mean like the blacks; they’re sick. But you can’t hit a sick man. “

 

[1] “Mattachine” references a French medieval masque group that traveled from village to village, using ballads and dramas to point out social injustice. The name was meant to symbolize the fact that "gays were a masked people, unknown and anonymous.”

[2] The Genovese Crime Family was one of the “Five Families” that dominated organized crime in New York from the 1930s until…now? Five members of the Genovese Family were arrested in 2018 for racketeering and conspiracy. Anyway, Lucky Luciano started the organization, and Vito Genovese assumed control in 1957. The “five families” consisted of the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese crime families, who each controlled a different aspect of mafia “activities.”

[3] There were gay rights’ protests before Stonewall, but none had the impact of Stonewall.

[4] Another incarnation of the “members only” façade.

[5] Sheridan Square Park is located directly across the street from Stonewall. It’s a very small park that divides East and West Christopher Street (it’s the median between the lanes). Like Stonewall, Sheridan Park served as a central point for the gay community in Greenwich Village.

[6] Most like a reference to Stormé DeLarverie, a self-identified “butch lesbian,” credited with throwing the first concrete block referenced earlier in the essay.

[7] It is important to note that the first people to fight back were transgender women like Martha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, both of whom faced discrimination from within their own community as well as society overall.

[8] This was probably Sylvia Rivera, but notice Leitsch uses quotation marks to identify her gender.

[9] Mario Montez was an actor and performer during the 1960s. He acted in several Andy Warhol films, most of which focused on homosexual relationships.

[10] Independent Subway System.

[11] Mattachine Society of New York.

The 6,000 Houses that Levitt Built

The 6,000 Houses that Levitt Built

Eric Larrabee

 

When World War II ended in 1945, the United States faced a severe housing shortage and a rapidly expanding middle-class. After a decade of depression and war, Americans embraced consumerism even more than the 1920s.[1] The generation who grew up during the Great Depression welcomed the prosperity and consumerism of the late 1940s and 1950s. Young people married and had children in record numbers.[2] New suburbs filled with modern ranch style houses and reimagined Cope Cod houses replacing the earlier bungalows found in 1920s suburbs.[3]

 

William Levitt was the son of a successful real-estate developer on Long Island, just outside of New York City. Because of his real-estate training, he secured a contract to build housing for defense workers in Norfolk, Virginia during WWII, which gave him a sense of the desperate need for affordable housing. After the end of WWII, he inherited the family business, Levitt & Sons. In 1947, Levitt used his connections to purchase twelve hundred acres of land in Long Island, formally a potato field. Using Henry Ford’s assembly line (inspired by Frederick Winslow Taylor’s program of “scientific management”), Levitt built close to eighteen thousand houses between 1947 and 1951. At a time when the average contractor built only five houses a year. Levitt’s workers completed 36 houses a day.

 

Levitt broke the construction process into twenty-seven steps, each with a specialized team of workers responsible for a particular component of the house. 

Using Henry Ford’s assembly line production of the utilitarian Model T, Levitt standardized the houses as much as possible. They may have all looked the same, but they offered the promise of an ideal middle-class home. The houses came with the most advanced appliances, including refrigerators, electric stoves, washing machines, and most importantly, a television built into the living room wall.

 

Levitt received massive housing subsidies from the Federal Housing Administration allowing him to sell the houses for as little as $8,000 (about $90,000 today). The G.I. Bill guaranteed mortgages for veterans and their families, reducing the down payment on a Levittown house to about $400 (about $4,200 today). Monthly mortgage payment hovered around $55 a month (about $600 today).

 

When Levittown opened in 1947, couples lined up around the block to buy one of the new houses using their low-interest loans guaranteed by the FHA. Levitt streamlined the process of buying a house as well. He boasted that it took two hours to purchase the house and sign the deed. 4,000 houses sold in the first three hours of opening.

 

Levitt’s methods, government loans, federal tax deductions for mortgage interest, and automobiles fueled the phenomenal growth of white, middle-class suburbs. Like most of the suburbs created in the 1920s and the 1950s, Levittown was also segregated. Racial covenants barred African Americans, Latinx, and Asian people from living in the neighborhood. Despite being Jewish himself, Levitt also barred Jews from purchasing homes.

 

Eric Larrabee was an influential journalist, writer, and advocate for arts and humanities.[4] Larrabee was editor of Harper’s Magazine when he visited Levittown and interviewed its namesake, Bill Levitt, published in 1947.[5]

 

The largest private builder of houses in the Eastern United States is the firm of Levitt & Sons, of Manhasset, Long Island, whose president—William J. Levitt—is to the housing industry somewhat as Robert R. Young first was to the railroads.[6] Both men have been successful, both have called attention to the shortcomings of their professions, and both have preached reform, rationalization, and respect for the public…

 

Before the war dotted defense areas with large developments made up of many small houses, most private housebuilders put up less than two thousand houses a year. Since the war, Levitt & Sons have built over six thousand. The figure is as of the beginning of this month; in April they were finishing 60 houses a week; in May, 100 a week; and in July, 150 a week.

 

Levitt—Bill Levitt refers to the firm in the third person singular—is now at work on a 1,400-acre, 6,000-house project called "Levittown," near Hicksville, Long Island, where 4 1/2-room "bungalows" are rented, to veterans only, for 65 dollars a month. Each house comes complete with radiant-heating, General Electric range and refrigerator, and Venetian blinds. The grounds will be landscaped, all utilities will be connected, and there will be concrete roads. Levittown will be zoned as a park district, and Levitt will build one swimming pool for each thousand houses—also three shopping centers (with nearly a hundred retail units), five schools (built by the county on public contract), and six churches (plots donated by Levitt & Sons). Levittown will be finished by the end of this year.

 

"Anyone who comes to us now," Bill Levitt said last April, "will have a house in October."

 

As soon as one of the first 1,800 veterans to rent a house in Levittown has been there a year, he is given an option by Levitt to buy the house for $7,990; if he does not buy, Levitt will rent for one year more. "I think they'll buy alright," he has said with a pride anyone might reasonably take in watching well-made plans come to fruition. The veterans will be backed by GI loan and will thus require no cash, they will get back a $100 deposit from Levitt, and the carrying charges on the loan will be less than the rent they are now paying—a combination difficult to resist…

 

The 1947 price on the basic small Levitt House was $7,500…Costs have risen since then and comparisons on the basis of profit per house are deceptive (according to Bill Levitt, they are no longer used in the firm), but it was estimated in 1947 that he undersold his nearest competitor by $1,500 and still made $1,000 profit on each house…

 

Bill Levitt is becoming a kind of bellwether of the building trades, and he believes that he is setting patterns which the others must eventually adopt. The housing industry, if it can properly be called an industry, has traditionally been based on limited construction by small contractors, consumer financing, and craft unions. Levitt & Sons are substituting mass construction by a single company, production financing, and either industrial unions or no unions at all…

 

The Levitt small house is a cultural index, a mean between what the money will buy and what people are willing to pay for. The houses might look quite attractive if there weren't so incredibly many of them. Levittown is about ten miles away from the sea on the Long Island flats. From the Wantagh Parkway, the town stretches away to the east as far as the eye can see, house after identical house, a horizon broken only by telegraph poles. The exterior colors are varied and good (among them a strong, dark red). and the houses, which might have been in even lines, are at least slightly staggered. Each house is built on a concrete slab (no cellar) into which copper pipes for radiant heating have been embedded.

 

The floors are of asphalt tile and the walls of composition rock-board (the rooms are designed in multiples of four feet, the standard width of the composition panels). A stairway leads to an unfinished attic; under one side is a scroll trimmed alcove for the Bendix washing machine; under the other, bookshelves for the living room. The focal point is the kitchen, at the front of the house to the right of the door, which is full of cabinets and designed with a sharp eye on the magazine reading, ruffled-chintz housewife.[7]

 

"A dream house," Levitt wrote for a GE ad, "is a house the buyer and his family will want to live in a long time...an electric kitchen-laundry is the one big item that gives the homeowner all the advantages and conveniences that make his home truly livable." To include a Bendix washer in the sales price may seem frivolous and extravagant, but it is worth every bit of the cost in sales appeal and publicity. "And it will sell faster," Levitt added. His house is the Model-T equivalent of the rose-covered cottage—-or Cape Coddage, as some one has called it[8]. It is meant to look like the Little Home of One's Own that was a subsidiary myth of the American Dream long before Charlie Chaplin put it into "Modern Times"…[9]

 

A house that goes up in Levittown will have been handled by Levitt & Sons from the start to finish. When Bill Levitt uses a favorite phrase, "vertical organization," he is talking about a principle he has applied as rigorously as the housing business will allow. His lumber, for example comes from the Grizzly Park Lumber Company, of Blue Lake, California, which he owns. All of his appliances (a Bendix, say, or a GE refrigerator) are purchased from the North Shore Supply Company, which he owns. He doesn't buy nails and concrete blocks; he makes them himself. Like most builders, he has many contractors working for him (the number varies in the neighborhood of fifty), but here also the vertical principle is retained. All of his contractors work for him and for no one else, and most of them were put in business by Levitt.

 

The advantages of this top-to-bottom control are considerable. The timber can be cut at the mill in California to the exact size at which it will finally be used in the house. This means not only a saving on freight and handling (the wood car bypasses the Levitt factory at Roslyn, Long Island, and go directly to the site), but also an initial cost saving of 30 per cent—the mark-up that Levitt and the consumer, would be paying if he didn't own his source of basic material.

 

The same applies to a Bendix or GE range. The traditional echelons through which an appliance must pass are from manufacturer to distributor to wholesale to builder, each adding an additional mark-up as it goes. Levitt, by owning his wholesaler, absorbs at least one of the mark-ups and continues to moan with pain about the others. He buys appliances as a rule, by the carload lot, and they proceed direct from the factory to his railroad siding at Roslyn. He cannot understand why several people who never see the merchandise should be paid merely for handling the bill…

 

The actual building techniques used by Levitt, of course, are not those of which a carpenter's guild would be likely to approve. He uses time and laborsaving machinery whenever possible, even when such use (as paint sprayers) is specifically forbidden by the union. Beginning with a trenching machine, through transit-mix trucks to haul concrete, to an automatic trowler that smooths the foundation-slab, Levitt takes advantage of whatever economies mechanization can give him.

 

The site of the houses becomes one vast assembly line, with trucks dropping off at each house the exact materials needed by the crew then moving up. Some parts—plumbing, staircases, window frames, cabinets—are actually prefabricated in the factory at Roslyn and brought to the house ready to install. The process might be called one of semi-prefabrication, in which a great deal of building is actually done on the site, but none that is unnecessary or that could be better done elsewhere—a lot of hammering, as Bill Levitt says, but very little sawing.

 

 

[1] Consumption and prosperity during the 1950s far exceeded the 1920s.

[2] Those born between 1948 and 1964 are the baby boomers, the largest generation in American History. Second largest? Millennials, who along with the Gen Xers (one of the smallest generations of the twentieth century), well outnumber the baby boomers right now. Generation Z is closer to Gen X in numbers, but all three generations combined – Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z – have considerably more voters than the boomers. If you want to put “ok boomer” into action: VOTE. Also, just FYI – there are more women of voting age in the United States than men. VOTE.

[3] Cape Cods were prevalent in New England before the 1950s. In fact, the basic design dates back to colonial settlement. Traditionally, Cape Cods have two stories but lack an open floor plan. Levitt adopted the Cape Cod two-story design, adding an open floor plan on the first floor. Ranch houses emerged after WWII, primarily in the West. Typically, ranch houses are one-story and take an “L” or “U” shape. By the 1960s and 70s, Raised Ranch homes were also common. Raised Ranches are two stories, with the kitchen, living room, and bedrooms on the second floor, and a family room (or den), laundry room, and multi-purpose rooms on the bottom floor. There are almost always stairs to the front door of a raised ranch, and you enter on the landing between the stairs up to the first floor and the stairs to the bottom floor.

                Victorian Village, Ole Town East, and parts of German Village are the best places to find late nineteenth Victorian architecture in Columbus. Grandview, Clintonville, and the University District are the 1920s bungalows. Ranch houses (Cape Cods, mostly) dominate neighborhoods and suburbs built after WWII: North Linden, Northland, most of Upper Arlington, most of Hilliard, most of Westerville, and all of Gahanna and New Albany.

 

[4] In a speech given in 1966, Larrabee  offered a profound warning: "Think first of the ultimate nightmare, of the world in which no songs were sung, in which joy was forbidden, in which a gray drabness was made compulsory -- the world, in effect, of Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four,' no theaters, no symphonies, no operas, no museums, and also no dancers, no painters, no poets, no one to teach us how to be human." In other words, imagine the world without the Humanities, which teach what it means to be human.

[5] Eric Larrabee, The 6,000 Houses that Levitt Built, 1948. This is newsreel about the construction of Levittown with some pretty interesting footage showing how the houses were built.

[6] Robert R. Young headed the New York Central Railroad during the 1950s, known for modernizing railroad operations, particularly the first use of computerized scheduling.

[7] Chintz refers to a brightly colored flowery design usually associated with upholstered furniture. You see chintz everywhere but don’t think about it. Larrabee uses it as a by-word for the furniture style in middle class homes, clearly the sphere of housewives.

[8] Vernacular for “cottage,” i.e., Cape Cods.

[9] Charlie Chaplin was one of the most influential writers, directors, and actors of the twentieth century. Most of his movies were made before films had sound reels - silent films. One of Chaplin’s most enduring characters was known simply as “The Tramp,” intended to represent an average working-class American man. In his 1936 film, Modern Times, The Tramp is fired from his industrial job (it is the middle of the Great Depression after all) and falls on hard times. Without recounting the whole movie, The Tramp and his girlfriend find steady work and a decent place to live for a while. It doesn’t last, but you have to watch the movie to see how it ends.