thumbnail of American Experience; 1964; Interview with Stephanie Coontz. Historian, part 2 of 2
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Well, that's one of the stunning things about the post-war era. There was a lot going on beneath the surface. I don't think we should exaggerate the conformity, but it just wasn't written up anywhere. And so you had gone through the depression and people like Eleanor Roosevelt, you know, playing these very prominent roles. And then World War II, women stepping into men's jobs and enjoying them. And yet, this incredible cultural mythology that women didn't work, that all women were housewives, and that's all women wanted to be. There's an interesting moment in the, in the Civil War, just a minute, 1964, the Civil Rights Bill is being debated. Huge, huge moment in this year. And something happens. Well, it was a funny sort of thing.
Funny thing happened on the way to the Civil Rights Bill. There were some women who really wanted equality, and they'd been working behind the scenes. It's not like the feminist movement had totally died. And they wanted to add sex to the list of categories that it was prohibited to discriminate against. But they went to a southerner who opposed the Civil Rights Bill, and many people endorsed this amendment to the Civil Rights Bill in the hopes that it would defeat the entire Civil Rights Bill. I mean, because it was so ridiculous, right, to say you don't prohibit on the basis of sex, they would laugh the bill out. Well, as it turned out, that backfired on them, because people were so intent upon getting the Civil Rights Bill passed after the terrible resistance and brutality in the South, that some of them who disagreed with the idea of adding sex went ahead and voted for it anyway. So there was this in retrospect revolutionary change in gender status that came about almost by accident.
And then, of course, what happened in 1964 is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that was formed to remedy and to enforce the anti-discrimination laws, refused to enforce the anti-discrimination laws when it came to women. They wouldn't outlaw sex-segregated want ads. As a matter of fact, the head of the EEOC said that basically this amendment was an illegitimate amendment, the product of an unwed, you know, a fluke conceived out of wedlock. And like, in fact, was actually true of real babies conceived out of wedlock, therefore had no legal rights, no legal standing. Did it get challenged? It was the fury of women who had worked for the Equal Rights Amendment and who had worked to add this to the Civil Rights Bill that eventually resulted in the formation of the National Organization for Women in 1966. But from 1964 till 1966, the EEOC just refused to enforce the law. Wow.
You know, I haven't asked anybody else's, but you were just mentioning women in Congress. Does Margaret Chase Smith kind of have any resonance for you as a character? You thought about her at all? I haven't figured out a way to work that in, but she's interesting. Well, there were feminists, including especially Margaret Chase Smith in Congress and especially in a lot of the women's bureaus and other kind of bureaucratic organizations who were longtime lobbyists in interested and female equality. I didn't really know about them as a young person and I haven't spent a lot of my research on them. She's got Margaret Chase Smith as she's this pioneer, but she's also got these sort of time work kind of use too. She's like, believes she thinks women should be secretaries and she believes in dressing like the par or everything, and yet she's pioneered.
She completely gets in front of her. Well, a lot of women were in those eras, yeah. Was Betty for Dan the first one to have written a book about feminists about women? Oh, no. Why did hers pop up then? I think hers popped up because she was able to kind of catch a wave that was already in motion and she caught it just perfectly. And she timed the surfing very well and especially in terms of her ability to translate things that had been being talked about in academic circles and in political circles into the plane English of the sitcoms of television of the women's magazines. The very things that she railed against actually trained her to use their techniques of anecdote and reaching out to people and simplifying ideas so that she could have such an impact
with that book. And what was Simone de Beauvoir's book? Well, Simone de Beauvoir was a French intellectual and also tainted by her association with left design. And so people didn't take her seriously. And for Dan was influenced by Beauvoir but actually didn't really admit to it until many decades later. Betty for Dan was influenced by Simone de Beauvoir but she mentions her in very passing as someone who had something interesting to say about French women. She didn't really want to give her credit and she didn't admit how much she was influenced by her until several decades later. Remember we're talking about the aftermath of McCarthyism. And for Dan was so anxious not to be associated with the smears that were done to people who had any left wing associations in their background that she went to the other extreme and just
basically denied the influence of writers like Simone de Beauvoir or a fellow American Eve Merriam whose book, another 1964 book, came out when Nora slammed the door and was making the same critiques. But did so in a much more trenchant political style and didn't have the mass appeal that Betty for Dan had. And she hit her own political background or it's off that side. Yes she did. Yes very much. Very much. Yes. Strategy. Yes. I'm curious about other sort of pop culture, pop culture, but all your other cultural trends going on. A lot of you think that you've done a lot of these things but the Supremes get a number one hit in August of 1964.
Is that will you still love me tomorrow? Or where did our love go, I can't remember. What do they tell you about what's happening to women in this year? Well one of the things that was not admitted publicly but that everybody kind of knew at some level, we were all schizophrenic in those days, is that women were joining the workforce in unprecedented numbers. Young women were going to the cities, getting jobs, not perhaps staying in them for long after they got married. But having for the first time this massive experience in a man's work world that allowed them to, the double standard had been slipping for some time, a premarital sex was becoming increasingly common and there was this undercurrent of sexuality, of sexual adventure. Helen Gurley Brown talked about it very openly and sex in the single girl, Rona Jaff talked
about sort of the downside of it, what happens to women who lost their virginity and then were, you know, looked down upon. So there was this undercurrent of excitement and fear in the early 60s that rock and roll I think captured very well. And what specific areas of the supreme's do I mean, the ball gowns and the white kid gloves? Well, they're being, they're being, what was considered to be, okay, well if you look at the supreme's, they were, they were black without being in your face black, they dressed like white debutants, I think that may have had something to do with it. And they looked so wholesome and they talked so wholesome, except they sang songs like will you still love me tomorrow? Which was basically about women having premarital sex or non-marital sex. So it's, you know, very already fascinating strategy, the motown crew, I mean, let
them sing what everyone is thinking. Well it's the same kind of strategy that I certainly adopted in the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement. And that is talk the language, look like the people you're trying to, to influence. Now after 1964 there was a big divergence in the movement with a whole lot of people being disillusioned and deciding that they couldn't wake the American people up unless they shocked them or antagonized them. And they were the ones who then moved to dressing in a defiant way, talking in a defiant way, wearing their hair differently. I was part of the group that went in the other direction that said, yes we can win people over but we must not alienate them by looking different or sounding different. So I was very conscious of dressing like a sorority girl instead of like a hippie because I was going to say things that sorority girls, you know, wouldn't listen to if I looked like a hippie.
So I think that in a sense the Supremes were doing the same thing in a different way. Is there a kind of invention that split? What is it about 1964 and feminism that creates such a stark sense of the choice that needs to be made? I don't think it was feminism that did it. I mean 1964 we were, even those of us who had tremendous criticisms of the governments, in burgeoning involvement in Vietnam, El Salvador, the failure to really enforce the Civil Rights Act. Nevertheless, we still had a lot of illusions or hope that America did stand for freedom, would stand up for freedom, and that we could change this if we just explained what was wrong, what was going wrong. So for example in the free speech movement, you know, we dressed very conservatively when they arrested Jack Weinberg in the free speech movement and we ended up having these debates on top of the car.
We always took our shoes off so we wouldn't dent the car. We were very polite and everybody was that way. But 1964 was also a turning point. You had the assassination. You had the Tonkin Gulf resolution, which many people knew was phony right from the get-go. You had the refusal to enforce the Civil Rights Act. And so you had a burgeoning sense among many young people that this was not a society that could be changed just by talking to them and winning people over. And that I think was the beginning of a split in the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement between those who tried to not so much work within the system, but win people over to those who said, no, we can't win people over, we have to scare them out of these behaviors or shock them out of these behaviors. So when your mom picked up the phone and she called you, you were at Berkeley? Yes.
When did you get there? I entered in 1961, I believe it was. And what do you remember about Bancroft and Telegraph? Well, it was a center of political debate and intellectual debate. It was before the hippie movement and before people came who were not students and wanted to partake in drugs and stuff like that. So it was a very vibrant place where people who wanted to talk about ideas and politics would gather. So if you walk along Bancroft way, give me an idea of the kind of groups that were there. Well, there were young Democrats, there were SNCC organizers, there were vigil for peace organizers, and originally, of course, you didn't have to walk around a long Bancroft.
We put our tables up right at the entrance to the campus, which is how the free speech movement started. Because we would organize people to go pick it, the Oakland Tribune and other institutions that discriminated against African Americans, for example, the Oakland Tribune, hired black, right in the middle of the black community, hired blacks, only as janitors. And so we would organize picket lines from there. Well, at some point, I think the editor of the Oakland Tribune was a friend of the president at the University of California, and he complained, and they told us, you can no longer organize off-campus activities. You can't have political tables on campus, they have to be moved off campus. And that led, of course, to a much bigger movement, even some young Republicans then joined the free speech movement on the grounds that, you know, the first amendment doesn't end at the campus barrier. And so it was a demand, again, that was very reasonable, that brought in a lot of people
who weren't supporters of the civil rights movement, and that ended up radicalizing many of them. What was the event that prompted the movement to take on? Well, it was a very long, slow process, but the first thing that happened is they told us that we could not organize. And I remember I had just come back to school after dropping out and working at Child Study and Treatment Center. And so I was very concerned not to get in trouble with school, but I was also very concerned that this was unfair and unjust. And so a whole bunch of people started sitting at these tables and a bunch of them were suspended. And so the demand went up, sign a petition, and demand that you be suspended, too, saying that you also had said at these tables. And I remember actually tearing up before I signed it, because I thought, oh, I'm going to get kicked out of school, and I just got back, and I want to be there. But I signed it.
And they ended up not prosecuting us or suspending us from school, obviously. They would have had to suspend a lot of people. But at one point, they were going around, and people were sitting at the table. And the guy named Jack Weinberg, who was a veteran of the civil rights movement, was at the table. And he was not a student. And when they asked him for a student ID, and he couldn't produce one, the police told him that he was trespassing, and he was going to be arrested. But instead of getting up, he used his civil rights training and just went limp. So they talked about it as a mobilizing moment, they drove a police car onto campus just about lunch hour. When people were streaming out of their classes, and what do we see as we stream out of our classes, we see somebody being bodily lifted into a police car, and so people said, what's going on? And they surrounded the police car, not on purpose. But once we found out what was going on, it was like, no, that's not right. And so that led into this big standoff.
We surrounded the police car, the police surrounded us. We were terribly afraid we were going to get arrested, but we struck a compromise. We agreed to negotiate, again, very good faith. All of this very idealistic, eventually the administration made it clear that they were not going to compromise. And over and over. So too far forward. Where were you? Do you see pictures? Are you sitting? Are you sitting in front of the car? There's a picture of me standing around the car, yeah, and somebody sitting down. Actually one of my most vivid memories as a young woman who, on one hand, thought of myself as independent, but on the other hand, it was kind of used to the women's role. We were sitting down, and when it looked like the police were going to move into a restless, several of the guys called, women move to the center, it was going to protect us. No, I got up. That's several women hissed and booed, you know? So I was like, okay, and I sat back down again, but I was like, ooh, is this what it means
to be independent, to get beaten up by the police? Were you wearing, I have this image, you know, were you wearing, like, our dials, socks, and any love food, or something? No, but I was wearing, you know, I was enough of a hippie to wear kind of a peasant skirt, but skirt and blouse and sandals. Because you see pictures of Mara Savio and the other radicals in one of the wearing coats in top? Yes, absolutely. Yeah. So you're sitting there, and eventually the crowd grows. Eventually grows, and it was very tense because we didn't know at a certain point the police came and completely surrounded the car, and that's when they yelled, you know, girls to the center, and we thought that there might be arrests that night. But a compromise was struck that many of us felt was, you know, a very... Speeches were made, right? Speeches were made on top of the car. People were debating.
Should we stay? Should we stay that? That speech was made on top. So we surround this car, and people start to argue about what we should do. Should we let them take the car? What if we get arrested? What should we do? And finally, somebody brings a bullhorn and says, why don't we stand on top of the car so that people can hear? And so that's what we did. One person at a time who was going to speak did that. Every single one of them taking their shoes off first so that we wouldn't damage the car. That was the kind of mentality. And so there was a spirited debate. Some fraternity boys got upset. This was wrong. You know, we got to let them arrest this guy. He was trespassing, and other people got upset. No, no, that's wrong, you know, we have a right. And the debate went on into the night. And finally, a compromise was struck. I remember a friend of mine saying, let's have a small victory party for a very small victory. And it turned out that this compromise did not stick. And over many, many weeks of negotiation, we finally got to the point where we decided
that we would have to have a sit-in. Well, Mario Savio made a very famous speech that Mario Savio was a, I don't even know his background. Mario Savio. Yeah. Okay. Mario Savio was a civil rights organizer who had a veteran of Freedom Summer. We didn't know him as an activist before that, but he was this eloquent, eloquent guy. I will never forget the speech he made when he told us he suggested that we all go in and sit in. He said, there comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious that you can't take part. And I've never reread the speech, but it was just burned in my memory. And so we walked into the building and we sat down. And again, I have to tell you the sense of idealism with so much teaching assistance would come in and organize seminars.
This was not a party. We were so idealistic. And I remember calling my mom and I said, mom, I think I'm going to get arrested. It was not kids against their parents. It was kids wanting to stand up for what they believed America was like. Here's my most vivid memory, though. After we were arrested, they took us to Santa Rita Prison Farm. And at three in the morning, they started letting us out. Now in the middle of nowhere, there's no public transport. I was terrified. You know, I was just a kid, really. And we got out and there was a line of cars, two miles long, of grownups who were so happy to see civil rights activists and students standing up after the period of McCarthyism. They'd set, they'd brought sandwiches, they'd brought coffee and hot chocolate. When we got into the cars, they would say things like, thank you, thank you, thank you. I'll never forget that.
How were you arrested? The police came in and told us that we had one last chance to, sorry, the police came in. They told us we had one last chance to leave the building. And if not, we would be under arrest. We then came in and they started putting newspaper around all the windows, which was kind of scary. And then a lot of the people remained sitting and had to be dragged down the stairs with their heads bumping. I actually got up and walked, I don't know what to say. And then we were thrown into patty wagons and driven off. And I remember that once we were booked and we were in the jail, we started singing freedom songs and they said to us, well, you can eat or you can sing, girls. And I looked at the baloney sandwiches and thought, well, I just assumed sing, thanks. What was it, I mean, when you compare the goals of the free speech movement to what was
happening in Mississippi on one level, it seems trivial, but on another level, it was profound and important. And maybe somewhat equally, culturally, it had to have an impact. What do you think came out of that? Well, I think the free speech movement, like many other movements of the 1960s, came out of the experience of the civil rights movement. But just as back in the before the Civil War, many women who were organizing against slavery discovered in the course of organizing against slavery that they were held down as women. So that happened to many of us in the civil rights movement. Our main thing was we were concerned about the racism in the South. Gradually, we began to see that perhaps it wasn't as violent in the North, but it was
there as well. And then we began to see that even our liberal college administrators wanted to prevent us from doing this organizing. And that led us into all sorts of other questioning, just as many women who were active in the civil rights movement got tired of being asked to take the notes and make the coffee. So there was this burgeoning effect. I think the civil rights movement was critical in raising people's consciousness about other things that were wrong in the United States. Yeah, there's a moment in the SNCC organization where Mary King and Casey, what's her name? Casey Hayden, write this memo to, I guess it's Stokely or the other woman's saying, wait a minute. What's wrong with this picture? Do you remember that?
Yes, these were women who had been activists in the civil rights movement, but were also reading books like Simone de Beauvoir and Golden Notebook by Doris Lesing, which was very influential for a lot of young women in those days. And they began to see that they too were discriminated against. And they wrote a memo saying there's discrimination on the basis of sex as well as on the basis of cast and color. And they were basically laughed at at first, but they persevered. I was very slow to see that discrimination on the basis of sex. It really did not occur to me until after I'd graduated from college. Interesting. Did a saying come out of a Berkeley free speech movement? It was supposedly a saying came out of the Berkeley free speech movement. And that was Jack Weinberg said something jokingly, like don't trust anyone over 30, but
it was a joke. It was not the way we believed. We were so happy when we had allies who were grown-ups when we came out of the jail and found that line of cars of people who were way over 30, two miles long waiting to congratulate us. We were not distrustful of people over 30. But it's telling that it stuck. It stuck, I think, because it did talk to one kind of important consideration. And that was that some members of the older generation would say to us, well wait. Wait until you've graduated from college, wait until you have a good job, wait until you've got tenure. And we noticed that people who waited that long had forgotten what they were waiting for by the time they got there. And so there was a sense of no, don't wait, because you'll forget. And you'll make so many compromises that it will then be too late.
What is it about those kids that were different to, we're talking about relatively wealthy elite at Berkeley, with all sorts of options, in a sense, maybe, is there something going on there that was new? You weren't just provoked into something, there wasn't an outcome in here, and I'm curious where all the ingredients and all the chemicals could be. Okay. Well, there were a lot of things going on, remember that this really, a lot of the students at Berkeley were first generation or the most second generation college students. We'd just come out of World War II with the incredible GI Bill that allowed veterans to go back to school on the GI Bill, that the investment in the 50s in the road building that allowed blue collar workers to get jobs that were steadily that moved a lot of people
into the middle class. So a lot of the people at Berkeley had family memories of being poor or of being working class. So that was one part of it. The other part of it is that even for those who were from more privileged backgrounds, there was, again, this tremendous sense of idealism after the Depression in World War II, the sense that America was on the right side, that whatever mistakes it had made, you know, you had FDR go in and really help poor people, and most of us had parents who remembered what a difference the civilian conservation core or those kind of other reforms made. And then you had World War II where maybe we were a little late, but America was certainly on the right side in that battle. And then there was a civil rights movement, and we saw people getting beaten up and lynched and murdered down south, and finally the government sent in troops to Little Rock. And you looked at those troops and you were proud to be in America and proud to see these
GI's. And so as it was a sense that when things went wrong, they must not understand, you know, maybe if we just explain to them that this is not part of our tradition, we should be doing something else. And then when they didn't listen, it was a radicalizing experience. And we were lucky enough to be in an environment where we did have the time to think about these things, the luxury, not to have to just be dependent on daily survival. So it worked in both ways. You were the son of a generation. You were the generation that founded wars. And that's kind of interesting to me. Why? Well, I don't know if this is going to fit for you, but I think that there's a big mistake in looking at the baby boom generation as one generation. I think that you had the people who were called the silent generation, I'm actually a member of that.
I was born in 1944. I'm not a baby boomer. And if you actually look at the people who led the civil rights movement, the peace movement, originally most of them were born right during or after World War II. And they were the people who came out of that experience with family memories of the depression and World War II. And a good sense that government could work for a good purpose. Then there was a newer generation, the ones who were born in the late 50s. And all they saw was the disillusioning part. And I think there's a huge difference of outlook between those two segments of what is often lumped together as the baby boom generation. How are we doing on time? I don't know. You're great. We're going to be out here early. It's only 12.30. Oh my goodness. We're almost done. You're so incredibly concise. We're not wandering all over the place. I was there. I did like five more minutes. Super. Okay. I just want to get home tonight.
Yeah. That's all I know. Wow. Is there an okay on the water? I think so. Yeah. I'm fine. Thanks. You're a double threat. And you really thought long and hard about Betty Prudand and you're also on the ground in Berkeley. So those are huge parts of this story. Where were you when you first heard the Beatles? Oh my goodness. Let's stop a minute. You helped me with dates. When did their first... February. They come in February 64. 64. And I think... When were they on the Ed Sullivan show? About a week later. Okay. Now you can ask me that again. Yeah. I will remember. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute.
I'm going to have to do that. I really want to do that. Ha ha. Okay. Sullivan pays $75,000 to have him on three times. And the first broadcast in the second card that two highest rated programs of the decade and a decade, along with the Beverly Hill Billies. I kind of want to touch on you. Do you remember the Beatles? Oh yes. I do remember the Beatles. And I do remember watching them on the Ed Sullivan show because I just heard by word of mouth that there was going to be this group. And I remember being surprised by the girls who were screaming and fainting and stuff, but really liking their music. And it was such catching music. It particularly meant a lot to me because there was these very clever people in the free speech movement who took a lot of the Beatles songs and turned them into political songs and protest songs. So that catching music really is drilled into my head. I saw a, yeah, there's a great film called Berkeley in the 60s. It was made years ago. If you see it, you're in it somewhere, I'm sure.
I think yes, I remember being. And Joan Baez is singing it. That's on the cause of twice, you know, and she's just looks believable. A theory oh, yes. Yeah. Had anything like Biedelmania, I mean, Elvis was Elvis, but had anything like that happen? Before, I mean, Frank Sinatra. My mother used to sign letters to her friends Sinatraly yours. Wow. So this is not totally new. But for my purposes, my premise, I want to argue that it is fundamentally different. I wonder whether you can argue that because yeah, there are these phenoms, but not to the degree that an entire part of the population is changing their behavior, changing their look, their hairstyle.
You know, I'm always willing to pop off on things, but I just don't have an intelligent thing to say about that. That's fine. So if you think about the kind of black and white, conformist world that we talked about at the beginning, out of that comes a very gold war. The United States for President of January 3rd, 1964. And facing off against him is Lyndon Johnson. Did you feel a sense of political kind of transformation underway in that year? Did you work for a campaign? Did you? You're interested in Johnson?
Because it's the single biggest reorder in the political status quo, probably in American history. You know, like many people, I was frightened of Barry Goldwater more than I was sympathetic to Lyndon Johnson. So I didn't work for anyone in particular, but I was glad when Lyndon Johnson got elected. But then of course, with the escalation of the war in Vietnam, it soon turned into my thinking that, you know, I could never hate a president more until a couple more came along and I hated worse. Goldwater's articulating this really kind of very familiar thing today, which is the idea of true conservatism, which pretty sharp difference between him and Nelson Rockefeller. Yes, yes. Although, I mean, he became, he was fairly libertarian and even when he was,
I mean, I'm always struck by what a difference there is, despite the fact that we've come so far in terms of racism and suspicion of interventionism, or at least we had for a while, I've come that far, that there was the Republican Party, you know, I mean, the two honorary co-chairs of Planned Parenthood in 1960 were Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman. So there's been a really interesting slippage in terms of what Republicans were willing to say and do, and it was Dwight Eisenhower, who once said that every bomber is a theft from the poor and the homeless. Can you imagine somebody in American politics saying that today without being excoriated as a socialist, you know, terrorist, maybe? Yeah, we have come a very wrong way. But looking back at that world, that black and white world that we talked about in January 1st and then thinking about all the
things we've talked about at Christmas time, at the end of that year, where I think Esquire Magazine has a picture of sunny, listed, wearing a Santa Claus hat, which was considered radioactive. What's happened in 1964? Is the gene been let out of the bottle on all sorts of, in all sorts of ways? Well, there's no year that it's a complete turning point. Things were going on in the 50s. You had Peyton Place, you know, celebrating extra marital sex. You had a civil rights movement building, but I think 64 brings together this, just this crescendo of idealism and disillusion at the same time. It was a year of both. It was a year when, when people really, really still believed that you could change America, that there were wonderful things going on,
and it was also a year when you had Tonkin Gulf and the increasing involvement in the war and Vietnam and the increasing evidence that we'd been lied to about that war coupled with the sense that we were moving far too slow on the civil rights issue. And so there was, both things were fermenting and it was not clear how that combination of idealism and disillusion would play out. And I think in that sense, you could argue that 64 was a real turning point. I keep thinking about these choices. Johnson makes these faithful decisions in 64. The troops go in in 65, but the decisions are all made in 64. There's no going back. You know, the counterculture you're either going to grow your hair along or you're not, but there's a moment where
now it's arrived, I think. And I think feminism, I'm curious what do you think? Does the fork in the road first become really starkly visible in that year? I'm not willing to argue that. I think that it's really not until 67, 68 that you get a really strong feminist movement. And then with the strike, the women's strike in 1970. But I do think that you're seeing in 64 a whole set of different political approaches and cultural approaches within the people who were dissidents. This is the period when you do get the counterculture. But you know, those of us who are political activists disliked the counterculture a lot. They thought we were too straight and straight arrow. And we thought that they were too irresponsible and we're giving us a bad name. So you see just this beginning of all of these differences that later got covered up in the media
and presented in the same black and white way. If the 1950s and early 60s was black and white in terms of being presented as an era of conformity when nothing was happening, when in fact things were happening under the surface. The rest of the 60s gets portrayed as this by the weatherman, by the panthers, by all of these groups that actually were a minority of the civil rights activists and the anti-war activists. Right. That's important to remember. Why do you think it's important for us to look back and remember 1964? These are big fuzzy questions, but they're kind of interesting to try and wrap your brain around. Well, I think 1964 saw a series of events that really did crystallize the tension between the idealism of people who believed in American
democracy and wanted to extend it. And the disillusion of those who thought that that democracy was in many ways a cover for an increasingly unequal society. And everything from assassinations to the free speech movement, to the Tonkin Gulf, to the first teachings against the war in Vietnam, all of those things contributed to that tension. What part are we going to emphasize from now on? The potential of American democracy or the betrayal of American democracy? Is there, is there, is this a moment when individualism for students, for women, for sharecroppers in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party finally kind of comes into its own as well? I don't think that 64 could be seen as a turning point in individualism,
but 64 contained the seeds of what becomes a tremendous contradiction. And that is that the this tremendous emphasis on the importance of individual rights and individual freedom that has since developed hand in hand with a libertarian approach that downplays the need for collective regulation for fairness in socioeconomic. So that we now have a society that is totally yes in favor of fairness in interpersonal relations. And yet we are in some ways more tolerant of unfairness and socioeconomic relations than they were back in the 1950s. And that's a huge contradiction that was just beginning to play out in 1964. Last big question, are there, are there, when you look around today,
do you see the threads, the echoes of 64 in our world today? Was that the year when the kind of war we're living in first became sort of visible? When I look at 19th, wait a minute, would say the question again, I think I lost it today. Well, we have the legacy in a couple of ways, there are incredible gains we've made in support for equality, for women, African Americans, other minorities, gays and lesbians, just extraordinary changes in the last few years in terms of the idea that every individual should have a right to live their life the way they please. But the other side of it, of course, is this idea that since every individual has the right to
live the way they please, we don't have any collective responsibility to help people live better. And the two go hand in hand. I honestly, when I look at the legacy of 64, I think that there's tremendous things to celebrate, tremendous things to celebrate. But I also think that it was the beginning of an identity politics that sometimes crowded out our understanding of socioeconomic relations. You know, in 1963 and 1964, it was the problem that has no name, sexism. But now, there's the problem that they're not speaking its name, and that is increasing class inequality. That's a really good point that I hadn't thought of. What was 1964 looking like? What did it mean to you? You went through some pretty interesting experiences in that year. It was a wonderful, heavy year. You know, I mean, I was 64. How old was I? Let's start this again. Yeah, so just 20. 1964 was an amazing year. I was away from home.
I was 20 years old. I was active in the civil rights movement. I was full of idealism and hope about the way we could change America as well as anger about the way that some people were resisting that change. I was listening to the Beatles and, you know, looking at the sexual revolution with a mixture of interest and fear. And I was just beginning to think about what I wanted to do with my life other than what as a teenager, I had thought of that I would just get married. I used to, every boy, I used to date, I used to, you know, put Mrs. so-and-so in front of his name, you know? And suddenly I wasn't doing that anymore, but I still, of course, wanted a family. And so it was just a confusion, exhilarating, exciting, and growthful. I don't think that's a
word, but growthful time. Okay, I think we're done. Let's get a 30 seconds of silence. That was just for room time. Room time for Stephanie Coons, 30 seconds, starting now. And we're done. Stephanie, thank you so-
American Experience
Raw Footage
Interview with Stephanie Coontz. Historian, part 2 of 2
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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It was the year of the Beatles and the Civil Rights Act; of the Gulf of Tonkin and Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign; the year that cities across the country erupted in violence and Americans tried to make sense of the Kennedy assassination. Based on The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964 by award-winning journalist Jon Margolis, this film follows some of the most prominent figures of the time -- Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Barry Goldwater, Betty Friedan -- and brings out from the shadows the actions of ordinary Americans whose frustrations, ambitions and anxieties began to turn the country onto a new and different course.
Social Issues
Politics and Government
American history, African Americans, civil rights, politics, Vietnam War, 1960s, counterculture
(c) 2014-2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
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Identifier: NSF_COONTZ_007_merged_02_SALES_ASP_h264 Amex 1920x1080 .mp4 (unknown)
Duration: 0:47:49
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Chicago: “American Experience; 1964; Interview with Stephanie Coontz. Historian, part 2 of 2,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 26, 2024,
MLA: “American Experience; 1964; Interview with Stephanie Coontz. Historian, part 2 of 2.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 26, 2024. <>.
APA: American Experience; 1964; Interview with Stephanie Coontz. Historian, part 2 of 2. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from