>> Weiterentwicklung der Grund- und Menschenrechte: Das Civil Rights Movement


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What the Afro-American sociologist and historian William Eduard B. Du Bois had said long ago, unnoticed, now loomed large after the end of WW2 in 1945: „The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.“
In 1946, US-President Truman appointed a committee on Civil Rights which recommended that Congress pass laws against lynching and to stop voting discrimination, and suggested new laws to end racial discrimination in jobs. Truman issued an executive order directing that the armed forces, segregated in World War II, institute policies of racial equality. The order may have been prompted by the need to maintain black morale in the armed forces, as the possibility of war grew. It took over a decade to complete the desegregation in the military.
In a series of suits against racial segregation in the schools, the US Supreme Court finally, in 1954, struck down the „separate but equal“ doctrine that it had defended since the 1890s. In Brown vs. Board of Education the Court ruled out the separation of schoolchildren, as it „generates a feeling of inferiority … that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.“ In the field of public education, it said, „the doctrine of ’separate but equal‘ has no place.“ By 1965, more than 75 percent of the school districts in the South remained segregated.
Still, it was a dramatic decision – and the message went around the world in 1954 that the American government had outlawed segregation. In the United States too, it was an exhilarating sign of change.

What to others seemed rapid progress to many blacks was apparently not enough. At the end of 1955, in the capital city of Alabama – Montgomery – Mrs. Rosa Parks, a forty-three-year-old seamstress who had been active in the NAACP, decided to sit down in the „white“ section of a bus and was arrested. Montgomery blacks called a mass meeting. They voted to boycott all city buses. Car pools were organized to take people to work; most people walked. The city retaliated by sending many leaders of the boycott – among them Rosa Parks – to jail. White segregationists turned to violence. Bombs exploded in four Negro churches and one at the home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). The 27-year-old Atlanta-born minister was one of the most prominent leaders of the bus-boycott. But the black people of Montgomery persisted, and in November 1956, the Supreme Court outlawed segregation on local bus lines.
On February 1, 1960, four students at a Negro college in Greensboro, North Carolina, decided to sit down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter downtown, where only whites ate. They were refused service, but would not leave, and returned, joined by others, day after day. In the next two weeks, sit-ins spread to fifteen cities in five southern states. In the next twelve months, more than fifty thousand people, mostly black, some white, participated in demonstrations of one kind or another in a hundred cities, and hundreds of people were put in jail. But by the end of 1960, lunch counters were open to blacks in Greensboro and many other places.

In the spring of 1961, a group of whites and blacks boarded a bus in Washington, D.C., traveling together, headed for New Orleans. These were the first of the Freedom Riders, trying to break the pattern of segregation in interstate travel. Such segregation had long been illegal, but the federal government never enforced the law in the South. The president now was John F. Kennedy, but he too seemed cautious about the race question, concerned about the support of southern white leaders of the Democratic party. The buses never got to New Orleans. In South Carolina, riders were beaten. In Alabama, a bus was set afire. Freedom Riders were attacked with iron bars. The southern police did not interfere with any of this violence, nor did the federal government. FBI agents watched, took notes, did nothing.
Despite the racist violence, veterans of the sit-ins formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), dedicated to nonviolent but militant action for equal rights. They organized further Freedom Rides. All over the Deep South – where the atmosphere of slavery still lingered – the young people of SNCC, mostly black, a few white, were moving into communities in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas. Joined by local black people, they were organizing to register people to vote and to protest against racism. When black civil rights leaders planned a huge march on Washington in the summer of 1963 to protest the failure of the nation to solve the race problem, it was quickly embraced by President Kennedy and other national leaders, and turned into a friendly assemblage. Martin Luther King’s speech there thrilled 200,000 black and white Americans – „I have a dream.“
As the “Mississippi summer” of 1964 approached, SNCC and other civil rights groups working together in Mississippi, and facing increasing violence, decided to call upon young people from other parts of the country for help. They hoped that would bring attention to the situation in Mississippi. In that summer of 1964 racist violence resulted in three civil rights workers, James Chaney, a young black Mississippian, and two white volunteers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner being beaten with chains, and shot to death.
Congress and government began reacting to the black revolt and the world publicity. Civil rights laws were passed. They promised voting equality as well as employment equality. In 1965, President Johnson sponsored and Congress passed an even stronger Voting Rights Law, this time ensuring on-the-spot federal protection of the right to register and vote. The effect on Negro voting in the South was dramatic. In 1962, a million southern blacks (20% of those eligible) registered to vote. In 1964 the number was 2 million – 40%. By 1968, it was 3 million, 60% – the same percentage as white voters.
But the blacks could not be easily brought into „the democratic coalition“ when bombs kept exploding in churches, when new civil rights laws did not change the root condition of black people. In the spring of 1963, the rate of unemployment for whites was 4.8 percent. For nonwhites it was 12.1 percent. According to government estimates, one-fifth of the white population was below the poverty line, and one-half of the black population was below that line.
The nonviolence of the southern movement was effective because it appealed to national opinion against the segregationist South. But, according to the black militant Malcolm X, it was not enough to deal with the entrenched problems of poverty in the black ghettos in the North. In 1910, 90% of Negroes lived in the South. By 1965, mechanical cotton pickers harvested 81% of Mississippi Delta cotton. Between 1940 and 1970, 4 million blacks left the country for the city. By 1965, 80% of blacks lived in cities and 50% of the black people lived in the North. „Black Power“ was the new slogan – an expression of distrust of any progress given or conceded by whites. After Malcolm X was assassinated as he spoke on a public platform in February 1965, he became the martyr of this movement. Hundreds of thousands read his autobiography. He was more influential in death than during his lifetime. In the months and years after the assassination, in the black ghettos of the country, came the greatest urban riots of American history. In August 1965, the black ghetto in Watts, Los Angeles, erupted in the most violent urban outbreak since World War II. It was provoked by the forcible arrest of a young Negro driver and the clubbing of a bystander by police. According to the report of the National Advisory Committee on Urban Disorders there were eight major uprisings, thirty-three „serious but not major“ outbreaks, and 123 „minor“ disorders in 1967 alone. Eighty-three people, mostly black civilians, died of gunfire. „The „typical rioter,“ according to the commission, was a young, high school dropout but „nevertheless, somewhat better educated than his non-rioting Negro neighbor“ and „usually underemployed or employed in an unskilled job.“ He was „proud of his race, extremely hostile to both whites and middle-class Negroes and, although informed about politics, highly distrustful of the political system.“ The report blamed „white racism“ for the disorders, and identified the ingredients of the “explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II”:
The killing of Martin Luther King in April 1968 brought new urban outbreaks all over the country, in which thirty-nine people were killed, thirty-five of them black. Evidence was piling up that even with all of the civil rights laws now on the books, the courts would not protect blacks against violence and injustice:
• In the 1967 riots in Detroit, three black teen-agers were killed. Three Detroit policemen were tried for this triple murder. The defense conceded that the policemen had shot two of the blacks. A jury exonerated them.
• In Jackson, Mississippi, in the spring of 1970, on the campus of Jackson State College, a Negro college, police laid down a 28-second barrage of gunfire, using shotguns, rifles, and a submachine gun. Four hundred bullets struck the girls‘ dormitory and two black students were killed. A local grand jury found the attack „justified“ and U.S. District Court Judge Harold Cox (a Kennedy appointee) declared that students who engage in civil disorders „must expect to he injured or killed.“
Founded in Oakland, California in October 1966, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense created a Ten-Point Program that called for „land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.” Further demands among others, were full employment for black people and an “education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society” as well as exemption from conscription for African-American men. The Black Panther Party’s most widely known programs were its armed citizens‘ patrols to evaluate behavior of police officers and its Free Breakfast for Children program. However, the group’s political goals were often overshadowed by their confrontational tactics against police.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director J. Edgar Hoover called the party and its estimated 10,000 members “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and he supervised a massive Counter-intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of surveillance and infiltration and many other tactics designed to undermine Panther leadership and to incriminate party members.

Countee Cullen’s poem „Incident“

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out

His tongue, and called me, „Nigger,“

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariable the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our black Community.
We believe that black people will not be free until we are able to determine our destiny.
2. We want full employment for our people.
We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the white American businessmen will not give full employment, then the means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.
3. We want an end to the robbery by the white man of our black Community.
We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules was promised 100 years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass murder of black people. We will accept the payment as currency which will be distributed to our many communities. The Germans are now aiding the Jews in Israel for the genocide of the Jewish people. The Germans murdered six million Jews. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of over 50 million black people; therefore, we feel that this is a modest demand that we make.
4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
We believe that if the white landlords will not give decent housing to our black community, then the housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that our community, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for its people.
5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.
We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.
6. We want all black men to be exempt from military service.
We believe that black people should not be forced to fight in the military service to defend a racist government that does not protect us. We will not fight and kill other people of color in the world who, like black people, are being victimized by the white racist government of America. We will protect ourselves from the force and violence of the racist police and the racist military, by whatever means necessary.
7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of black people.
We believe we can end police brutality in our black community by organizing black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our black community from racist police oppression and brutality. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States gives a right to bear arms. We therefore believe that all black people should arm themselves for self defense.
8. We want freedom for all black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
We believe that all black people should be released from the many jails and prisons because they have not received a fair and impartial trial.
9. We want all black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
We believe that the courts should follow the United States Constitution so that black people will receive fair trials. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives a man a right to be tried by his peer group. A peer is a person from a similar economic, social, religious, geographical, environmental, historical and racial background. To do this the court will be forced to select a jury from the black community from which the black defendant came. We have been, and are being tried by all-white juries that have no understanding of the „average reasoning man“ of the black community.
10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace. And as our major political objective, a United Nations-supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony in which only black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national destiny.

MATERIAL 4US_Prison_Race


To understand the spiral of violence it is probably necessary to understand the effect the US-American war in Vietnam had especially on poor blacks in the US.

 In August 1964, President Johnson – who had taken office after the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963 – had used a set of events in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of North Vietnam, to launch full-scale war on Vietnam. Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told the American public there had been an attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on American destroyers. „While on routine patrol in international waters,“ McNamara said, „The U.S. destroyer Maddox underwent an unprovoked attack.“ It later turned out that the Gulf of Tonkin episode was a fake. In fact, the CIA had engaged in operations attacking North Vietnamese coastal installations – so if there had been an attack it would not have been „unprovoked.“ And it was not in international waters but in Vietnamese territorial waters. It turned out that no torpedoes were fired at the Maddox, as McNamara said.

Vietnam after the peace agreement in 1954.

In 1954, the French, having been unable to win Vietnamese popular support, which was overwhelmingly behind Ho Chi Minh and the revolutionary movement for independence (Viet Minh), had to withdraw from their former colony. In a peace agreement between the French and the Viet Minh, it was agreed that the French would temporarily withdraw into the southern part of Vietnam and that the Viet Minh would remain in the north. The regime in Saigon – the capital of South Vietnam –   became increasingly unpopular, it was close to the landlords, and this was a country of peasants. As a result it became increasingly dependent on financial and military support from the U.S. As the Pentagon Papers put it: „South Vietnam was essentially the creation of the United States.“ The regime in Saigon was encouraged by the U.S. not to hold the scheduled elections for reunification fearing that Ho Chi Minh and the communists would win a landslide victory. More and more Vietnamese who criticized the regime in Saigon for corruption, were imprisoned. Around 1958 guerrilla activities began against the regime. The Communist regime in Hanoi – the capital of North Vietnam – gave support to the guerrilla movement. In 1960, the National Liberation Front (NFL), also known as Viet Cong, was formed in the South. It united the various strands of opposition to the regime; its strength came from South Vietnamese peasants, who saw it as a way of changing their daily lives. A U.S. government analyst named Douglas Pike, in his book Viet Cong, tried to give a realistic assessment of what the United States faced: In over 2,500 villages of South Vietnam, the National Liberation Front created organizations in a country where mass organizations were virtually nonexistent. Aside from the NLF there had never been a truly mass-based political party in South Vietnam. “The Communists have brought to the villages of South Vietnam significant social change and have done so largely by means of the communication process. That is, they were organizers much more than they were warriors” Pike wrote in his book.

It is estimated that the NLF membership by early 1962 stood at around 300,000. The Pentagon Papers said of this period: „Only the Viet Cong had any real support and influence on a broad base in the countryside.” This was not the language used by President Johnson, who explained the U.S. aim in Vietnam was stopping Communism and promoting freedom.

The regime in Saigon could not suppress the National Liberation Front. By the time of the Tonkin episode in 1964, most of the South Vietnam countryside was controlled by local villagers organized by the NLF. Immediately after the Tonkin affair, American warplanes began bombarding North Vietnam and American soldiers were sent to South Vietnam. By early 1968, there were more than 500,000 American troops there, and the U.S. Air Force was dropping bombs at a rate unequaled in history. Large areas of South Vietnam were declared „free fire zones,“ which meant that all persons remaining within them –  civilians, old people, children – were considered an enemy, and bombs were dropped at will. Villages suspected of harboring Viet Cong were subject to „search and destroy“ missions – men of military age in the villages were killed, the homes were burned, the women, children, and old people were sent off to refugee camps. By the end of the war, seven million tons of bombs had been dropped on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia – more than twice the amount of bombs dropped on Europe and Asia in World War II.

 On June 5, 1965, the New York Times carried this dispatch from Saigon: “As the Communists withdrew from Quangngai last Monday, United States jet bombers pounded the hills into which they were headed. Many Vietnamese – one estimate is as high as 500 – were  killed by the strikes. The American contention is that they were Vietcong soldiers. But three out of four patients seeking treatment in a Vietnamese hospital afterward for burns from napalm were village women.

Napalm bombs contain jellied gasoline that sticks to structures as it burns.

Some of the first signs of opposition in the United States to the Vietnam war came out of the civil rights movement – perhaps because the experience of black people with the government led them to distrust its claim that it was fighting for freedom. In August 1964, when Lyndon Johnson was telling the nation about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and announcing the bombing of North Vietnam, black and white activists were gathering in Mississippi, at a memorial service for the three civil rights workers killed there that summer. One of the speakers pointed bitterly to Johnson’s use of force in Asia, comparing it with the violence used against blacks in Mississippi.

>>> Die Studierendenbewegung in den USA und der Vietnamkrieg zum Anhören (20 Minuten)

In 1965, young blacks who had just learned that a classmate of theirs was killed in Vietnam distributed a leaflet: „No Mississippi Negroes should be fighting in Vietnam for the White man’s freedom, until all the Negro People are free in Mississippi.“ The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) declared in early 1966 that „the United States is pursuing an aggressive policy in violation of international law“ and called for withdrawal from Vietnam. Around the same time, Julian Bond, a SNCC activist who had just been elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, spoke out against the war and the draft, and the House voted that he not be seated because his statements „tend to bring discredit to the House.“ The Supreme Court restored Bond to his seat, saying he had the right to free expression under the First Amendment. Students, often spurred by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), were heavily involved in the early protests against the war. Student protests against the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Program) resulted in the canceling of those programs in over forty colleges and universities. The ROTC was to supply half the officers in Vietnam. In September 1973, for the sixth straight month, the ROTC could not fulfill its quota.

Young men began to refuse to register for the draft, refused to be inducted if called. As early as May 1964 the slogan „We Won’t Go“ was widely publicized. Some who had registered began publicly burning their draft cards to protest the war. In May 1969, the Oakland induction center reported that of 4,400 men ordered to report for induction, 2,400 did not show up. One of the great sports figures of the nation, Muhammad Ali, the black boxer and heavyweight champion, refused to serve in what he called a „rich white man’s war„; boxing authorities took away his title as champion.

The antiwar movement, early in its growth, found a new constituency in priests and nuns of the Catholic Church. Some of them had been aroused by the civil rights movement, others by their experiences in Latin America, where they saw poverty and injustice under governments supported by the United States.

In 1968, Daniel Berrigan, a catholic priest who had visited North Vietnam and seen the effects of U.S. bombing, joined by eight other people went into a draft board office in Catonsville, Maryland, removed records, and set them afire outside in the presence of reporters. They were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of two to six yearsDaniel Berrigan wrote at the time of the incident: “Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children [….] We could not, so help us God, do otherwise [….] The time is past when good men can remain silent, when obedience can segregate men from public risk, when the poor can die without defense.”

In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out at Riverside Church in New York in his speech “Beyond Vietnam.” He connected war and poverty: „We are spending all of this money for death and destruction, and not nearly enough money for life and constructive development.“

>>> Martin Luther Kings Speech „Beyond Vietnam“ (1967) als PDF

>>> Martin Luther Kings Rede „Beyond Vietnam“ (1967) auf Deutsch als PDF zum Download

Hier können Ausschnitte aus seiner Rede „Beyond Vietnam“ angehört werden:

King now became a chief target of the FBI, which tapped his private phone conversations and blackmailed him. As a Senate report on the FBI said in 1976, the FBI tried „to destroy Dr. Martin Luther King.“ On April 4th, 1968, he went to Memphis, Tennessee, to support a strike of garbage workers. There, standing on a balcony outside his hotel room, he was shot to death by an unseen marksman.

US-President Lyndon B. Johnson had escalated the Vietnam war and failed to win it. By the year 1968 his popularity was at an all-time low; he could not appear publicly without a demonstration against him and the war. The chant “LBJ, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?“ was heard throughout the country.

In the fall of 1968, Richard Nixon, pledging that he would get the U.S. out of Vietnam, was elected president. He began to withdraw troops; by February 1972, less than 15,000 were left. But the bombing continued. Nixon’s policy was Vietnamization – the Saigon government, with Vietnamese ground troops, using American air power, would carry on the war. Nixon was not ending the war; he was ending the most unpopular aspect of it, the involvement of American soldiers on the soil of a faraway country. By 1969, the Moratorium Day peace rallies were drawing 500,000 people to Washington. In 1971, twenty thousand came to Washington to commit civil disobedience, trying to tie up Washington traffic to express their revulsion against the killing still going on in Vietnam. Fourteen thousand of them were arrested, the largest mass arrest in American history.

As the war became more and more unpopular, people close to the government began to break out of the circle of assent. The most dramatic instance was the case of Daniel Ellsberg who was a Harvard-trained economist, a former marine officer, employed by the RAND Corporation, which did special, often secret research for the U.S. government. Ellsberg helped write the Department of Defense history of the war in Vietnam and then decided to make the 7,000-page top-secret document public, with the aid of his friend, Anthony Russo. In 1971 they gave copies to the New York Times and various congressmen. In June 1971 the Times began printing selections from what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. It created a national sensation.

Daniel Ellsberg at the Los Angeles courthouse in 1973; Anthony Russo and Patricia Ellsberg to his right.

The Nixon administration indicted Ellsberg and Russo for violating the Espionage Act by releasing classified documents to unauthorized people; they faced long terms in prison if convicted. The judge, however, called off the trial during the jury deliberations, because the Watergate events unfolding at the time revealed unfair practices by the prosecution.

The publicity given to the student protests created the impression that the opposition to the war came mostly from middle-class intellectuals. But a Harvard study on public opinion found that the people most opposed to the war were people over fifty, blacks, and women. The most surprising data were probably in a survey made by the University of Michigan. This survey showed that, throughout the Vietnam war, Americans with only a grade school education were much more strongly for withdrawal from the war than Americans with a college education. In 1966, of people with a college education, 27% were for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam; of people with only a grade school education, 41% were for immediate withdrawal. In 1970, both groups were more antiwar: 47% of the college educated were for withdrawal and 61% of grade school graduates.

All this was part of a general change in the entire population of the country. The capacity for independent judgment among ordinary Americans is probably best shown by the swift development of anti war feeling among American GIs – who came mostly from lower-income groups. There had been, earlier in American history, instances of soldiers‘ disaffection from the war. But Vietnam produced opposition by soldiers on a scale never seen before. In 1966, three army privates, one black, one Puerto Rican, one white – all poor – refused to embark for Vietnam, denouncing the war as „immoral, illegal, and unjust.“ They were court-martialed and imprisoned. The individual acts multiplied. A black private in Oakland refused to board a troop plane to Vietnam, although he faced eleven years at hard labor. Two black marines were given long prison sentences (six years and ten years) for talking to other black marines against the war. The GI antiwar movement became more organized. Near Fort Jackson, South Carolina, the first „GI coffeehouse“ was set up, a place where soldiers could get coffee and doughnuts, find antiwar literature, and talk freely with others. Other GI coffeehouses sprang up in half a dozen other places across the country. Underground newspapers sprang up at military bases; by 1970 more than fiftywere circulating. Mixed with feelings against the war was resentment at the dehumanization of military life.

The dissidence spread to the war front itself. When the great Moratorium Day demonstrations were taking place in 1969 in the United States, some GIs in Vietnam wore black armbands to show their support. The French newspaper Le Monde reported: „A common sight is the black soldier, with his left fist clenched in defiance of a war he has never considered his own.“ Deserters doubled from 47,000 in 1967 to 89,000 in 1971. Altogether, about 563,000 GIs received “less than honorable” discharges, indicating something less than dutiful obedience to the military.

US-Soldaten demonstrieren gegen den Krieg gegen VietnamVeterans back from Vietnam formed a group called Vietnam Veterans Against the War. In December 1970, hundreds of Vietnam Veterans against the War went to Detroit to what was called the „Winter Soldier“ investigations, to testify publicly about atrocities they had participated in or seen in Vietnam. In April 1971 more than a thousand of the Vietnam veterans went to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate against the war. One by one, they went up to a wired fence around the Capitol, threw over the fence the medals they had won in Vietnam, and made brief statements about the war.

In the spring of 1970, Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who later was awarded the Nobel peace prize, had launched an invasion of Cambodia, after a long bombardment that the government never disclosed to the public. The invasion not only led to an outcry of protest in the United States, but it was also a military failure. Kissinger finally signed a peace agreement in Paris. In late 1973, when American troops had finally been removed from Vietnam, Congress passed a bill – the „War Powers Resolution“ – limiting the power of the president to make war without congressional consent. When the North Vietnamese launched attacks in early 1975 against the major cities in South Vietnam, the government in Saigon, still supported by the U.S., collapsed. In April 1975, North Vietnamese troops entered Saigon. Saigon was renamed Ho chi Minh City, and both parts of Vietnam were unified as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Traditional history often portrays the end of wars as coming from the initiatives of leaders, just as it often finds the coming of war a response to the demand of „the people.“ The Vietnam war gave clear evidence that it was only after the intervention in Cambodia ended, and only after the nationwide campus uproar over the invasion, that Congress passed a resolution declaring that American troops should not be sent into Cambodia without its approval.

In 1975, Richard Nixon admitted in his Memoirs that the antiwar movement caused him to drop plans for an intensification of the war: „Although publicly I continued to ignore the raging antiwar controversy … I knew, however, that after all the protests and the Moratorium, American public opinion would be seriously divided by any military escalation of the war.“ It was a rare presidential admission of the power of public protest.

The administration tried to persuade the American people that the war was ending because of its decision to negotiate a peace – not  because it was losing the war, not because of the powerful antiwar movement in the United States. But the government’s own secret memoranda all through the war testify to its sensitivity at each stage about „public opinion“ in the United States and abroad. The data is in the Pentagon Papers.

The system was working hard to contain the explosiveness of the black movement and the antiwar movement. Blacks were voting in large numbers in the South. By 1977, more than 2,000 blacks held office in eleven southern states (in 1965 the number had been 72). There were 2 Congressmen, 11 state senators, 95 state representatives, 76 mayors, 18 sheriffs or chiefs of police and 508 school board members. It was a dramatic advance. Those blacks in the South who could afford to go to downtown restaurants and hotels were no longer barred because of their race. More blacks could go to colleges and universities, to law schools and medical schools. But blacks, with 20 percent of the South’s population, still held less than 3 percent of the elective offices.

Racism emerged in northern cities. Blacks, freed from slavery to take their place in a free labor market, had long been competing with whites for scarce jobs. In the summer of 1977, the Department of Labor reported that the rate of unemployment among black youths was 34.8 percent.

The federal government made concessions to poor blacks in a way that pitted them against poor whites for scarce resources. Northern cities were busing children back and forth in an attempt to create racially mixed schools. Blacks tried to move into neighborhoods where whites, themselves poor, crowded, could find in them a target for their anger. In Boston, the busing of black children to white schools, and whites to black schools, set off a wave of white neighborhood violence. The use of busing to integrate schools had the effect of pushing poor whites and poor blacks into competition for the inadequate schools that the state provided for all the poor.


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