History in the Classroom

The 1960s

During the spring semester, 2012 the TAH History in the Classroom Project focused on the political and social history the US during 1960s. Most of our sessions explored the mass protest movements of that decade - beginning with the civil rights/black freedom movement -- and the ways that they impacted politics and policy in Washington. The idea here was to analyze the process of change, assessing how mass movements of ordinary people were able to influence electoral politics, Congress, and presidents. We looked as well at the Warren Court’s role in promoting a liberal political atmosphere in the 1960s, and how President Nixon worked to push the Supreme Court back to the right as that decade ended and the 1970s began. US global dominance and the resistance to it was studied via a focus on the Vietnam War.

Our work on the 1960s was designed to probe not just that decade itself, but its long term consequences. Much of US foreign and domestic policy in the 21st century continues to be shaped by the 1960s. From the left the 60s popularized the progressive dream of a more egalitarian America sustained by socially democratic social programs and aspirations towards a less empire-driven America. All of this was opposed by the right, which built and rode a wave of backlash politics, stressing order over liberty, seeking to dismantle the welfare state and pushing for the US to overcome its “Vietnam Syndrome” – heralding a return to US covert and overt military interventionism. So as teachers look for ways to organize their teaching of recent America, using the 1960s can serve as a frame to understand the ongoing left-right, blue-state, red state battles, as well as a source of the political style of Occupy Wall Street. 

This page features videos some of the distinguished scholars who shared their insights on the 1960s and their legacy with our TAH project last semester.

Stanley Nelson discusses his documentary Freedom Riders

Stanley Nelson, an Emmy-winning MacArthur “genius” Fellow, is co-founder and Executive Director of Firelight Media, which provides technical education and professional support to emerging documentarians; and co-founder of the for-profit documentary production company, Firelight Films. His films are best known for examining the African American experience in the United States and in the diaspora. His films have aired on PBS’ American Experience and have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Among his most notable films are Freedom Riders, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, Wounded Knee, The Murder of Emmett Till, Beyond Brown: Pursuing the Promise, Marcus Garvey: Look for me in the Whirlwind, and much more.

On May 7th, Stanley Nelson screened Freedom Riders, a historical documentary which marked the 50th anniversary of the first Freedom Ride during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s in the southern portion of the United States. The film chronicles the experiences of civil rights activists, who challenged segregation and racial discriminatory practices on interstate travel and in facilities, citing violation of various regulatory acts under the authority of the Interstate Commerce Commission. Mr. Nelson also demonstrated the relativism of other moments of civil rights and social justice activism through his films featuring the stories of Emmett Till and Marcus Garvey.


Prof. Natalia Mehlman Petrzela: Max Rafferty and the Origins of Contemporary Conservatism

The 1960s seeded not only the New Left but the New Right and Reaganism. In her talk at NYU in June 2012, New School Assistant Professor of Education Studies and History Natalia Mehlman Petrzela discussed her work on Max Rafferty, an important leader in the conservative upsurge in California during the 1960s.

The talk draws on her current book project, tentatively entitled Origins of The Culture Wars: Sex, Language and The Creation of Contemporary Conservatism.




Calvin Trillin: The Civil Rights Movement and Covering it as a Journalist in the South during the 1960's

Calvin Trillin, though best known today as a humorist, travel and food writer, novelist, and Deadline Poet for the Nation, did some memorable reportage on the civil rights movement when he was a Time magazine reporter in the South during the early 1960s.

Last July, Trillin published an article in The New Yorker  looking back on Freedom Rides in 1961,  the desegregation of the University of Georgia, and his experience covering these historic events.  Trillin wrote the first major book on the fall of the color line at a deep South university, An Education in Georgia, which vividly evoked the desegregation struggle won by Charlayne Hunter and  Hamilton Holmes at the University of Georgia.  In his NYU talk, Trillin discussed the civil rights movement and what he experienced as a young reporter covering both the movement and its opponents.


Professor Marilyn Young: The origins of America’s war in Vietnam

Dr. Young is Collegiate Professor of History at New York University and is a leading authority on the Vietnam War.

Her books on the war include her classic work The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990  and a documentary history of the war -- which includes many visuals and other primary sources that high school teachers will find very useful -- The Vietnam War: A History in Documents(co-authored with John J. Fitzgerald and A. Tom Grunfeld).





Dr. Robert Pratt: The Road to Brown v. Board of Education

Dr. Pratt urges teaches to take this story back to the early 20th century rather than with Brown in mid-century so that students can see the road that led to Brown and the revived black freedom movement of the long 1960s.

He is a professor of history at the University of Georgia, author of We Shall Not Be Moved: The Desegregation of the University of Georgia and The Color of Their Skin: Education and Race in Richmond, Virginia, 1954-1989.





Dr. Linda Gordon: History of the Women's Movement in America

Dr. Gordon is the Florence Kelley Professor of History at New York University.  She co-edited a document collection on the women's movement that high school teachers will find very useful -- Dear Sisters: Dispatches from Women's Liberation, (co-edited with Rosalyn Baxandall.

Professor Gordon has authored many influential books, including two that were awarded the Bancroft Prize for best book in US history, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction and Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits.




Professor Frances Fox Piven: History of the Welfare Rights Movement in America

Professor Piven spoke on an important  protest movement in which women of color were especially prominent, but which is rarely even mentioned in  US History textbooks. 

Dr. Piven is distinguished professor of political science and sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  She is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books including the classic works she co-authored with Richard Cloward, Regulating the Poor and Poor People’s Movements. Her most recent book, a collection of her most important essays, is Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven: The Essential Writings of the Professor Glenn Beck Loves to Hate.