Using Literature to Teach about Race in America

Using Literature to Teach about Race in America

Stephanie Rosvoglou, Debra Willett, and Melissa Wilson

African American authors use the genre of historical fiction to highlight the experiences of their communities, urban, suburban or rural. Using short stories and novels, ordinary and sometimes not so ordinary events are relayed through the actions of fictional characters. Contemporary authors Colson, Whitehead, Walter Mosley and Guy Johnson use imaginary people in real-life settings that are reflections of African American life past and present, as did Zora Neale Hurston writing in the 1930s and Toni Morrison in the 1970s. Throughout these novels, racism and the inevitable cycle of abuse and poverty are present. Fiction can be used to help students develop a better understanding of race and racism in the United States past and present. These books can either be assigned as supplemental reading in a social studies class or in an English class paired with American history.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Lippincott, 1937)

Zora Neale Hurston, a Columbia University trained anthropologist, explores racism and gender bias through the eyes and voice of her character Janie Crawford. Their Eyes Were Watching God is set in 1937 in Eatonville, Florida. It serves as a reminder of the brutalities that the plantation owners once caused to the previously enslaved community and how reminders of enslavement continue to haunt the community.

Janie’s grandmother was born into slavery and was raped by a plantation owner. His wife was suspicious and questioned why Janie’s mother looked white and had yellow hair. The wife threatened to whip her and sell her mother. This didn’t happen because African Americans were freed after the “Big Surrender at Richmond.” Janie’s grandmother and mother settled in West Florida. At seventeen, Janie’s mother was raped by her schoolteacher. As a result, Leafy started drinking and abandoned Janie. Because of the disadvantages that both Janie’s grandmother and mother faced, they were trapped in a class and cycle of abuse, hard labor, and poverty.

Through her relationships with men, especially the affluent Joe Starks, Janie is able to break the cycle of poverty and abuse that both her mother and grandmother faced, however she remained isolated from the Black community. After Starks death, Janie marries a younger and darker skinned man known as Tea Cake. Tea Cake is bit by a rabid dog. As he plunges into insanity, he attacks Janie who shoots him. Janie is put on trial, charged with his death, in a trial marked by all of the racial prejudice of the period. Janie is finally acquitted by an all-white jury. In this novel we learn how race prejudice has been absorbed by the Black community and fuels resentment against a lighter-skinned woman.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970)

Toni Morrison also exams how racial prejudice is absorbed by the Black community. The novel takes place in Ohio during 1940 and 1941 and is told through the voice of Claudia McTeer, the foster-sister of Pecola Breedlove. Pecola endures hatred, prejudice, and racism, including from the Black community, because she is dark skinned and considered unattractive. She dreams of having blue eyes, which symbolize whiteness. When Pecola goes to a candy store, the owner of the store looks at her with disgust. Pecola wonders how a white immigrant storekeeper could possibly understand a little black girl. Pecola is eventually raped and impregnated by her drunk and abusive father. The baby is born prematurely and dies as Pecola drifts into insanity. The abuse of Pecola and her insanity are attributed to racism that infests the Black community because of the racial hierarchy in American society.

Always Outmanned and Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley (Norton, 1997)

Walter Mosley is a bi-racial author born in California in 1952. His mother is of Russian Jewish linage and his father is African American World War II veteran from Louisiana. Mosley grew up in South Central L.A and witnessed many of the situations he writes about. His family eventually moved to a middle-class community bordering on affluent west L.A. Mosley is not only an award- winning author of crime novels, but he has also written for young adults, produced and written for motion pictures and television.

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned follows the life of Socrates Fortlow, an ex-convict who battles to live a moral life in the city of Los Angeles. In the 1990s, 5.7 million people in the United States were under a form of correctional supervision. About 30% were white, 38% were black and 27% were Hispanic, but blacks made up only 12% of the general population. Overwhelmingly these jail sentences were due to drug arrests. Mosley uses an incident with a drug dealer to highlight Fortlow’s violent but moral code of life.

The setting for the novel is the poor L.A. neighborhood of Watts. Fortlow, who is now fifty-eight, has been released from prison after serving a sentence for a double homicide. He has been living in LA for the past eight years still encumbered by guilt and regret. He occasionally thinks about what transpired and what could have occurred if he made a different choice. Walter Mosley gives a sympathetic and compassionate account of Fortlow’s experience. We see him grow from a hard criminal to a person who tries to live the years he has left with moral conviction. He makes decisions and handles situations using methods that are unorthodox but necessary for the greater good of his neighborhood. Along the way, Fortlow meets young Darryl, an eleven-year-old that reminds him of himself. He feels obligated to save Darryl from a life of hardship and crime to ensure that he does not spend his life in prison. While struggling with the idea that he still viewed himself as a murderer, Fortlow mentors Darryl to keep him out of trouble. He ultimately saves Darryl and eventually finds self-identity, self-love, and self-confidence.

Mosley pulls you into the story with the astonishing developments of his main character, Socrates Fortlow. The reader can see the character transformation from a murder convict into a compassionate man that finds himself while helping others. I would have high school students read and study this novel to better understand the experiences of some African Americans living in poor neighborhoods and the struggles they go through throughout much of their lives. The teaching of this novel gets easier once the use of some of the difficult language is discussed, so that the students may better understand what terms are used and the context of those terms.

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer Bray, 2017)

Starr Carter is a sixteen-year-old Black girl who lives in the poor neighborhood of Garden Heights while attending an all-white preparatory school across town. She decides to attend a party with her friends and runs into Khaill, a long-time childhood friend. They began to hang out and he offers her a ride home. While on the way, a white police officer pulls them over. Khaill gets out of the car awaiting the return of the officer. Khalil then opens the car door just to check on Starr and he was immediately shot and killed by the officer, badge number One-Fifteen. Khalil’s death makes national news and Starr wants justice. She wants people to know who he really was, not what the media is portraying him to be. While fighting for justice, Starr realizes that no one can shut her up. Her voice can be used as a weapon. She ultimately finds her voice and uses it to inform others of what really happened to Khalil and what happens to many black men and women in today’s society. Justice must prevail.

This book gives the reader the felt experience of Starr and how she deals with seeing her best friend get shot right in front of her. She has to deal with the implications of the media and police trying to dictate who he was and to justify the need to kill him. Starr’s greatest challenge is using her voice to bring justice to Khalil. It is often taught that black voices don’t matter, but through risk taking, bravery, and extreme strength and power, she finally recognizes the importance of speaking up for who you are and what you believe in, no matter the consequences. I would definitely allow my high school students to read and study this book. It gives an account of Starr’s experiences and the struggles she went through to speak to the world about who Khalil was and to get him true justice. Never stop using your voice and never give up.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, 2019)

The Nickel Boys follows the life of Elwood Curtis, a business owner living in New York City. In the present day, an investigation takes place into the Nickel Academy that had been closed for several years. The investigation exposes the school’s hidden history of brutalities, including many bodies that were secretly buried on the grounds. Many men who were jailed at Nickel Academy are deciding to come forward to share their experiences of what happened there. Elwood Curtis is forced to tackle the long-term impacts of his experiences.

In 1960s Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis is a hardworking high school student with an idealistic sense of justice. Motivated by Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, he always tried to speak out about injustices. When he was chosen to attend a university to start earning credits for college, he was very excited. However, on the first day, he decides hitchhike with an African American man. When they are pulled over, it is revealed that the vehicle was stolen. Elwood is arrested and convicted. He is sent to Nickel Academy, a juvenile detention center. Most boys at Nickel Academy receive poor education, are made to perform hard labor, and regularly receive harsh physical reprimands. The staff ignores and conceals sexual abuse and visits to the “White House,” from which some boys never come back. The children are segregated by race, with black boys facing the worst treatment. Elwood makes friends with another boy by the name of Turner. Turner has been in the Nickel Academy for a while and knows how everything works. Elwood tries to serve his time while keeping his head down but is gravely beaten on two instances: once for interfering when a young boy was being attacked by sexual predators, and once after writing a letter to inspectors describing the facility’s inadequate conditions and mistreatment. Turner overhears the administration’s plan to have Elwood killed and they decide to try to escape. Elwood is shot and killed while Turner avoids being captured. We then discover that Turner has been using Elwood’s name and tried to live up to his principles. In the present day, he finally exposes his history and real name, Jack Turner, to his wife, then heads back to Florida to tell his friend’s story.

Colson Whitehead reveals the truth about a reform school that operated for 111 years. He revealed the harsh and unjust treatment of young black boys that destroyed their lives. This book gives very descriptive imagery on how these boys were treated and the condition they were in. If this book is taught, students could see the harsh treatments that these black children faced. It also shows how in society today, hanging out in a wrong crowd, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, could ruin your entire life in just an instant. It shows the injustices of what happens to black children. They are not even given a chance. They are sent straight to jail without anyone defending them and without anyone telling judges and authority figures who they really are as a person, or who they can be.

A Different Pace of Change: Debunking the Myth of “The Roaring Twenties”

A Different Pace of Change: Debunking the Myth of “The Roaring Twenties”

Michael Tomasulo

Famed 1920s American author Willa Cather once said “the world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts…” With this quote, Cather is referencing the culture wars that were emerging in America during the 1920s. She is summarizing the feeling that spread during the 1920s as the United States seemed to divide itself into two separate halves with urban and rural cultures. America during the 1920s is often viewed as a time of economic prosperity as well as a time consumed by an electrifying party scene. Wealthy young men and women going out to dance halls to drink, smoke, and, of course, dance. When they are not out on the town, these wealthy Americans spend their time in their lavish Fifth Avenue apartments or extravagant suites in the Ritz Hotel. This was not the lifestyle that all Americans had the opportunity of living, however, which is where the divide Willa Cather was describing occurred. Young, wealthy individuals in metropolitan America lived vastly different lives in comparison to the young individuals living in rural and small-town America.

The other perspective for which one could analyze Cather’s quote is in terms of the division of cultures as a new youth culture was emerging, growing, and spreading in urban spaces throughout the 1920s. Young men and women in metropolitan America, mainly, were working to distance themselves from their parents’ seemingly outdated morals, values, ideals, and norms which is where new images and identities such as the flapper stem from. However, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “youth is unfortunately not a permanent condition of life.” The youth in American cities spent most of their time engaging in the vast slew of leisure activities their cities provided like movie theatres, dance halls, and amusement locations like Coney Island in New York. This was not the way a large portion of the American youth population had the luxu ry of choosing to live. The youth population in rural American towns truly felt the impact of Fitzgerald’s quote as they oftentimes held more responsibility than the wealthy youths of the city. Rural youths did not have the opportunities to spend all their time as frivolously as urban youths were able to because they were busy working, whether that be in or out of the home, and they did not have the plethora of leisure activities that the city offered its patrons. This is not to say that all young people in metropolitan America were not working since there were plenty of working-class youths in cities like New York that came from immigrant families. However, the focus here is on the wealthy youth population living in the urban meccas of America during the 1920s. This leads into why “The Roaring Twenties” is such a misnomer for the decade that is the 1920s; it only classifies life in the city and disregards the large portion of the population living in the small towns and rural America.

There are some questions that arise when considering this idea that “The Roaring Twenties” is an inaccurate nickname for the 1920s as a decade. Through extensive research, this project will answer some if not all of those questions. Those questions include the following: Why is “The Roaring Twenties” viewed from only one perspective? Specifically, that perspective of immense wealth and party lifestyles. How was life different for those not living in major cities different from the lifestyles of those who were living in metropolis? Who is responsible for perpetuating the myth of “The Roaring Twenties” and why do they do that? What is the danger in immortalizing the decade in this way? Is there any danger? Again, this project will answer all of these questions in some form or another in order to provide some explanation into why “The Roaring Twenties” is such an inaccurate misnomer that disregards a large portion of the American population during the 1920s.

The decade that is the 1920s has historically been granted the moniker of “The Roaring Twenties.” When most hear this nickname, what comes to mind is lavish lifestyles filled with parties, drinking, flappers, dance halls, and many other frivolous activities. The classification of “The Roaring Twenties” is one that is inaccurate when describing the decade as a whole as it only categorizes the lifestyles of those wealthy individuals living in urban spaces, like New York City. For those working-class individuals and families living in rural and small-town America, the 1920s were far from “roaring.” This unequal representation brought on by this misnomer can be visualized through the literary works of two well-known authors of the 1920s and the 20th century as a whole: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Willa Cather. Fitzgerald is arguably one of the main perpetuators of the myth that the 1920s was “roaring” as the major themes of his book revolved around upper-class society in urban meccas such as New York. The main characters that his stories focus on often hail from wealthy families and have luxuries and opportunities that not many were offered during the 1920s. Willa Cather, on the other hand, wrote stories that mostly were set in rural America. She is praised for her ability to transport readers to the small towns she writes about as well as her ability to accurately depict life in these small rural towns. Cather’s writing helps to show how incomparable life was for those individuals not living in major cities and, in turn, how and why “The Roaring Twenties” is such an inaccurate misnomer for the decade as a whole.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is considered one of the greatest authors of the modern era due to his easily recognized and distinct style of prose. He is most well-known for his novel The Great Gatsby and writing about similar themes of high society, wealthy individuals. However, he did not come from a family of money. Born in 1896, Fitzgerald was “the son of an unsuccessful businessman who had to rely upon his wife’s inheritance to support his children,” which made Fitzgerald “sensitive to his family’s outsider status among the monied elite of his native St. Paul, Minnesota” (F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, 2020). Fitzgerald’s sensitivity and insecurity eventually grew into a true inferiority complex that he was forced to deal with for the entirety of his life. He always felt a need for popularity and to fit in with the majority population. This led to him writing about the themes he is most widely known for, once he became an author. Throughout his lengthy career, “Fitzgerald’s main themes are ambition and loss, discipline vs. self-indulgence, love and romance, and money and class” (F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, 2020). Most of Fitzgerald’s well-known works focus on these major themes as they often feature wealthy, ambitious, self-indulgent individuals often trying to find love. These themes are heavily explored in two of Fitzgerald’s most famous works, The Beautiful and Damned and The Great Gatsby.

            The Beautiful and Damned, published in 1922, is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s second novel. The story follows a young, wealthy, Harvard-educated man named Anthony Comstock Patch and his wife, Gloria. At the beginning of the novel, Anthony is a young bachelor living in a large Fifth Avenue apartment who spends most of his time going out with his two best friends, Maury Noble and Richard “Dick” Caramel. Anthony’s view on life completely changes when he is introduced to Dick’s cousin, Gloria, whom he falls in love with and eventually marries. The middle and latter portions of the novel follow their initially loving marriage that quickly turns a bit rocky as they wait for Anthony’s extremely wealthy grandfather, Adam Patch, to die so that they can inherit his money. The couple become enthralled in their ambition for wealth until it eventually drives Anthony completely mad by the end of the novel (Fitzgerald, 1922).

The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel which was published in 1925. This novel follows a young, middle-class man named Nick Carraway as he moves into a small house next to the enormous manor owned by Jay Gatsby. Nick and Gatsby get along incredibly well with one another, but they come from two different worlds and classes: Nick from the middle- or working-class and Gatsby from the upper class. The novel follows the two men as they form a friendship and as Gatsby rekindles a relationship with Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan. In the end, however, Gatsby’s love for Daisy ultimately gets him killed by the grieving husband of a woman whom Daisy unintentionally killed while driving drunk (Fitzgerald, 1925).

Willa Cather is also considered to be one of the greatest authors of the modern era and of the 20th century for her innate abilities as a regionalist author. Cather is most notable for her novels and short stories set in rural and small-town America. She is widely praised for her abilities to really transport readers to the locations her stories are set. She is able to do this because she actually lived most of her life in Nebraska. As “the eldest of seven children, Willa Cather was born in Back Creek Valley, Virginia in 1873. When Cather was nine years old, her family moved to rural Webster County, Nebraska. After a year and a half, the family resettled in the county seat of Red Cloud, where Cather lived until beginning her college studies at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1890” (The National Willa Cather Center). Cather is known for her abilities to use her childhood and young adult experiences in rural Nebraska and allows readers to visualize the region and geographic features of rural America through her detailed descriptions and overall writing style. These skills are overtly present in two of her novels, One of Ours and A Lost Lady.

One of Ours, published in 1922, follows a man named Claude Wheeler living in rural Nebraska during the late 1910s and early 1920s. Claude feels as though he does not belong in the farming life he is living in, even though his fortune is guaranteed by his family’s profession. He is distanced from his father and extremely religious mother, and is basically rejected by his wife who would prefer to spend her time completing missionary work and political activism projects. While in college, Claude feels that the religious Temple College he attends is not giving him the best education and feels that he will get a more enriching and beneficial experience at the State University. His parents ignore his request and he is forced to stay at the religious school, but he then meets the Erlich family who he better identifies with. However, Claude eventually finds what he is searching for when the U.S. enters World War I and he enlists in the army. The novel explores the theme of belonging as Claude really only wants to feel as though he actually matters which he does not feel until he goes to fight in World War I (Cather, 1922).

A Lost Lady, published in 1923, is a novel by Willa Cather that actually had an incredibly prominent influence on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing of The Great Gatsby. This novel, however, tells the story of a woman named Marian Forrester, a wealthy socialite, and her husband Captain Daniel Forrester. The couple live in the small, Western town of Sweet Water, Nebraska along the Transcontinental Railroad. The story is told from the perspective of a young man and Sweet Water native named Neil Herbert. Neil feels very deeply for Marian, who is a representation of the American Dream, and he tells the story of her eventual social decline. This decline is said to mirror and allegorize the decline of the American frontier in the new age of rapid modernization and industrialization as well as the age that brought rise to capitalism in the United States. Overall, the novel is an allegory for the decline of the American Dream, a prominent theme in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, hence the influence, and the decline of the American frontier during the 1920s (Cather, 1923).

Metropolitan America, where one would find the major hustling and bustling cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are where the lifestyles most associated with “The Roaring Twenties” are prevalent. These urban meccas are where young, wealthy Americans tended to call home during the 1920s. This is not to say that everyone living in metropolitan America were wealthy and from the upper-class. Rather, there were many working- and lower-class people living in major American cities, at this time, who would also participate in the various leisure activities offered by cities, simply in a different capacity. The focus of this project, however, is solely on the wealthy, upper-class youth population. Wealthy young men and women in these urban spaces would spend most of their time in dance halls and at various parties or in their large apartments and hotel rooms. The daily lives of these Americans are what are most directly associated with the moniker of “The Roaring Twenties.” Classifying the decade of 1920s as “The Roaring Twenties” only categorizes the lives of the wealthy in American urban spaces as they have the access and financial ability to the activities that are most directly associated with life during the 1920s. This wealthy lifestyle, and the people who live them, are accurately portrayed and represented throughout the various literary works of famed 1920s author F. Scott Fitzgerald through such characters as Anthony Patch from The Beautiful and Damned (Fitzgerald, 1922) and Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald, 1925).

            The wealthy metropolitan lifestyle is the one that is most directly associated with the moniker “The Roaring Twenties” which leads to the inaccuracy of that classification. When it comes to the daily practices and lifestyles of individuals living in major urban spaces, specifically those of wealth, there was an evolution in how individuals experienced daily life. This evolution can be mostly attributed to the access individuals living in urban spaces had as well as to their affluence and plentitude of wealth. The evolution can also be attributed to the modernization and commercialism of urban America during the 1920s as “advertisements, magazines, and movies broadcast the hedonistic delights available in cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to the rest of the country” (Ryan, 2018, p. 9). Major American cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles were growing in population and area as more and more people were being drawn to them from the country and rural areas. Metropolitan spaces were made to look incredibly attractive in various forms of media such as advertisements, books, movies, magazines, etc. as the many attractions of the spaces were highlighted. Specifically, “it was the amusement park, lit up at night, the dance halls, and the movie palaces, and the ideas about what went on there, that drew the line of demarcation between the village and the city” (Ryan, 2018, p. 9-10). These were the hotspots of activity for wealthy youths in urban America as they offered the most entertaining experiences for them and these places were frequently presented attractively to all Americans through several facets of popular media, at the time.

This sort of lifestyle is also incredibly prevalent throughout several of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most notable literary works. For example, the main character of Fitzgerald’s 1921 novel The Beautiful and Damned, Anthony Patch, lives the life of a member of high society in New York City. When he is not in his luxurious apartment on Fifth Avenue, he would frequently “walk down Fifth Avenue to the Ritz, where he had an appointment for dinner with his two most frequent companions, Dick Caramel and Maury Noble” (Fitzgerald, 1922, p. 18). Anthony Patch’s life is the epitome of wealthy youth culture in urban America during the 1920s. Other than going to dinner at the Ritz, he can also be found attending parties of various types, frequenting dance halls, and finding company with women of a similar age to his and socioeconomic status until he meets Gloria who he eventually marries. Another well-known example and representation of metropolitan youth culture that is so directly associated with “The Roaring Twenties” is the character Jay Gatsby from Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. Spontaneity was often a trait of young men and women in 1920’s metropolitan culture as they often were against being tied down and limited to experiencing too little an amount of activities and often would spend long nights out on the town. One of the most well-known examples of this spontaneity comes in The Great Gatsby when at a dinner party, Daisy Buchanan decides on a whim that the attendees of the party should drive into the city from Long Island (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 926). Spontaneity was a common practice and trait among youths during the 1920s, especially young women and/or flappers, as they wanted to experience as much of life as they could and lead a life of excitement without being restrained or held back by society.

Young women during the 1920s saw a major evolution in the way they experienced life as well as in the ways they presented themselves to the rest of society. Specifically in urban spaces, the flapper image and identity came to prominence during the 1920s. A flapper has been described as “virtually any girl [who] could be found ‘deep in an atmosphere of jungle music and the questioning of moral codes” (Zeitz, 2006, p. 42). Flappers were redefining womanhood during the 1920s by changing the view and perception that was often placed onto women prior to this decade. They were women who dressed differently and acted differently in comparison to women prior to this time. Flappers are girls who “wear ‘hand-knit, sleeveless’ jerseys… that offer easy access to the forbidden regions of their bodies. They scoff at their parents’ prudery and remind them that ‘Mother, it’s done – you can’t run everything now the way you did in the early nineties” (Zeitz, 2006, p. 42). Young women during the 1920s were shifting the gender norms that had been placed on them and dramatically changing the ways people, but mainly men, viewed them as members of society. This flapper image and identity did not exist prior to “The Roaring Twenties” as F. Scott Fitzgerald is actually credited with creating the image in his first novel published in 1920.

In 1920 F. Scott Fitzgerald published and released his first novel called This Side of Paradise. This novel is said to be semiautobiographical as the main character, Amory Blaine, follows a similar life path compared to that of Fitzgerald himself. It is within this novel that Fitzgerald is said to have created the flapper image and identity that became widely known and grasped during the 1920s and is still widely known and even grasped today. However, “by later standards, Fitzgerald’s exposé of the flapper was tame. But it was provocative enough for its time” as “‘none of the Victorian mothers … had any idea how casually their daughters were accustomed to be kissed,’ opened an oft quoted chapter” (Zeitz, 2006, p. 42). The college age generation (the youths) living in urban America, mostly, were wholeheartedly breaking away from the standards and norms that their parental generation was setting for them and this breaking was increasingly intense and deliberate for young women. Young women were participating in activities and completing different actions that, prior to this time, would have never been seen done by a woman. In This Side of Paradise, “Amory saw girls doing things that even in his memory would have been impossible: eating three-o’clock, after-dance suppers in impossible cafés, talking of every side of life with a furtive excitement that Amory considered stood for a real moral let-down. But he never realized how wide-spread it was until he saw the cities between New York and Chicago as one vast juvenile intrigue” (Fitzgerald, 1920, p. 55-56). Flappers went against the traditional moral code set for women prior to the 1920s and were proud of their new sense of freedom and agency that they set for themselves within urban society. This identity and image coined by Fitzgerald opened a fairly brand-new conversation about sex, mainly in the city, and women’s sexuality.

The decade of the 1920s brought about an increase in sexual fluidity in terms of the lessening of the taboo nature of sex. Further, “in a culture saturated in sex, these girls knew more than their mothers and their grandmothers had at their age, and evidence shows that they did in fact engage in more sexual activity than their forebears. Later research demonstrates that higher numbers of women partook in premarital sex in the 1920s, though for most it was only acceptable as a prelude to marriage” (Ryan, 2018, p. 107). Young women during the 1920s were much more open about sex and their sexuality than the women whom came before them. Even though some women still decided not to partake in premarital sex unless it was considered a prelude to marriage, the decade showed an immense increase in the numbers of women partaking and participating in premarital sex. These sorts of changes can be accredited to the location that is metropolitan America and the accessibility that this locale provided young, wealthy Americans.

The accessibility that urban spaces provided young upper-class citizens for the various activities they participated in has a major impact on what made life in 1920s cities so “roaring.” Being that everything in cities was so condensed, there was a vast spectrum of activities for young men and women to participate in. There were dance halls, movie theatres and theatres for theatrical productions, restaurants, and in some places like New York there were places of amusement and entertainment like Coney Island. This accessibility, in the case of urban America, had an immense impact on popular media of this times. Specifically, literature was incredibly representative of leisure activities and was greatly impacted by the geography of the locale. Authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Willa Cather were inspired by urban geography (only in some cases for Cather) to set their novels and other stories.

In Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned, Anthony and Gloria Patch both hail from urban America where they were able to go out nightly and go to elegant restaurants, the theatre, or dance halls. However, after marrying one another, they decided to move out of New York City and ended up in the small suburb, north of the city, called Marietta. Fitzgerald writes a vastly different life for the young couple when they move to Marietta in comparison to the life they led in the city. Unfortunately for the newly married Patches, “Marietta itself offered little social life” (Fitzgerald, 1922, p. 152). Gloria and Anthony were so used to seeing friends on a daily and nightly basis when living in the city and this made the adjustment to rural living that much more difficult for them to the point where they were forced to move back to the city (because of this, but also because of financial issues). In opposition, in Willa Cather’s short story Coming, Eden Bower!, a man named Don Hedger takes the titular character Eden Bower on a date to Coney Island where “they went to the balcony of a big, noisy restaurant and had a shore dinner with tall steins of beer” and “after dinner they went to the tent behind the bathing beach, where the tops of two balloons bulged out over the canvas. A red-faced man in a linen suit stood in front of the tent, shouting in a hoarse voice and telling the people that if the crowd was good for five dollars more a beautiful young woman would risk her life for their entertainment” (Cather, 1920, p. 15). Places like Coney Island in urban America held such a wide array of activities for people to see, do, and participate in. These activities provided by the condensed nature of metropolises had an immense impact on popular literature during the 1920s and, in the case of Fitzgerald, helped to perpetuate the myth of “The Roaring Twenties.”

Even though is one of the most recognizable authors of the 1920s, and one of the most profound authors in general, F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the most responsible individuals in the perpetuation of the myth of “The Roaring Twenties.” Fitzgerald is known for mostly only writing about the lives of wealthy men and women living in major cities during the 1920s. His most well-known and widely recognized characters like Jay Gatsby, Amory Blaine, and Anthony Patch live among upper-class society in or near New York City. These characters lived in large homes and/or apartments, spent most of their time drinking at parties or dance halls, and had enough money that allowed them to not necessarily have to work if they chose not to. The inaccuracy and myth that stems from this writing is that these characters are set in unchanging class standings with no real opportunity or need for mobility. It is evident that “Fitzgerald clearly establishes the emblematic dissimilarity of style and taste between the rich and the others, arranging it around the habit” (Bechtel, 2017, p. 118). Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a perfect example of this dissimilarity as readers are presented with two vastly different main characters: Jay Gatsby of the upper class and Nick Caraway of the working class. In this novel Fitzgerald presents readers with these two characters and clearly distinguishes between their differing financial statuses through their attire, lifestyles, and homes. With this incredibly dissimilar presentation, “thus, Fitzgerald shows that the tastes of his upwardly mobile working-class men are gaudy and ostentatious, yet utterly terminable, fulfilling Bourdieu’s definitions of cultural incompetence and the vulgar manners that reveal underlying social conditions in the habitus” (Bechtel, 2017, p. 119). Fitzgerald’s portrayal of life in the 1920s was widely inaccurate as he presented this erroneous fallacy of the possibility of social mobility which is completely incongruous with Fitzgerald’s actual lifestyle.

When the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald are read, most readers would assume that Fitzgerald spent his life living like the wealthy characters he created. When reading his work, most would assume that Fitzgerald held the luxuries of frivolously spending money, living in a mansion of sorts, and no real need for work. However, “his popular reputation as a careless spendthrift is untrue. Fitzgerald was always trying to follow conservative financial principles” (Quirk, 2009). Fitzgerald led a life that was vastly incongruous with the lives in his most famous characters led. Throughout the majority of his life, Fitzgerald worked to save as much money as he could, until 1929 when his wife, Zelda fell ill. This is a perfect example of the danger of perpetuating the myth of “The Roaring Twenties.” By perpetuating this myth, Fitzgerald placed an inaccurate assumption onto himself in that most readers, and later historians, assumed he lived the wealthy, upper-class life of his characters which was not the case. Similarly, his writing is what leads to people assuming that life was the same for everyone in the country when that life that is mostly associated with the 1920s is only that of wealthy youths in metropolitan America. 

Rural America, where one would find the slow-moving small towns and farm towns. This is where one would find the lifestyles that are not commonly associated with the moniker “The Roaring Twenties.” These rural spaces are where most working and lower-class families would call home. People in these smaller, slow-moving spaces spent most of their time working or could be found crowding on neighbors’ porches singing, playing games, or engaging in small talk. This locale, frequently referred to as “Main Street,” is completely disregarded when most consider the moniker of “The Roaring Twenties” as these spaces were not categorized by that nickname. Young people living in small town America did not have the access to the activities nor, in most cases, to the financial frivolity that youths in urban America had making life for these youths vastly different. This different pace of change is most accurately represented through the literary works of famed author Willa Cather through such characters as Claude Wheeler from One of Ours (Cather, 1922) and Marian Forrester from A Lost Lady (Cather, 1923).

One of the most notable differences between life in the urban setting compared to life in the rural setting is the type of leisure activities young people participated in and engaged with. Part of this difference also has to do with the accessibility these young men and women had to different activities. For those living in rural towns, there were less options for a night out in comparison to what those living in cities had. Family life was heavily emphasized in small towns as young men and women often spent more time with their parents and siblings than the young men and women in metropolitan America. Again, most nights on Main Street were spent on the lawns or porches of one’s neighbor’s home where large groups of families and neighbors would sing and chat. This was not exclusive to any age group, specifically, though as “young couples joined in too, and while they might drift away momentarily, their evening centered on these community gatherings of all ages” (Ryan, 2018, p. 2). Youth culture in small town America did not revolve around independence or separation from one’s parents as it did in the city where young men and women oftentimes put immense effort into separating themselves from their previous familial generations. This sort of community gathering did change, somewhat, during the 1920s as the automobile became more commonplace for families to own so people in small town America would often drive out of their towns to participate in other sorts of leisure activities that were not offered nor present in their hometowns. An example of this begins the novel One of Ours by Willa Cather where readers are introduced to Claude Wheeler as he awoke excitedly one morning. Claude waked his younger brother, Ralph, and asked him to come help him wash the car because they had plans to go to the circus (Cather, 1922, p. 1). Claude and Ralph would otherwise not be able to see the circus without having a mode of transportation, in this case their car, to get them there. This was the case for most Americans living in small towns as leisure activities were not readily available nor present for them in their towns.

During the 1920s, the concept of youth culture became more distinct and prevalent throughout society. Young people of the time often sought to distance themselves from their parents’ old-fashioned morals, ideals, and values and live life in the way they chose to live it. However, historians have argued and debated where this, for the time, new distinction of cultures stemmed from. Some locate the origins of this culture gap to World War I which was the first war of the Machine Age, while “others locate its origins in the nation’s rapid modernization and industrialization, dramatically altered social, racial, and gender roles” (Drowne and Huber, 2004, p. 39). This is also an explanation for why leisure activities and youth culture differed so noticeably in small town America in comparison to metropolitan America. If the development of this new youth culture is going to be attributed to rapid modernization and industrialization, then it is evident why this was how youths in cities lived; they were directly witnessing and experiencing rapid modernization and industrialization. Young men and women in small towns were not seeing this modernization and industrialization, so the new youth culture was not as prevalent in these spaces as “technological changes came far more slowly to homes in rural America” (Drowne and Huber, 2004, p. 18). This explanation is also relevant and topical for explaining why an evolution nor change in terms of women and gender norms cannot be seen as clearly in small town America during the 1920s.

The evolution and newfound freedom women felt and expressed in major cities was not as prevalent in small towns. The flapper image and identity were not seen in the same light as it was in the cities. People living in small town America tended to follow more traditional gender norms and this is evident in their views and perceptions of flappers. Journalist John Farrer learned this when writing an article about one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s collections of short stories called Tales of the Jazz Age. In his article, he explains how “a young married woman recently told me that she detested the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald. ‘Such girls don’t exist,’ she affirmed. ‘At least I haven’t been able to find them’” (Farrar, 1922, p. 12-13). Flappers were mainly seen in the major urban spaces and were not as prominent in rural spaces, even though there were some instances of them, as the young women on Main Street were not as focused on distinguishing themselves from their parents and engaging in the new youth culture. Furthermore, women in small towns did not venture out as much as the young women in the cities had the luxury of doing as “the great majority of families followed traditional sex roles: the husbands were the principal breadwinners, while the wives had primary responsibility for cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children” (Drowne and Huber, 2004, p. 18). Women in rural spaces chose to hold onto their responsibilities and work in the home, primarily, whereas flappers in the cities wanted to break away from those traditional gender norms and responsibilities. However, this way of living was the only option for women due to the geographic locale of their small towns.

Small towns did not offer the slew of activities comparable to the amount major cities offered their inhabitants. Rural towns were less condensed and more spaced out than cities, architecturally, so there was not the available space for places like movie theatres, dance halls, and amusement parks like Coney Island in small town America. This is why people in small town America oftentimes would leave their homes for short periods of time for simple nights out and/or for longer, extended periods of time for vacations. Willa Cather’s novel, A Lost Lady, takes place in a small town known as Sweet Water, located in Nebraska where there are little to no options of leisure activities for its residents. That is why the couple the story follows, Captain Daniel and Marian Forrester, leave the town for an extended period of time. Specifically, “she and her husband spent the winter in Denver and Colorado Springs, — left Sweet Water soon after Thanksgiving and did not return until the first of May” (Cather, 1923, p. 24). Readers can infer that Cather’s Sweet Water does not offer much excitement nor any sort of change of pace for its residents, therefore, it is the type of town where residents who are able to decide to take vacations and leave town for some time. This can be accredited to the regional and geographic layout of the town and its location. Nebraska, in general, is mostly farmland with few major cities, which is evident throughout Cather’s novel. Cather is a novelist known for her regionalism within her writing or her ability to place readers in the setting of her novels through in-depth descriptions and details.

Throughout her career, it is evident that Willa Cather was heavily influenced by the geography and regional style of rural America which is the feature setting in a variety of her novels and short stories. Cather is credited as being one of the greatest regionalist authors of the modern era of literature. Literary scholars argue that “Cather achieves similar effects with fewer words, her landscape made vivid through metaphors that create picture with contrasting images of ‘sea,’ ‘Gothic… cathedrals,’ and ‘enormous city.’ Her use of color in describing the blooming vegetation suggests the influence of Impressionism, an improvement over the blur of Hawthorne’s ‘smokey-hued tracts’” (Murphy, 2021, p. 302). In her writing, Cather was able to take readers and place them in these rural settings through her use of descriptive phrases, metaphors, and colorful language. Her ability to create vivid images of her settings within the minds of her readers is why she is categorized as one of, if not the best, regionalist authors as she is able to present her words through a regionalist perspective. Cather’s “regional way of thinking emphasizes the interconnections between places and communities as a larger spatial network” (Squire, 2011, p. 48-49). When writing, Cather was able to look at her settings as a larger space rather than a specific region which allowed for her to see and write about the connections that specific places and communities hold to their larger regional space. It is evident that Willa Cather was immensely influenced by the geography of rural America as that tended to be the setting she seemed most comfortable writing about. Her writing also provides for an accurate perception of what life was like for individuals living in rural and small-town America during the 1920s and explained how life was not “roaring” for everyone during this decade. Cather’s writing also provides reasoning for why the phrase “The Roaring Twenties” is an inaccurate classification for the decade as it completely disregards nor considers life for those living in American suburbs.

Cather was able to write about the lifestyle of those living in rural America so accurately as she actually lived and grew up there. Cather was born in Virginia, but when she was only nine years old, her family moved to Nebraska (The National Willa Cather Center, 2021). When writing, Cather was able to draw on her own childhood and young adult experiences to give an accurate depiction of life in the rural region of the country. Critics raved about Cather’s writing, praising the “reality and a beauty of description in Willa Cather’s treatment of the prairie country that must bring a wonderful sigh of gratitude from anyone who lived there. The pages spill color: words sing with life” (De Leeuw, 1922, p. 7). Cather had the ability, when writing, to truly transport her readers from wherever they were reading to rural America as her portrayal and depiction of what life was really like for that large population of the country. Critics felt as though this ability was remarkable and should have really pleased the rural population as Cather was letting them truly be seen by the rest of the population in metropolitan America. Overall, “as one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century, Willa Cather was gifted in conveying an intimate understanding of her characters in relation to their personal and cultural environments—environments that often derived from Red Cloud” (The National Willa Cather Center, 2021). Willa Cather is deemed one of the greatest authors of the 20th Century because of her innate ability to draw on her past experiences in rural Nebraska in order to accurately depict life in rural America. Her writing allowed those living in this region to feel seen by those living in the major cities and she gives profound reasoning for why “The Roaring Twenties” is a misnomer for the decade as a whole.

Conclusively, 1920s, as a decade, has historically been referred to as “The Roaring Twenties.” When most hear this moniker granted to the decade, what typically comes to mind is lavish lifestyles filled with parties, drinking, flappers, dance halls, and many other frivolous activities. “The Roaring Twenties” is a misnomer that is incredibly inaccurate when describing the decade as a whole as it only categorizes the lifestyles of those wealthy individuals living in urban spaces, like New York City. For those working-class individuals and families living in rural and small-town America, the 1920s were far from “roaring.” However, even though life was not “roaring” for those living in rural and small-town America, their lives were not dreary and awful. For individuals living in those spaces, the slower and more traditional lifestyle was really all they knew how to follow since they were surrounded by it on a daily basis.

The unequal representation brought on by this misnomer is overtly present within the literary works of two well-known authors of the 1920s: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Willa Cather. Fitzgerald is arguably one of the main perpetuators of the myth of “The Roaring Twenties” as the major themes of his novels and stories revolve around upper-class society in metropolitan meccas such as New York. The main characters his stories oftentimes focus, hail from wealthy families and have luxuries and opportunities that not many were offered during the 1920s. Fitzgerald highlights the fast-paced, glamourous lifestyle of young, wealthy Americans living in major cities. In opposition, Willa Cather wrote several stories that mostly were set in rural America. She is praised for her ability to transport readers to the small farm towns where her stories are set as well as her ability to accurately depict life in these small rural towns. Cather’s writing helps to show how incomparable life was for those individuals not living in major cities and, in turn, how and why “The Roaring Twenties” is such an inaccurate misnomer for generalizing the entire decade. Cather’s writing highlights the lack of serious cultural division that was prominent in American cities and emphasizes the differences in cultural identity that the youth population lived in, connected to, and promoted. She promotes the acceptance and understanding of the cultural divide that was growing during the 1920s and exposes the experiences of working-class American young men and women to uncover this frequently ignored and omitted part of American History.

A major issue that needs to be amended in regards to this issue of unequal representation of all during the 1920s is the educational perspective this decade is viewed. Most individuals visualize “The Roaring Twenties” in the way they do because that is how they were taught to see the decade. Students are frequently taught in the classroom only about the wealthy urban lifestyle that was lived during the 1920s and associations are often made with places like New York City as well as works of popular media like The Great Gatsby. The issue with this comes in that the entire perspective of the working- or middle-class individual is completely lost and disregarded by educators and, in turn, by students.

Teachers, at least in New Jersey, are not even suggested to teach about rural nor small town America in History and Social Studies classes. The closest that they may come stems from NJ Social Studies Standard 6.1.12.D.8.b which falls under the “Perspectives” content strand and has students “assess the impact of artists, writers, and musicians of the 1920s, including the Harlem Renaissance, on American culture and values.” (New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Social Studies, 2014). New Jersey students are asked to study different artists, writers, and musicians of the 1920s and assess their impact on American culture, but these artists, writers, and musicians almost always have some sort of connection to an urban space, typically New York. The New Jersey Department of Education have laid the groundwork for students to learn about various perspectives of individuals from the 1920s with this standard, but the focus almost always falls onto and stays on the perspective of city inhabitants, with writers of the Harlem Renaissance, and authors who write about urban life, with F. Scott Fitzgerald. If the perspectives of all Americans from the 1920s continue to be ignored and disregarded in History and Social Studies classrooms, the country will eventually lose the historically vital stories, voices, and perspectives of a large portion of the U.S. population, altogether.

This leads into the devolution within History and Social Studies education which has, arguably, deteriorated greatly in terms of its quality. When asked in an interview “How do you think inadequate history education plays into what some describe as the country’s current “‘post-truth’ moment?” author James W. Loewen answered that “History is by far our worst-taught subject in high school; I think we’re stupider in thinking about the past than we are, say, in thinking about Shakespeare, or algebra, or other subjects” (Wong, 2018). High school students have been disserviced in the ways they are taught History and Social Studies. The reason for this is that “we historians tend to make everything so nuanced that the idea of truth almost disappears” (Wong, 2018). Most History and Social Studies teachers rely too heavily on fitting as much of the vast expanse of History into their classes so much so that important topics tend to simply be glanced over and taught subtly rather than being focused on intently. This is the disservice that is done onto students and it directly boils down to the textbooks used in schools, today.

History and Social Studies textbooks, that are uses in schools across the country, are incredibly biased and one-sided. They oftentimes omit certain facts regarding an individual, event, or concept or they simply omit certain individuals, events, or concepts altogether. Individuals like Willa Cather and topics like rural America during the 1920s are oftentimes omitted from History and Social Studies classes and textbooks because they are not as enthralling or appealing as individuals like F. Scott Fitzgerald and topics like cities during the 1920s. That determination, however, is made by the individuals writing the textbooks. This is a consideration that consumers of textbooks, especially schools, need to make as “perhaps we are all dupes, manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written as part of their scheme to perpetuate their own power and privilege at the expense of the rest of us” (Loewen, 2018, p. 304). Those who write the textbooks control the narrative of what readers learn from the textbook. Bias detection is vital for consumers of textbooks to utilize especially if the textbook is going to be used by students. Loewen highlights how “in 1984, George Orwell was clear about who determines the way History is written: ‘Who controls the present controls the past’” (Loewen, 2018, p. 304). This is what happens with modern textbooks as the major publishing companies responsible for our textbooks are the ones controlling the narrative of history that our students are consuming in their classrooms. Money and wealth dominate modern American society and since the individuals at the top of the corporate hierarchy for major publishing companies are presumably incredibly wealthy, they control the way History is written. What they find interesting is what is published in textbooks, but those individuals, topics, and concepts are not always the vital pieces of history that students need to learn while in school.

References

Primary Sources:

Cather, W. (1920). Coming, Eden Bower! Youth and the Bright Medusa (pp. 1-166)

Cather, W. (1922). One of Ours

Cather, W. (1923). A Lost Lady

De Leeuw, A. (1922, May 28,). New-York Tribune, May 28, 1922, Page 7, Image 53. New-York Tribune10.1093/nq/192.9.195e https://api.istex.fr/ark:/67375/HXZD0ZFBQHG0/fulltext.pdf

Farrar, J. (). The New York Herald, October 8, 1922, Section 7, Page 12, Image 96.

Fitzgerald, F. S. (1920a). Flappers and Philosophers. Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald      (pp. 3-164). Barnes & Noble Inc. (Consulted)

Fitzgerald, F. S. (1920b). The I.O.U. In Anne Margaret Daniel (Ed.), I’d Die For You and Other   Lost Stories (pp. 3-18). Scribner Inc. (Consulted)

Fitzgerald, F. S. (1920c). This Side of Paradise. Barnes & Noble Books.

Fitzgerald, F. S. (1922a). The Beautiful and Damned. Barnes & Noble Books.

Fitzgerald, F. S. (1922b). Tales of the Jazz Age. Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald (pp. 167-398). Barnes & Noble Inc. (Consulted)

Fitzgerald, F. S. (1925). The Great Gatsby. The Great Gatsby and Other Classic Works (pp. 853-965). Sterling Publishing Co.

Hansen, H. (). The New York Herald, March 19, 1922, Section 8, Page 11, Image 105.

Knopf, A. (1922, September 10,). The New York Herald, September 10, 1922, Section 7, Page 9, Image 93. The New York Herald https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/data/batches/dlc_deadnettle_ver01/data/sn830457740271744365/1922091001/0373.pdf

New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Social Studies (2014). New Jersey Department of      Education.

The New York Herald, October 15, 1922, Section 8, Page 9, Image 97.

Secondary Sources:

About Willa Cather. The National Willa Cather Center. Retrieved from https://www.willacather.org/learn/aboutwilla-cather-test

Bechtel, D. E. (2017). Jay Gatsby, Failed Intellectual: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Trope for Social         Stratification. The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review, 15(1), 117-129.

Cain, W. E. (2020). American Dreaming: Really Reading the Great Gatsby. Society (New Brunswick), 57(4), 453-518.

Drowne, K., & Huber, P. (2004). The 1920s. Greenwood Press Publishing Group.

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896-1940. (2020). F. Scott Fitzgerald Society. Retrieved from https://fscottfitzgeraldsociety.org/about-us-2/biography/

Garvey, T. J. (1984). Paul Manship, F. Scott Fitzgerald and a monument to echo the Jazz Age.

Jenkins, A. (1974). The Twenties. Universe Books.

Loewen, J. W. (2018). Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. The New Press.

Murphy, J. J. (2021). Epilogue Why Willa Cather? A Retrospective. Cather Studies, 12, 300-323. Retrieved from https://rider.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=trudb=aph&AN=151747278&site=eds-live&scope=site

Quirk, W. J. (2009). Living on $500,000 a Year: What F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tax returns reveal       about his life and times. American Scholar, 78(4), 96-101. Retrieved from https://rider.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=truedb=lfh&AN=44180090&site=eds-live&scope=site

Ryan, E. J. (2018). When the World Broke in Two: The 1920s and the Dawn of America’s Culture Wars. ABC-CLIO LLC.

Squire, K. (2011). Jazz Age Places: Modern Regionalism in Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House. Cather Studies, 9, 45-66. 10.1017/9781787446861

Zeitz, J. (2006). Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women who Made America Modern. Random House Inc.

Orange Haze: Decade of Defoliation

Orange Haze: Decade of Defoliation

Sean Foley


All Along the Watchtower…

Its 1963. Imagine going off to fight a war in a foreign land, and being exposed to harmful chemicals intentionally dispersed by the invading country. American soldiers came home from the war, wanting to resume a ‘normal’ life. Many soldiers wanted to start a family.  Consequently after the war, many infants were born with serious birth defects. The US National Academy of Sciences released data that showed a direct correlation between Agent Orange and birth defects. Sprayed extensively by the US military in Vietnam, Agent Orange contained a dioxin contaminant later found to be toxic to humans. In 1996, the US National Academy of Sciences reported that there was evidence that suggested dioxin and Agent Orange exposure caused spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal cord develops improperly. The US Department of Veterans Affairs’ subsequent provision of disability compensation for spina bifida-affected children marked the US government’s first official acknowledgement of a link between Agent Orange and birth defects. More recently by 2017, spina bifida and related neural tube defects were the only birth defects associated with Agent Orange.[1] Many might ask how this could happen to seemingly two healthy parents. When soldiers returned from Vietnam they were not the same people and wondered if those harmful chemicals had something to do with the health problems of their children.

The Vietnam War was a controversial period that consumed American society during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It has been noted that, “The Vietnam War wasn’t some historical undercard match, it was actually a heavyweight championship fight; the United States just didn’t realize it at the time.”[2] For centuries the Vietnamese had fought to defend their homeland from foreign invaders. Whether it was the Mongol invaders led by Kublai Khan in the 13th century, Imperial Japanese during WWII, the French colonizers post-WWII, or the US which realized that if the French would no longer be able to maintain control, or impose its hegemony on the revolutionary Ho Chi Minh and the uprising Vietnamese they would soon fall to Communist control. After years of defending from invasions Vietnamese grew tired of constant invasion and strove for independence, and so many nationalistic countrymen and women got involved whether they wanted to or not. In 1954 Vietnamese fought and won their independence against the French at Dien Bien Phu, then proceeded to invade Laos and South Vietnam. However, these victories would set off an unprovoked chain reaction from unlikely enemies. From the beginning of the Vietnam War, the U.S. had exacerbated tensions in Indochina. The United States falsely adhered to the paradox of “nation-building” (the creation or development of a nation, especially one that has recently become independent)[3] and the “domino theory” (the theory that a political event in one country will cause similar events in neighboring countries, like a falling domino causing an entire row of upended dominoes to fall.)[4]. Operation Ranch Hand, a defoliation mission implemented under the Kennedy administration, consisted of planes being sent on said missions throughout Southeast Asia. The Air Force set out to destroy any foliage cover for the Viet Cong or National Liberation Front (NLF). By doing so, they sprayed the ‘rainbow herbicides’ labeled as such because of the colorful barrels in which they were shipped and stored. Agent Orange, or 2,4,5-T otherwise known as dioxin was the most harmful herbicide dispersed which led to untold detrimental health effects upon the environment as well as to humans. This paper will address and evaluate the use of Agent Orange and its effects specifically asking, how did the use of dioxin in Agent Orange affect U.S. veterans and their families, as well as those living in Vietnam? This is important because of the countless sacrifices and tragedies that occurred. This story is worth being told because it is not a mainstream narrative. Future generations need to understand what went on during the darker periods of US history. Controversial elements came about as a result of this war such as a severely damaged economy and extremely low morale of the US. Agent Orange was an unconventional toxic chemical that the U.S. used for nearly a decade during the Vietnam War throughout Indochina, and made it harder for US veterans to assimilate back into civilian life.

The Vietnam Veterans

The veterans that served in the Vietnam War are often portrayed by the American public as rag-tag individuals who fit the ‘Rambo’ trope during the war effort. However, through research and extensive interest, reconsideration of the typical Vietnam veteran has sparked an enlightening reality check. Most American soldiers who returned home from WWII were acknowledged as war heroes in the US. The homecoming was very different for most Vietnam veterans. They came back to find the US torn apart by debate over the Vietnam war. There were no victory parades or welcome-home rallies. Most Vietnam veterans returned to a society that did not seem to care about them, or that seemed to view them with distrust and anger.[5]

During the course of this process, I interviewed a Vietnam veteran Sgt. Jim McGinnis. He indicated to me that the average age of the Vietnam enlisted soldier was nineteen years old. Socioeconomically, most came from lower to middle class working families. The majority of this cohort of soldiers often saw action. There were no differences among racial or ethnic groups that were found for either service in the Vietnam theater or exposure to combat. However, those who served in Vietnam with less than a high school education at the time of entry into military service were three times as likely to see heavy combat as those with college educations. And those who were less than twenty years of age at the time they went to Vietnam were twice as likely to be exposed to heavy combat as compared to those aged thirty-five years or older.[6]

Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian Americans were all races that were represented within the U.S. Armed Forces. An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 women served in Vietnam. [7] “Approximately 80 to 85 percent of male Vietnam veterans were white, 10 to 12 percent black, and the remaining Hispanic or other. Of those surveys that provided comparison groups, there were no differences in the racial composition of Vietnam era veterans compared to those who did not serve in Vietnam during the Vietnam era.”[8] Those lucky enough to return home were not given the warm hero’s welcome they had hoped. Rising inflation from war costs caused a whole plethora of domestic issues. This divided the nation with public distrust towards the government especially in light of the 1971 exposure of the declassified Pentagon papers from New York Times journalist Daniel Ellsberg, a whistleblower. These harsh realities were a wake-up call for many Vietnam veterans and American citizens who had been caught up in the theater of war, or were exposed to the bitter truth.

The soldiers were stuck between anti-communist sentiment and toxic nationalism in the highest regard. Many soldiers were misguided being bamboozled with propaganda. This false sense of security believing that they were fighting a winnable war, and the illusion of control echoed throughout the highest command. Barry Weisberg earned a Juris Doctorate and a Ph.D. He passed away in August, and was known as an activist, teacher, and scholar. Weisberg states, “This racism- anti-Black, anti-Asiatic, anti-Mexican- is a basic American attitude with deep historical roots and which existed, latently and overtly, well before the Vietnamese conflict.”  Being that the United States government refused to ratify the Genocide Convention is proof of this notion. American soldiers use torture on the Vietnamese. One such torture was the “field telephone treatment”[9], they shoot unarmed women for nothing more than target practice, they kick wounded Vietnamese in the genitals, they cut ears off dead men to take home for trophies. “In the confused minds of the American soldiers, “Viet Cong” and “Vietnamese” tend increasingly to blend into one another. They often say to themselves, “The only good Vietnamese is a dead Vietnamese,” or what amounts to the same thing, “A dead Vietnamese is a Viet Cong.”[10]. Clearly, there was racism in the ranks of the soldiers. This caused indifference to who or what was the enemy in Vietnam. This deeply rooted racism stood at the foothills of most American conflicts. Agent Orange is a prime example of the complete disregard for human life and the ecosystem, and the soldiers fighting this unpopular war will only feel that hate and distrust when they come back home as enemies rather than heroes.

More than Scars & Trauma

The veterans brought home more than just physical scars and psychological trauma. Many male soldiers discuss the hardships especially those affected by Agent Orange and their faulty reproductive capabilities. Reagan states, “When male veterans took biological responsibility for their children’s birth defects, they shifted the blame that mothers had traditionally endured, first to themselves and then to the US government and chemical corporations. For men to claim publicly their biological responsibility for birth defects and for pregnancy loss, and to express guilt was unprecedented.” Historically, children born with birth defects had long been regarded as the fault of the mothers who gave birth to them. However, the roles were reversed after the war. “Male veterans, American and Vietnamese alike, insisted that they, as fathers, were responsible for the malformation of their children’s bodies. Male biological responsibility could be traced back to the herbicides that had been sprayed upon them as soldiers; and that they had splashed through, breathed, eaten and drunk from creeks and rivers. In claiming reproductive responsibility, they broke gender norms that blamed women and required men to hide their own grief about both war and children.”[11] This was a big step for breaking traditional gender norms often thought of as the stereotypical scapegoats that women had endured for years prior. After the war male’s assumed responsibility for exposure to Agent Orange and resulting birth defects.

 The assimilation back into civilian life became more difficult for the American veterans due to the painful effects of the Agent Orange symptoms. “The extent to which these herbicides affect their unintended target is unknown. But the indications are that virtually every aspect of the organic fabric is affected in some way.” Weisberg claimed that herbicides can affect people through eating contaminated foods, drinking poisoned water, breathing contaminated air or by direct skin contact. “The results have been described by a Vietnamese: Those who were in the sprayed area found it difficult to breathe, stay awake, got fevers and became thirsty. These symptoms occurred mostly in older people and pregnant women. Many vomited and had colic type pains. Others had muscle paralysis and became numb around the hands and feet.” There were other symptoms such as the loss of hair, pains in the heart area, pains in the back, and bleeding in the esophagus reported by Vietnamese. “Those who were directly exposed to the poisonous chemicals had red rashes and blistering skin. Women’s menstrual cycles have been effected and many cases of miscarriage have been reported.”[12] These described side effects were troubling and a cause for concern in various local Vietnamese communities.

Many Vietnam veterans were exposed to Agent Orange. There was consensus from the American public that these veterans had been unfairly treated and neglected. Agent Orange contained a group of chemically-related compounds that are persistent environmental pollutants made up of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and chlorine atoms that poisoned US troops as well as Vietnamese people and the land. “The attention brought some scrutiny to such crucial issues as the massive use by U.S. forces of Agent Orange, a dioxin with extraordinary levels of toxicity that poisoned thousands of American veterans along with the land and people of Vietnam. There was also some recognition of the inadequacy of medical, psychological, and educational benefits for veterans. Then, too, as posttraumatic stress disorder entered the nation’s vocabulary, people began to associate it with a list of very real and disturbing symptoms- depression, flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, extreme mood swings, anger, paranoia, emotional numbing, and so on.” [13] Soldiers with PTSD brought attention to the effects of Agent Orange use during the war.

Personal narratives demonstrate the impact of Agent Orange and Dr. Le Cao Dai’s perspective is illuminating. Dr. Dai was a Vietnamese doctor who conducted research on the medical effects of exposure to Agent Orange in the Vietnamese population. He worked at the Red Cross office in Hanoi where he ran the Agent Orange Victims Fund. Appy fully captures firsthand accounts of the war in Vietnam from multiple perspectives and angles, giving a detailed overall chronicling of the war. Dr. Dai’s intentions were to find out more of the effects of the herbicide, however it was extremely expensive to actually test for dioxin levels in patients. Dr. Dai died in 2002, a year before Appy published his book. Another primary source in Patriots reveals the experience of Jayne Stancavage, the daughter of a U.S. 48 year old sailor in the Navy who died in Vietnam. One of the doctors “off the record” explained that his death had been partly due to exposure to Agent Orange. The family took part in the class-action suit against Dow Chemical and other manufacturers of Agent Orange. Jayne describes her childhood with her father being mostly absent, or haunted from the atrocities experienced in war. “He tried to stay, but he would just hide on the back porch because he was afraid that they were going to get him. He never explained who “they” were. He said once, “the little people.” I’d never seen him afraid of anything before. He was just a shadow of himself. It was as though someone else had replaced my dad, as though a cog wasn’t catching right in a chain, just slipping and slipping.” The mental strain manifested into physical problems. He had become terminally ill with cancer. While in the veterans’ hospital he was being treated by a Vietnamese-American doctor which terrified him. “He tried to get out of the bed and hide. I just want to know what happened, what really happened, and feel like it isn’t going to happen again so blindly. The government figures their responsibility ends when they hand you the folded-up flag.”[14] Narratives such as these delve into the hardships that made it almost impossible to assimilate into civilian life.

The strategic hamlets many Vietnamese were subjected to were less than ideal and segregated families as well as tore their culture to shreds. “We know about these camps from numerous witnesses. They are fenced in by barbed wire. Even the most elementary needs are denied: there is malnutrition and a total lack of hygiene. The prisoners are heaped together in small tents or sheds. The social structure is destroyed. Husbands are separated from their wives, mothers from their children; family life, so important to the Vietnamese, no longer exists.” As a result of families being torn apart, the birth rate drops; any likelihood of religious or cultural life is subdued. People were denied the opportunity to work to remain independent. “These unfortunate people are not even slaves; they are reduced to a living heap of vegetable existence. When, sometimes, a fragmented family group is freed- children with an elder sister or a young mother- it goes to swell the ranks of the subproletariat in the big cities; reaching the last stage of her degradation in prostituting herself to the GIs.”[15] Most Vietnamese were backed into a corner with very little option to make a living when their homes were destroyed or they were forced into the strategic hamlets.

Agent Orange: Herbicidal Warfare

The United States government authorized the use of Agent Orange in 1961. The president at the time was John F. Kennedy, and he understood what the soldiers were facing in terms of guerilla warfare. Initially, he limited the troops to Special Forces trained in guerilla warfare. However, those troops were still overwhelmed and unprepared to deal with the Vietnamese. The President approved the National Security Action Memorandum No. 115, Defoliant Operations in Vietnam in which states, “The President has approved the recommendation of the Secretary of State and the Deputy Secretary of Defense to participate in a selective and carefully controlled joint program of defoliant operations in Vietnam starting with the clearance of key routes and proceeding thereafter to food denial only if the most careful basis of resettlement and alternative food supply has been created.”[16] Historians often portray Kennedy and his cabinet as rational and level headed administrators, but the administration promoted the adoption of a weapon that ultimately proved militarily ineffective and politically disastrous. Agent Orange was the most commonly used herbicide sprayed under Operation Ranch Hand by the US military. “Operation Ranch Hand had two primary objectives: defoliation of trees and plants to improve visibility for military operations, and destruction of essential enemy food supplies.” It is important to understand that Agent Orange was used to poison the Vietnamese food supply. This action not only impacted the enemy but the civilian population as well. “Targets for defoliation by Ranch Hand included base camps and fire support bases (specifically constructed sites for storage of artillery in support of combat operations), lines of communication, enemy infiltration routes, and enemy base camps. Clearance of these areas improved aerial observation, opened roads to free travel, and hindered enemy ambush.”[17] The war was fought in dense jungles that allowed the VC to ambush and then hide. The thick vegetation enabled the VC to hide in underground tunnels so that they could attack at will. Unfortunately many veterans were exposed to the carcinogenic effects of Agent Orange, and the harmful effects of Agent Orange made it difficult for veterans to revert back to civilian life.

For nearly a decade the US military began initializing defoliation spraying missions to use their superior technology to combat the dense jungles of Southeast Asia. “Twelve million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed on Vietnam; five million acres of forest killed. At the time, Vietnamese doctors and newspapers reported an unusual number of malformed stillborn babies, but the US government dismissed these reports as communist propaganda and reiterated that the herbicides were harmless.”. Veterans worldwide soon suspected that Agent Orange caused not only chloracne – the rashes and open sores – but also their cancers, respiratory diseases, early deaths and painful reproductive experiences. [18]

There were dichotomous viewpoints that contradicted much of the US policymakers decisions. “The first two represent a failure by war planners to grapple with the political and military realities of their counterinsurgency efforts in Vietnam. The last, however, is more complicated. In hindsight, it seems absurd to believe that policymakers could separate the “physical person” of the enemy or, for that matter, of civilians from the physical environment in which they lived. How could the sprays being used to defoliate forests and destroy rice crops and fruit trees be considered any more separable than civilians and combatants in a guerilla war?”[19] Vietnamese livelihood largely depended on agriculture and farming. To separate and destroy civilians’ livelihood and land genuinely believing that Operation Ranch Hand will win over the ‘hearts and minds’ of Vietnamese seemed irrational and counterproductive.

Military advisers closely worked with top scientists to develop ground clearing formulas. As historian David Zierler identifies, this latter issue marked a paradigm shift about the use of chemicals in a military context: “Whereas early research in plant growth manipulation required a cognitive leap to shift the field from growth promotion to weed killing, the idea that herbicides could become a military weapon necessitated a similar reorientation of the social function of plant physiology in a time of total war. Just as the idea to favor herbicides over growth promoters required new ways to unlock the potential of biochemistry, so did the notion of herbicidal warfare require innovative thinking about national security and the environmental dimensions of battle.” There was no distinction between military and civilian herbicides. Chemical companies worked closely with scientists and the military. This collaboration of research allowed for the development, and testing of a variety of chemicals that had potential military uses.[20] These innovative approaches inspired many in Washington to reconsider traditional viewpoints of warfare. The mindset of these policymakers and military officials forced many to reassess the particular parameters of warfare. The use of herbicides was a rather new biological aspect of unorthodox warfare.

After the US realized that these chemicals had harmful effects on the environment and humans those in Washington needed to cover their tracks. “In October 1969, the Department of Defense restricted the use of Agent Orange to areas remote from populations. This action was prompted by a National Institutes of Health report that 2,4,5-T could cause malformations and stillbirths in mice.” By the end of the 1960’s the US government became aware of the harmful effects of dioxin. The US accumulated scientific data proving Agent Orange caused birth defects in newborns of Vietnam War veterans. “In December 1969, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) declared that recent research showing that 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T could cause birth deformities in experimental animals supported the conclusion that 2,4,5-T posed a probable health threat to humans.”[21] It was not until the early 1970’s that the US banned the use of herbicides. At this point, the damage was far reaching and impacting a generation on those who unknowingly participated in the Vietnam theater. “According to DOD records, on February 12, 1971, MACV further announced that herbicides would no longer be used for crop destruction in Vietnam, and the last fixed-wing herbicide-dispensing aircraft was flown. […] The last U.S.-authorized helicopter herbicide operation was flown on October 31, 1971. (NAS, 1974).”[22]

Near the end of the war the US had a huge stockpile of rainbow herbicides that needed to be disposed of. “In September 1971, the Department of Defense directed that all surplus Agent Orange in South Vietnam be removed and that the entire 2.2 million gallons be disposed of by an environmentally acceptable method. The 1.37 million gallons in South Vietnam was moved to Johnston Island, in the Pacific Ocean, for storage.” The US Air Force researched how to properly dispose of the stockpile of Agent Orange. Some of the ideas for this disposal included incineration and burial. [23]

Agent Orange was also dispersed using backpacks and sprayers on a small-scale. In these areas no records were maintained by the military on its use. “According to official documents, the “small-scale use of herbicides, for example around friendly base perimeters, were at the discretion of area commanders. Such uses seemed so obvious and so uncontroversial at the time that little thought was given to any detailed or permanent record of the uses or results” (U.S. Army, 1972).” The Department of Defense used the same precautions that were used at the domestic level prior to the war. However, the DOD considered troop exposure to Agent Orange to be a low health hazard. [24] Agent Orange may have been discontinued before the war ended, however its lingering effects on Southeast Asia and veterans still remain.

Class Action Case: The Fight for Accountability

The veterans and their affected families filed a class action lawsuit against Dow, Monsanto and other chemical companies that produced the defoliant and sold it to the government. The families became involved whether they wanted to or not as many children of veterans were born with birth defects or underlying medical conditions due to their parent’s tainted reproductive capabilities. “Their children, especially those who used wheelchairs or had ‘skeletal deformities’, had political value. If they gained attention and provoked pity, they might win the needed action. When the class-action lawsuit against Dow, Monsanto and the other chemical companies that produced Agent Orange for the US military began in 1979, one newspaper reported that, ‘the spectators’ gallery of the nondescript federal courtroom was jammed yesterday with playfully squirming children – one with a cleft lip, another with a misshapen hip and another with a congenital heart defect’.” Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a non-profit organization assembled in Washington, DC in 1982, several hundred people rallied outside the White House to hear the speeches of mothers and wives of Agent Orange victims. “They then marched in a silent picket line and left photographs of American and Vietnamese children affected by Agent Orange for President Ronald Reagan. They wanted ‘to remind him not only of what has happened in the past but what his policies can mean for the future.’” [25] The children affected by Agent Orange due to their parent’s service could win hearts and minds by pity from politicians and the media as well as the American public five years after the war ended. This resulted in a plethora of unwanted flashbacks filled with grief and regret. The children affected were a constant reminder of the impacts of war which made it harder to assimilate back into civilian lives.

There was a lack of data showing that these chemical companies were responsible for the birth defects related to Agent Orange. “George Wald has suggested in this connection that companies such as Dow Chemical are in some sense as responsible for War Crimes as is the Military.” [26] The accountability from chemical companies had been nonexistent until the veterans and their families started putting serious pressure on them. The veterans and the chemical companies ended up settling out of court on a $180 million settlement fund established for those affected by the herbicides. The Vietnamese would never see a penny of that settlement compensation. Years later, the Vietnamese worked with the US and several other countries to fund the clean up of hotspots where dioxin levels were highly concentrated such as Da Nang airport.

The Agent Orange Working Group was established in the 1980s by a group of international non-governmental organizations to support and research victims and veterans affected by the herbicide. In a memorandum to Secretary of Defense, Health and Human Services, Director of Management and Budget, as well as the administrator of Veterans Affairs stating, “Since 1981, the Agent Orange Working Group of the Cabinet Council on Human Resources has served to coordinate federal government activities concerning Agent Orange, a herbicide used in Southeast Asia. This group has now presented a status report to the Domestic Policy Council, describing some 155 studies which have been done, at a cost of $150 million, and a dozen other studies to be completed in the 1988-1989 period. It is important that the Administration continue the commitment to a full investigation of the effects of Agent Orange.” [27] Veteran activists and the Agent Orange Working Group are prime examples of community members coming together to advocate for those who have sacrificed their lives and well-being for their country. This is a result of these groups coming together to advocate and aiming to resolve the legacy of Agent Orange and provide humanitarian assistance to Vietnamese war victims.

Ecocide in Indochina: Only we can Prevent Forests

The Ecocide in Indochina was an overshadowed controversy of outrage over the My Lai Massacre, the anti-war protests at home, and the war itself. Defoliation was a newly adopted method of warfare by the U.S. deemed effective for deforestation of the thick jungles of Southeast Asia, however Weisberg indicated that the defoliation spraying missions was going on before the US officially enacted the program.

Birth defects were beginning to correlate to the large amounts of herbicides being dropped in Southeast Asia. “Many international agreements seem applicable to Americans’ involvement in Indochina. But the US still refrains from ratifying most of them, such as the 1925 Geneva Protocol against “asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases…” To date, some 84 nations have ratified that Protocol. And although the World Health Organization has condemned the use of herbicides and tear gas in warfare, as well as suggesting that 2,4,5-T was a “possible cause of birth defects in children,” the United States continues to employ 2,4,5-T in Vietnam in complete disdain for possible pathological consequences, even when officially banned from use in Vietnam by Secretary of Defense David Packard on April 15, 1970: … in a quarter of a century since the Department of Defense first developed the biological warfare uses of this material (2,4,5-T) it has not completed a single series of formal teratological tests on pregnant animals to determine whether it has an effect on their unborn offspring.” [28] These untested and unregulated chemicals were an indication that the military was not using traditional modes of warfare. By not conforming to global norms, the US was able to get away with a lot of heinous acts that were often considered chemical warfare also known as ecocide. Ecocide, a term that Weisberg coined when discussing herbicides effects on the ecosystem. The government’s lack of transparency was evident throughout the Vietnam conflict. As a result, it made it harder for soldiers to buy into the system in which they served.

The ecological ramifications were not unforeseen during the decade of defoliants sprayed. The application of herbicides and other chemicals in Southeast Asia caused permanent environmental damage. This destruction also triggered changes in ecology that, many scientists believe, may irreparably reduce the once-fertile fields in Vietnam to dust bowls. “Lateralization, a process which occurs in tropical regions when the organic material and chemicals that normally enrich the soil are washed away because of lack of protective growth, thus resulting in a reddish soil which hardens irreversibility into a brick-like consistency upon exposure to sunlight, has begun in some areas in Vietnam.” [29] This depletion of soil made it much harder for Vietnamese to cultivate the land, and return to an agrarian society.

War has featured growth in scope and scale as well as made communication more efficient. As early as WWI, war could no longer be contained to one area. It had to spread globally. Weisberg stated, “In 1967, this process was intensified. The ties of the “One World,” on which the US wants to impose its hegemony, have grown tighter and tighter. For this reason, as the American government very well knows, the current genocide is conceived as an answer to people’s war and perpetrated in Vietnam not against the Vietnamese alone, but against humanity.” [30] The war displaced an entire ethnic group as a result making it nearly impossible to go back home and restart their lives.

Many years have passed since the Vietnam War ended. However, the residual effects of Agent Orange remain. “There is some evidence that even if the spraying were to be stopped now, the process of lateralization would likely continue for some time in the future. Fred H. Tschirley, assistant chief of the Crops Protection Research Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and former adviser to the U.S. The Department of State in an article entitled “Defoliation in Vietnam” in the February 21 issue of Science, wrote: Strips of mangroves on both sides of the Ong Doc River, sprayed with Orange in 1962, were of particular interest. The treated strips were still plainly visible. Thus, one must assume that the trees were not simply defoliated, but were killed… 20 years may be a reasonable estimate of the time needed for this forest to return to its original condition.” [31] Today there is not a lot of evidence to support that the Ong Doc river has recovered almost 60 years later. 

Conclusion: Uncertain Horizons…

In conclusion, this tumultuous period of US history is a reminder of what happens when the government puts policies over people. Not thought out policies and harmful effects from Agent Orange left a fragmented history and relationship with the US and its citizens as well as Vietnamese. American and Vietnamese soldiers had a much harder time reintegrating within their respective societies and cultures. This was partially due to Agent Orange’s carcinogenic effects. Some of these effects left the soldiers on both sides with health issues that manifested itself and their children. Agent Orange remained as a reflection of the war crimes committed in Southeast Asia as a painful reminder of what the US and its allies did to a developing region of the world. Through dropping millions of dioxin chemicals otherwise known as rainbow herbicides in the forests of Vietnam, it impacted untold numbers of Vietnamese and U.S. Vietnam War veterans along with some of their children being born with birth defects or disabilities.

Ultimately the uses made by the U.S. were intended to destroy the thick vegetation of the jungle so the North Vietnamese and allied forces would not be able to use it any longer for cover and guerilla warfare tactics as well as to cut off their food supply. However, this not only diminished the forest, but any animals that came in contact were dead within days, and many of the Vietnamese who were exposed by it developed serious illnesses even years after the war, and some of their children inherited adverse health defects. However, not until decades after the war did the U.S. even acknowledge its actions and was held accountable for war crimes and ecocide in Southeast Asia resulting in several class-action court cases on the manufacturers of Agent Orange settlements and liability fees. For many Vietnamese and U.S. veterans the damage is already done, and no amount of money or chance of redemption will ever reconcile or redeem the war crimes and genocide committed.

References

Primary Sources:

336th Aviation Company Sprays a Defoliation Agent on a Jungle in the Mekong Delta- 7/26/1969

Agent Orange Working Group Memorandum

Appy, Christian G. Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides. London, UK: Penguin Books, 2004. Pgs. 138-141 & 532-33

National Security Action Memorandum No. 115 Defoliant Operations in Vietnam- 11/30/1961

Weisberg, Barry. Ecocide in Indochina; the Ecology of War. San Francisco, CA: Canfield Press, 1970.

Secondary Sources:

Reagan, Leslie J. “‘My Daughter Was Genetically Drafted with Me’: US-Vietnam War Veterans, Disabilities and Gender.” Gender & History 28, no. 3 (November 2016): 833–53. doi:10.1111/1468-0424.12252/ 

Frey, R. Scott. “Agent Orange and America at War in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.” Human Ecology Review 20, no. 1 (2013): 1–10. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24707567.

Martini, Edwin A. Agent Orange : History, Science, and the Politics of Uncertainty. Culture, Politics, and the Cold War. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012. https://search-ebscohost-com.rider.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1245436&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Gammeltoft, Tine M. “Potentiality and Human Temporality: Haunting Futures in Vietnamese Pregnancy Care.” Current Anthropology 54, no. S7 (2013): S159–71. https://doi.org/10.1086/670389.

Appy, Christian G. Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam. United States, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. London, UK: 4th Estate, 2019.

Chou, Cecilia. “The Embryo Project Encyclopedia.” Agent Orange as a Cause of Spina Bifida | The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, March 9, 2017. https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/agent-orange-cause-spina-bifida.

Home : Oxford English Dictionary. Accessed November 15, 2021. https://www.oed.com/.

Stilwell, Blake. “5 More of the Most Unconquerable Countries in the World.” We Are The Mighty. We Are The Mighty, May 8, 2021. https://www.wearethemighty.com/mighty-history/more-impossible-to-conquer-countries/.

Bookshelf Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides, “History of the Controversy over the Use of Herbicides,” Veterans and Agent Orange: Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam. (U.S. National Library of Medicine, January 1, 1994), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK236351/.

“Agent Orange/Dioxin History,” The Aspen Institute, accessed December 7, 2021, https://www.aspeninstitute.org/programs/agent-orange-in-vietnam-program/agent-orangedioxin-history/.

Stapleton, John., Stapleton, William John. Agent Orange: The Cleanup Begins. UK: eBookit.com, 2013.


[1] Chou, Cecilia. “The Embryo Project Encyclopedia.” Agent Orange as a Cause of Spina Bifida | The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, March 9, 2017.

[2] Blake Stilwell, “5 More of the Most Unconquerable Countries in the World,” We Are The Mighty (We Are The Mighty, May 8, 2021).

[3] Oxford English Dictionary

[4] Oxford English Dictionary

[5] Christian Appy. Working Class War. Pg. 15

[6] NCBI Bookshelf. Demographics. Pg. 6

[7] NCBI Bookshelf. Demographics. Pg. 6

[8] NCBI Bookshelf. Demographics. Pg. 5

[9] The portable generator for a field telephone is used as an instrument for interrogation by hitching the two lead wires to the victim’s genitals and turning the handle. (author’s note.)

[10] Barry Weisberg. Ecocide in Indochina. Pg. 43

[11] Leslie Reagan. ‘My Daughter was Genetically Drafted with me’: U.S. Vietnam War Veterans, Disabilities, and Gender. Pg. 834

[12] Barry Weisberg. Ecocide in Indochina. Pgs. 19-20

[13] Christian Appy. Working Class War. Pg. 320

[14] Christian Appy. Patriots The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides. Pgs. 532-533

[15] Barry Weisberg. Ecocide in Indochina. Pg. 41

[16] DocTeach. National Security Action Memorandum No. 115 Defoliant Operations in Vietnam. 11/30/1961

[17] NCBI Bookshelf. The U.S. Military and the Herbicide Program in Vietnam- Veterans and Agent Orange. Pg. 8

[18] Leslie Reagan. ‘My Daughter Was Genetically Drafted with Me’: US-Vietnam War Veterans, Disabilities and Gender. Pg. 833

[19] Edwin Martini. Agent Orange: History, Science, and the Politics of Uncertainty. Pg. 61

[20] Edwin Martini. Agent Orange: History, Science, and the Politics of Uncertainty. Pg. 22

[21] NCBI Bookshelf. The U.S. Military and the Herbicide Program in Vietnam- Veterans and Agent Orange. Pg. 13

[22] Ibid. Pg. 13

[23] Ibid. Pg. 13

[24] NCBI Bookshelf. The U.S. Military and the Herbicide Program in Vietnam- Veterans and Agent Orange. Pg. 15

[25] Leslie Reagan. ‘My Daughter was Genetically Drafted with me’: U.S. Vietnam War Veterans, Disabilities, and Gender. Pg. 841

[26] Barry Weisberg. Ecocide in Indochina. Pg. 6

[27] Edwin Meese. Agent Orange Working Group. Library of Congress

[28] Barry Weisberg. Ecocide in Indochina. Pgs. 2-3

[29] Ibid. Pg. 62

[30] Ibid. Pg. 45

[31] Barry Weisberg. Ecocide in Indochina. Pg. 62

Observations of an Honors History Course Post-Pandemic

Observations of an Honors History Course Post-Pandemic

Melanie Gallo

The author is a rising senior at Rider University who has participated in both remote and in-person field placements during her time as an undergraduate. This article is derived from those experiences.

Throughout my experience in an honors high school United States history level two class I have learned that students are behind specifically in their research techniques. It is presented very clearly as I had the opportunity to move around the classroom while students were researching their civil rights unit. At the same time of these observations I had been developing my capstone project which is heavy research and found myself using my prior research knowledge to work with each student to ensure that their research skills grow.

 Research skills are key to becoming informed about many aspects of history. Students need the skills to become a well-rounded citizen. In order for students to become strong advocates for themselves when it comes to their education as well as their rights to become strong civic advocates, they need to be provided with the proper skills to research. Many of the students I had worked with lacked the vocabulary that would typically be expected for an honors eleventh grade student. Their research and vocabulary deficits were similar to those of a ninth grader.

When observing this group of eleventh grade honors students there were notable deficiencies in regards to what was expected of students of this year and level of education.  This group lacked vocabulary expected of an honors class and seemed to be more on par with that of a 9th to 10th grade level in my opinion.  I also noted, during multiple sessions and assignments, that their ability to research, utilize and format information in a scholarly way less than what would be expected of an honors class of this level.  During multiple assignments the students had trouble finding viable information to support admittedly simple topics and apply said information in a way that makes sense. Their ability to validate their points during the course of their assignments also lacked the strength that would be typical of an honors level.

 Students were observed using social media, sources that are purely opinionated, and other sources generally regarded as being unscholarly.  These students simply struggled to find relevant sources and the ability to put it together into a competent, cohesive piece of work. 

When I had the opportunity, I would work with students one on one to teach them how to use sites like historical archives and focus on sites that were not commercial based or opinionated. I had been developing my own research project during this timeframe which prompted me to locate some amazing resources therefore my ability to research grew which further helped me to guide these students to grow as their own sources to further their knowledge.

            My goal in drawing attention to this particular topic is that as educators we need to ensure no matter the circumstances that our students are aware of how to properly research. It is difficult for students to move on in higher levels of education without the basis of how to successfully research in order to providing credible evidence to support a claim. It is a disservice to our students when we as educators assume students are able to complete a task like this in full capacity. The state of these students suggests that there are many others throughout the country in the same situation. These students I worked with were very engaged in the classroom and only wished to succeed but when they are not provided with all the tools they need to complete their tasks they are left struggling. It can be hard to backtrack in what students need when they should have already been assessed for competency in research skills regarding the reliability of sources r. In some cases (like pandemic students are experiencing) they truly need that extra support especially now that these past two years have been virtual. Students had been left to figure out many of their assignments on their own due to virtual learning. This is something that is seen in a college setting. Therefore these students were left struggling in their formative years that would have needed hands-on guidance from an instructor. It is unfortunate that these students have been placed in such a situation.

            Another reason this issue is so detrimental to these students is that they are closer to being a college student than a high school student which is where the requirements are higher and the pressure becomes heavier to be able to properly research and not plagiarize. Since these students are at a disadvantage not knowing how to successfully use sources to back up their views they are more likely to inadvertently plagiarize. This becomes a heavier issue when college is involved as many colleges will take strong measures to remove a student from their scholarships, credit, or dismissal if they discover they have plagiarized. Which all stems back to educating students as to how to cite, how to find credible sources and present an argument that is sound. These students are hurting without even realizing it since they have been done a disservice as a result of their pandemic learning experience.            

My hope for this piece is to establish a call to action for educators to hone in on these skills even if we start younger than we would traditionally with research-based skills. Let’s band together and guide our students through their process of developing strong points with strong sources for evidence. They need to be able to locate sources that are credible on their own which is something that needs to be taught first and then expected later on in their education. Let’s ensure our students are confident in their research skills so that they do not face consequences later in life.

Sentenced to Death by Silence: The United States Government’s Slow Response to the AIDS Epidemic Permitted by Decades of Homophobia

Sentenced to Death by Silence: The United States Government’s Slow Response to the AIDS Epidemic Permitted by Decades of Homophobia

Abigail R. Fisch

The year is 1955 and America is over half a decade into the Cold War. A closeted gay man had been flying under the radar at his job at the State Department amidst an intense wave of homophobia leading to the sudden firing and blacklisting of gay people in government positions, but his luck was about to run out. Within a year of R.W. Scott Mcleod’s Miscellaneous M Unit being established, he was selected for an interview and polygraph which focused on “unusual traits of speech, appearance, and mannerisms” which would determine if someone was gay (Johnson, 2006, p. 138). Upon failing this test, the man was pressured to provide names of other gay men and forced to resign. After coming home to his wife and children from a day out of his nightmares, he finds out that his son’s middle school had a presentation from the local police department warning them of the dangers of homosexuality, making claims that “1 out of 3 [students] will turn queer”, and that this would make their life “a living hell” (PBS, 2011). This was the reality for many men living in America throughout the 1950s. Amidst the moral panic of the Cold War, fears of unloyal Americans infiltrating the government extended beyond the well studied Red Scare– the fear of the Lavender Menace, the gay man, was treated with more animosity than Communists.

Throughout the 20th century in America, homosexuality was treated as a disease of the mind, an immoral way of living. From 1950s Cold War moral panic up to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, the gay community was dehumanized by local and national governments for those three decades. As time went on, homophobia changed the way it presented itself– throughout the 1950s, anti-gay sentiments were spread through a Cold War context, with claims being made that gay people were worse than Communists. As the 1950s ended and the 1960s began, gay men found more of a sense of sexual freedom. Public, casual sex was commonplace and men found it easier to find sexual partners to engage with. This risky way of living had its costs, however, and the religious right’s God-focused morality campaigns were quick to use these habits as a basis for their anti-gay arguments which led right up to the AIDS epidemic. Throughout the 1970s, gay fearmongering took a more religious approach as the rise of the New Right loomed on the horizon. Spearheads for the religious anti-gay movement such as Anita Bryant did not mince words when it came to how they felt about the gay community, as Bryant herself was known to describe gay people as “human garbage” (Ketrow, 1982, p. 6). The 1970s anti-gay movement, while different in its approach, mimicked the intensity of the 1950s Lavender Scare showing how homophobia has long been embedded in American society.

With the AIDS epidemic unknowingly, yet swiftly, approaching, the aforementioned homophobic movements impacted the attitudes surrounding the disease within the government and the American public. As anti-gay movements throughout the 20th century changed from fears of national security in the midcentury to a religious movement in the latter half of the century, the common ground was always the ostracism and dehumanization of members of the gay community. Once the AIDS epidemic was in full swing, nothing showed the effects of decades-long homophobia like the government’s response to the tragedy that afflicted the American people. The lack of funding for AIDS research prior to activist organizations speaking out and Rock Hudson’s death in 1985 shows how the American government and its people did not care about the loss of lives so long as it did not leave the gay community.

This research aims to connect how the homophobic rhetoric from the 1950s leading up to the epidemic of the 1980s affected the American government’s AIDS intervention and will argue that it was because of social norms, gay panic, and homophobia that the government did not intervene in the crisis sooner. The research will also have a focus on the formation of gay activist organizations from the 1950s through the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s to further prove the main argument that the American Government was able to delay its response to the AIDS epidemic due to the decades of homophobia leading up to the crisis since it was due to pressure from these organizations that the government intervened in the crisis at all.

The research conducted in this paper can also be utilized by social studies educators to teach their students about the homophobic overtones of the Cold War that are often overlooked. It can also be used more contemporarily to teach about Obergefell v. Hodges to help students better understand why the road to the legalization of gay marriage was so tumultuous, and the emergence and impact of grassroots organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front can be taught in civics courses to discuss the importance of community organizations. With homophobia being woven into the fabric of American society, it is important to consider the role it has played in many events in American history.

The Gay Experience throughout the 20th Century

The 1950s into the 60s

 In 1950, Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy gave a speech in which he claimed 205 Communists had infiltrated the State Department, and that 91 of those Communists were also homosexuals (Johnson, 2006, p. 1). This baseless, inflammatory claim led to the Second Red Scare and along with it, the Lavender Scare. Similar to the blacklisting of Communists, the Lavender Scare led to gay people being outed in their places of work, causing them to lose their jobs and be ostracized from their communities. Throughout the 1950s, any man looking to work for the State Department was subjected to an interview that would determine if he was gay, and the deciding criteria were based upon appearance, mannerisms, and hobbies (Johnson, 2006, p. 73). This obsession with ensuring gay people were not placed in government positions cost countless hours, money, and manpower to uphold and created a stereotypical idea of what a gay man looked like. As the gay witch hunts expanded, panic continued to sweep the nation, and the American government was to blame. Just eight short years after McCarthy’s speech, people applying for non-government jobs found themselves responding to questions regarding their sexual habits (Johnson, 2006, p. 75). Magnified by the senators and government officials calling for the gay purge, fears of gay men entered the mainstream, and children were subjected to homophobic indoctrination in schools.

The language that was used to describe homosexuality throughout the 1950s acted as a dehumanizing agent which would continue into the late 20th century. By describing gay men as “sex perverts” and naming homosexuality a crime, a stereotypical belief about gay men began to emerge (Johnson, 2006, pp. 79-80). Outside of the workplace, local governments and police forces actively worked to make America’s youth fear the gay man. The Unified School District and Police Department of Inglewood, California produced Boys Beware (1955)– a short shown to school-aged children that described gay men as dangerous pedophiles. This film is a blatant form of propaganda created with the intention of instilling homophobic beliefs in the minds of children. Boys Beware follows the fictional stories of young boys who decided to hitch a ride with a stranger instead of walking home after partaking in activities such as baseball and basketball (PBS, 2011). By juxtaposing the all-American white boy, Jimmy, with an untrustworthy older man, Ralph, schools and local governments worked together to instill fear into the minds of young Americans and create a sense of urgency in protecting the purity of the young, straight boy. As the film goes on, Ralph shows Jimmy pornographic photographs, and it is here that he is explicitly called a homosexual, something Boys Beware describes as having a “sickness that was not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious, a sickness of the mind” (PBS, 2011). What could have been a lesson about why interacting with strangers is dangerous was deliberately written through a homophobic lens. If the actions described in Jimmy’s story were not enough to teach children to be on alert for “predatory” gay men, the Inglewood Police Department ensured that children knew they too would get in trouble for being involved with a homosexual. After Jimmy realized what Ralph was doing, he reported it to his parents who then took it to the police which led to Ralph’s arrest and Jimmy’s probationary release (PBS, 2011). The purpose of Boys Beware was to create connections between “gay” and “danger” in the minds of America’s youth, and fearmongering did not stop there, but rather worsened as the 20th century progressed.

The theme of the 1950s and 60s was that gay people were everywhere, hiding in plain sight. In 1966, Detective John Sorenson of Dade County, Florida gave a speech to a lecture hall full of teenagers warning them to stay alert for the homosexual. In The “Dangers” of Homosexuality, Sorenson warns the teenagers that to be gay is to involve in criminal activity, and that if anyone found themselves involved with a gay person that it would be in their interest to end the relationship quickly (PBS, 2011). Similar to Boys Beware, The “Dangers” of Homosexuality used fearmongering and inflammatory words to blacklist the gay community. Sorenson informed students that they would not get away with being gay, threatened to inform their parents if they were ever to try, and even went so far as to say that their lives would be a living hell if they decided to engage in homosexual activities (PBS, 2011). This language in combination with the criminalization of homosexuality made not only being gay something to fear, but simply interacting with a gay person. While all of this alone would be enough to ostracize the gay community, it was only the beginning of the years of anti-gay sentiments to come.

By the time the AIDS epidemic was at its peak, the American government felt no urgency to react, for homosexuality was deemed criminal behavior throughout the decades leading up to it and was described as something to be feared. By blacklisting gay men throughout the Cold War Lavender Scare and through anti-gay propaganda shown to students throughout the country, an epidemic that disproportionately affected gay men was not viewed as something that required immediate eradication. The calculated planning and anti-gay rhetoric of the 1950s and 60s led to the backlash of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and early 70s.

The 1960s and 70s

The 1960s and 70s were a time of sexual freedom for everyone including gay people despite the blatant homophobia of the previous decades. Casual, public sex was commonplace in gay communities and it offered an opportunity for people who had otherwise not been able to express themselves the chance to do so. Through the popularization of gay bars and cruising as well as the emergence of gay hubs in cities like San Francisco and New York, the gay community was on display more than ever before. This ever-deepening of community amongst gay people also allowed them to be their own advocates, and this self-advocacy would become crucial in the fight against AIDS where the gay community and its allies found themselves standing alone against the rest of the country and those who ran it. Nothing shows the strength and perseverance of the gay community that was founded on these principles of community like the riots at the Stonewall Inn on June 28th, 1969 and the Gay Liberation Movement that followed.

At the end of the 1960s, the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York was raided by the police. New York City Mayor John Lindsay was up for re-election, and a large part of his platform was built upon the promise of more frequent crackdowns on gay bars by the police– another example of how vilified and targeted they gay community was, even at the turning point of gay liberation (Poindexter, 1997, pp. 607-615). While this was a normal occurrence throughout the decade, the bar’s patrons decided enough was enough and they defended themselves against the attack. This riot was the culmination of decades of organization throughout the Homophile Movement and led to what came to be known known as the Gay Liberation Movement. Organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) were vocal about their demands and open about being a gay movement, and this openness reflected the attitude of the 1970s gay community– at the Second Annual Southern California Behavior Modification Conference, at least 50 members of the GLF showed up to oppose the advertisement and usage of aversion therapy on gay men (Marston, 1974, p. 380). This power in numbers and straightforward, to-the-point approach to activism is the perfect example of the deep sense of community amongst gay men that allowed for a sense of pride and truthfulness to oneself to exist within the gay community.

While the late 1960s into the 70s was not a shameful time within the gay community, the religious right was watching from afar and building their arguments against them. The New Right’s qualms with the gay community differed from those of the 1950s and early 60s– rather than fears of gay people infiltrating the government and tarnishing the image of America, this group angled their attacks from a religious and moral standpoint. Upon the 1973 ruling that homosexuality was no longer to be considered abnormal in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the conservative American population was fed up. Many feared the implications this would have on their children, so anti-gay activists fought from a religious point of view, and Anita Bryant, Christian singer and anti-gay activist, fronted the movement with pride (Bronski, 2020, p. 279).

In 1977, Bryant and her Christian group Save Our Children (SOC) got to work fighting non-discrimination laws in Dade County, Florida which called for housing and job protection for gay people. Her celebrity status in combination with her voracious hatred for gays that she presented in a good Christian package put her organization in the media spotlight which led to the spread of her hateful ideas. The public took a liking to Bryant’s religious angle after what many religious conservatives felt was a decade of immorality in the 1960s, and their attacks on the gay community were just as militant as those of the gay activist organizations of the decade. Bryant’s campaign successfully tapped into this market by claiming that “homosexuals posed a threat to children and they were not deserving of so-called “privileges”, like employment” and built on the long-held stereotype of homosexuals being pedophiles (Graves, 2013, p. 5).

 With her ideologies being spread in the print media, Bryant’s SOC campaign gained support all throughout the country, and the news outlets in favor of her ideologies used language that left no questions to be asked regarding how they felt about the gay community. From insinuating that the “choice” of homosexuality would influence children in schools to turn gay from “sustained exposure to homosexual role models, such as teachers”, these sentiments of the 1970s only echo those of the 1950s and 1960s campaigns targeted to students stating that gay people are everywhere and they are out to take advantage of children (Ketrow, 1983, p. 8). This hateful belief system did not come out of thin air, and Save Our Children offered a glimpse into how America would respond to the AIDS epidemic.

The Response to AIDS

Early Years and the General Public

            With the diagnosis of the first cases of AIDS in America coming shortly after Anita Bryant’s vicious attacks on the gay community, the immediate connection of AIDS and homosexuality proved to be detrimental. Originally named Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) in 1981, there was little press coverage and care from public health offices Brier, 2006, p. 41). As the epidemic loomed on the horizon, even from its early days, the biggest advocates for containment and research were members of the gay community and their allies. This largely has to due with the fact that AIDS was originally marketed as a “gay disease” or the “Gay Plague” before much research was ever conducted. This connotation paved the path for gay activists to advocate for the community amidst the epidemic, and this early activist intervention would prove itself necessary in the coming years as the government continued to stay silent on the topic of AIDS and because of the average American’s attitude towards the epidemic.

With the buildup of homophobic rhetoric from 1950 and beyond, the general consensus amongst straight Americans regarding the AIDS epidemic was that it did not concern them because it did not affect them. As well as this, a smaller portion of Americans “saw AIDS as a form of divine or natural retribution” for homosexuality as early as 1983 (Cannon, 2020, p. 1). This attitude shared by many Americans was only intensified by the lack of response from the American Government, and many gay men felt that they were more vulnerable than they ever had been before.

Over half a decade into the epidemic, a study was conducted regarding the feelings of gay men in America. This study found that “almost one-fifth of the sample claimed to have experienced discrimination “specifically as a result of AIDS” and that over ninety percent of respondents felt there was an increase in homophobia because of AIDS (Stulberg and Smith, 1988, p. 279). This research publised in 1988 shows how gay men were affected by the attitudes of straight people in America throughout the AIDS epidemic. This shows how tying AIDS to the gay community had severe implications on the lives of gay men. Over seventy nine percent of respondents to the aforementioned study also felt fearful that an increase in violence would also occur in relation to the epidemic (Stulberg and Smith, 1988, p. 279). The psychological impact of homophobia on members of the gay community mimicked that of the 1950s and beyond, for just as being gay throughout the Lavender Scare would cost men their jobs and livelihoods, gay men were, and continue to be, fearful of discussing their AIDS diagnosis because “they could lose their friends, their family, their job” (Lobertini, 2011, p. 1). The patterns of homophobia in American society culminated with the lack of concern from the American public during the AIDS epidemic, and that created an environment which allowed the government to delay their harm reduction efforts. While grassroots organizations began the fight to combat the epidemic and call on their government to aid their efforts, the Reagan administration could not be less concerned about the timeliness of its response.

The Reagan Administration

The Reagan administration wanted nothing to do with the AIDS epidemic in its early days. With its immediate connotation with the gay community due to its being named GRID, there was no urgency for the government to act due to the American public’s attitude towards gay people from the decades of homophobic rhetoric that led up to the epidemic. President Ronald Reagan himself as well as members of his administration held intense homophobic beliefs as expressed by Reagan’s Assistant Attorney General Richard Willard when he stated that “HIV-positive people were seeking out employers to become eligible for their generous health, disability, and death benefits” (Bell, 2020, p. 182). Willard’s belief that gay people were just looking to leach off of private companies for their benefits mirrors the beliefs held about gay people in the 1950s– the thought that there is always another agenda involved when it comes to gay people, whether they are looking to share government secrets or steal health benefits, has long been believed government officials. To many, gay people have no innocence as exhibited by Willard’s sentiments. These feelings were all but praised by President Reagan through his lack of involvement in epidemic research. The President “did not sign a document dealing with AIDS until the end of 1985, did not mention the term “AIDS” in public until 1986, and spent very little money on researching the epidemic” and many scholars argue that this is because of his allegiances to the New Right and their distaste for the progressive movements of the 1960s and 1970s (Brier, 2009, p. 101). By actively not speaking out about the epidemic in public, it only solidified the beliefs of the American public, for if their own president was not making a big deal out of the deadly virus, then why should they? After all, this virus was seemingly only attacking the people who were publicly vilified for decades, so there was no real reason to fuss. However, even after AIDS was found to affect those outside of the gay community, the Reagan Administration still found ways to continue tying it to homosexuality. As time progressed, AIDS began affecting the lives of straight people. Rather than looking for ways to combat AIDS, the Reagan Administration took a more sinister path, and at the expense of more lives, whether gay or straight, the movement to end AIDS was still nowhere to be found. In the same year as the American Foundation for AIDS Research address, President Reagan echoed feelings that could be dated back to the 1950s– when discussing immigration policy in relation to the AIDS epidemic, Reagan suggested “that AIDS, like communism, needed to be physically prevented from entering the country” (Brier, 2009, p. 103). Amidst a deadly epidemic, the President still found a way to connect homosexuality to communism which only shows how little the loss of American lives concerned him when those lives were mainly gay. Even with pushes from the Public Health Service (PHS) and other health and activist organizations, the Reagan Administration had its own idea of how to handle AIDS.

As they had at the beginning of the epidemic, gay activist groups such as ACT UP, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), and Project Inform continued to act as the voices for those who no longer had theirs after losing their battle against AIDS, and for those who were still fighting. As President Reagan proved himself incapable of protecting the American people due to his homophobic beliefs, the aforementioned grassroots organizations and others not only put the pressure on him but other organizations as well. ACT UP, although formed late into the AIDS epidemic in 1987, was instrumental in organizing protests and getting the attention of the President and his administration. In the year of their formation, they “held a “die-in” in front of Trinity Church(…) in Manhattan” and called for Reagan to take a definitive stand in the fight against AIDS (Brier, 2009, p. 181). Even neutral organizations such as PHS tried to use scientific reasoning with President Reagan and his advisees, yet Reagan’s idea of “educating” the public consisted of vilifying a group of people who were dying en masse every single day, all to maintain the ideal Christian, Conservative way of living to please themselves and the American public.

Conclusion

Homophobia is still deeply ingrained in American society today, and AIDS continues to disproportionately affect the gay community as compared to other groups. One can only wonder if the decades of homophobia from the mid-century onwards in combination with the deliberate connotation of AIDS with homosexuality had not impacted American’s attitudes towards the virus if this fact would still be true. There is no denying the impact of homophobia on the government’s response to the epidemic, nor can one deny that straight America did not worry about AIDS until it began to affect them, and the path for these beliefs was paved by the homophobic indoctrination of the American people that came decades before AIDS ever came into existence.

            As social studies educators, it is crucial to examine historical events through different lenses. By focusing on the patterns of homophobia leading up to the AIDS epidemic, it can offer further insight into why it was as deadly as it was and what exactly paved the path to allow for such a thing to occur. This frame of thinking can also allow students to better understand the gravity of events they are far removed from due to time passed by explaining the impact of occurrences throughout history chronologically, not only related to this research, but also when teaching other historical events. This research specifically can be tied to many contemporary issues such as Obergefell v. Hodges, the American response to COVID-19, and the importance of grassroots organizations in politics. It can also change the way topics that are standard in most curriculums, such as the Cold War, are taught by focusing on the homophobia that played a crucial role in shaping the attitudes of Americans towards gay people. By understanding America’s shameful attitudes towards queer communities in the past, it can lead to the current generation making great changes.

References

Bell, J. (2018). Between private and public: AIDS, health care capitalism, and the politics of respectability in 1980s America. Journal of American Studies, 54(1), 159–183. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0021875818000518

 Brier, J. (2009). Infectious ideas: U.S. political responses to the Aids crisis. University of North Carolina Press.

Bronski, M. (2020). A Queer History of the United States. Beacon.

Graves, K. (2013). Presidential address: Political pawns in an educational endgame: Reflections on Bryant, Briggs, and some twentieth-century school questions. History of Education Quarterly, 53(1), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1111/hoeq.12000 

Johnson, D. K. (2006). The lavender scare: The Cold War persecution of gays and lesbians in the federal government. University of Chicago Press.

Ketrow, S. M. (1983). The Making of an Issue: Anita Bryant and Gay Rights Go National. Florida Communication Journal, 11(2), 4–10.

Lobertini, J. (2011, June 5). 30 Years Later, Sacramento Gay Community Reflects on Aids Discovery. KTXL-TV.

Marston, A. R. (1974). Reflections After a Confrontation with the Gay Liberation Front. Professional Psychology, 5(4), 380–384. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0021325 

Poindexter, C. C. (1997). Sociopolitical antecedents to Stonewall: Analysis of the origins of the gay rights movement in the United States. National Association of Social Workers, 42(6), 607–615. https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/42.6.607  

Public Broadcasting Service. (2011). American Experience. PBS. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/video/american-experience-boys-beware/.

Public Broadcasting Service. (2011). American Experience. PBS. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/video/american-experience-dangers-homosexuality/.  Stulberg, I., & Smith, M. (1988). Psychosocial Impact of the AIDS Epidemic on the Lives of Gay Men. Social Work, 33(3), 277–281. https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/33.3.277

“Rights, Redistribution, and Recognition”:Newark and its Place in the Civil Rights Movement

“Rights, Redistribution, and Recognition”:Newark and its Place in the Civil Rights Movement

Victoria Burd

New Jersey, a northeastern state situated directly under New York and steeped in American history, is often seen as a liberal beacon for the 20th and 21st centuries. The state has consistently voted Democrat in every presidential election for over twenty years, holds a higher minimum wage than many other states, and has decriminalized marijuana in recent years. Despite these “progressive” stances, New Jersey, like the rest of the United States, is mired by a history of racial injustice and discriminatory violence, often perpetrated by the hands of the state itself. New Jersey’s key cities such as Newark, Trenton, and Camden served as battlegrounds in a fierce fight for equality and justice, yet these cities remain an often forgotten fragment of the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century due to their location in the North.

Defining the Civil Rights movement is a difficult task, as Black Americans have been fighting against racism and discrimination in America for centuries before the term “Civil Rights movement” was even coined. For the purposes of this paper, the focus will be on the post-World War II Civil Rights movement, from the 1950s-1970s, where many famed protests and riots took place across the Northern and Southern United States. Large cities such as Newark, Trenton, Camden, and various others in New Jersey performed critical roles in the Northern Civil Rights movement, with Newark being one of the most publicized of its time. Acting as a catalyst to other race riots in cities such as Trenton and Plainfield, as well as being more thoroughly documented, the 1967 Newark riots serve as a case study by which to compare other cities in New Jersey, the events of the Civil Rights movement in Newark to other events in the North as a whole, and where Newark compares and contrasts with the Southern Civil Rights movement. This paper will explain the preceding events, context, and lasting effects of the 1967 Newark riots and the historiography existing around the Northern Civil Rights movement, before comparing and contrasting Newark and the Northern Civil Rights movement to that of the South and analyzing how the Civil Rights movement in Newark differed from other movements in the North.

According to the Report of The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known better as the Kerner Commission or Kerner Report, the Civil Rights movement can be separated into major stages: the Colonial Period, Civil War and “Emancipation”, Reconstruction, the Early 20th Century, World War I, the Great Depression and New Deal, World War II, and the focus of this paper, the postwar period (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 95-106). During the war, Black Americans waged what was known as the “Double-V Campaign”: victory against foreign enemies and fascism abroad, and victory against racial discrimination at home (Mumford, 2007, p. 32). After having experienced racially integrated life and interracial relationships while being deployed in Europe, specifically England and Germany, during the Second World War, Black veterans came home with a renewed vision for racial equality in the United States. Kevin Mumford, author of Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America, describes this sentiment among Black Americans well, explaining that,“‘…before [Black American Soldiers] go out on foreign fields to fight the Hitlers of our day, [they] must get rid of all Hitlers around us,’’ (Mumford, 2007, p. 36). This renewed sense of conviction for equal rights combined with a World War II emphasis on liberty and personal freedoms (although not intended for Black Americans), antithetical to fascist governments of Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, formed the ideological groundwork for a culture of Black Americans ready to relentlessly pursue equal and just treatment during the postwar period.

The postwar period began with grassroots movements in the South, most prominently the Alabama bus boycotts which led to the meteoric rise of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who for many White Americans (on opposite sides of the spectrum of racial tolerance), served as the unofficial spokesman of the Civil Rights movement (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 106). While other Civil Rights leaders such as Malcolm X were prevalent within the movement, Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of nonviolent resistance meant less disruption in the lives of White Americans, and thus garnered more support from that group. As the Civil Rights movement gained traction, not just in the south but across the entire United States, elected officials were pressured to create legislation that would address the core agenda of the Civil Rights movement. One key example is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed employment discrimination against “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” under Title VII (Sugrue, 2008, p. 360-1). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark victory for Civil Rights groups in both the North and South, as it not only ended certain measures of discrimination, but provided the first steps towards “equality” of Black Americans.

This legal measure acted as the first step away from legal discrimination for Black Americans, but as legal barriers began to lift, social and corporate barriers quickly took their place. The definition of racism changed drastically during this period. According to Carol Anderson, author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide, “…[when] Confronted with civil rights headlines, depicting unflattering portrayals of KKK rallies and jackbooted sheriffs, white authority transformed those damning images of white supremacy into the sole definition of racism,” which in turn, caused more hostility between White and Black Americans, as Black Americans continued to fight for societal equality and justice (Anderson, 2017, p. 100). As racism became harder to prove on a legal basis, methods of resisting racism became more extreme. The transition from legal to societal discrimination marked a shift in the Civil Rights movement, with the justification of violence rising amongst many different Civil Rights groups and characterizing Northern protests from Southern.

Newark

Newark is a port city in New Jersey founded in 1666, by the Puritan colonists who claimed the land after removing the Hackensack Native American tribe against their will. Like the Black Americans who would come to occupy the city, the Hackensack natives would be largely removed from the narrative surrounding Newark’s development (Mumford, 2007, p. 13). Newark possessed a strong Black community for much of its history, yet this community existed outside of the White public sphere. This Black community published their own newspapers, participated in their own ceremonies, and formed their own societies, creating a distinct circle separate from the White population (Mumford, 2007, p. 17). Throughout many periods of the long Civil Rights movement, White citizens of Newark vigorously resisted Black American integration in their city, maintaining societal segregation (Mumford, 2007, p. 18).  In 1883, the City of Newark passed legislation prohibiting segregation in hotels, restaurants, and transportation, yet what could have been sweeping and unprecedented reform of 19th century civil rights policy was ultimately undermined when consecutive policies for equal protection and education were blatantly disregarded by White Newarkers (Mumford, 2007, p. 19). The culture of Jim Crow was alive and well in a city that saw neighborhoods of many different demographics tightly compacted next to each other (Mumford, 2007, p. 22).

The Great Migration period also affected Newark’s Black public sphere, with Black Southerners migrating to northern cities in hopes for a better life (Mumford, 2007, p. 20). At the same time, Newark experienced an influx of European immigrants from countries such as Italy and Poland. The relationship between Italian Americans and the Black community worsened during the Great Depression, as both groups were affected by diminishing opportunities in manufacturing jobs, a relationship that would only continue to curdle into the 1950s and 1960s (Mumford, 2007, p. 27). This relationship was only further exacerbated by Italians taking up positions of authority in public housing projects that housed mostly black tenants and families (Mumford, 2007, p. 58). The Great Migration, which resulted in 1.2 million Southerners heading North due to World War I labor shortages, was emphasized by ambitious recruitment and enthusiasm for a new place (Mumford, 2007, p. 20). According to demographer Lieberson and Wilkinson, the migrating Black Southerners did find some success in the economic opportunities of the North, with an inconsequential difference between the incomes of Black native Northerners and themselves (Lieberson & Wilkinson, 1976, p. 209). Overall, northern cities offered blacks economic opportunities unavailable in much of the South—indeed many migrated to northern cities during and after World War I and World War II when employers faced a shortage of workers. Overall, however, blacks were confined to what one observer called “the meanest and dirtiest jobs,” (Sugrue, 2008, p. 12).

Integration continued to spread throughout the Central Ward of Newark (otherwise known as the heart of the city, and predominantly black), and into the South, West, and North Wards, with the North Wards containing a large Italian migrant population (Mumford, 2007, p.

62). By 1961, the Civil Rights movement officially entered Newark, with the Freedom Riders, Civil Rights activists from the South, congregating in Newark’s Military Park before continuing their journey to other Southern states (Mumford, 2007, p. 78). Tensions between Italians and Black Americans came to a head in 1967, when an unqualified Italian “crony”, rather than an already appointed capable Black candidate, was appointed by the mayor for a public school board position at a school in which half the students were black. The conflict arising from this situation would eventually become one of the reasons for the 1967 Newark riots (Mumford, 2007, p. 104).

Newark Riots of 1967

The inciting incident of the Newark riots was the arrest and subsequent beating of cab driver John William Smith at the hands of White police officers (Mumford, 2007, p. 98). According to those living in apartments that face the Fourth Precinct Station House, they were able to see Smith being dragged in through the precinct doors. As recounted in the Kerner Commission, “Within a few minutes, at least two civil rights leaders received calls from a hysterical woman declaring a cab driver was being beaten by the police. When one of the persons at the station notified the cab company of Smith’s arrest, cab drivers all over the city began learning of it over their cab radios,” (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 33). After the police refused to negotiate with civil rights leaders representing a mob that formed outside, the crowd was dispersed by force, and reports of looting came in not long after. The Newark riots had begun, and they would end up being the most destructive race riot among the forty riots that occurred since Watts two years earlier (Reeves, 1967). The violence, looting, and firebombing became so severe that units of both State Police and National Guardsmen were sent into the Central Ward to lay siege to the city (Bergesen, 1982, p. 265). According to newspaper articles written about the riots, “Scores of Negroes were taken into custody, although the police said that 75 had been arrested…the injured in the hundreds…more than 100 persons had been treated [in hospital] alone,” (Carroll, 1967). Additionally, “A physician at Newark City Hospital said four persons had been admitted there with gunshot wounds…stabbed or struck by rocks, bottles, and bricks,” (Carroll, 1967).  Four people were shot by Police for looting and six Black Newarkers died as a result of police officers and National Guardsmen firing into crowds, showcasing that police violence during the Newark riots was indiscriminate, racially charged, and often fatal (Bergeson, 1982, p. 265). The initiating events in Newark would spread to other major urban centers in New Jersey in the week following the riots, with varying degrees of severity.

Understanding the history of Newark, the inciting events of these riots, and the progress of these riots is key to uncovering Newark’s and, in a broader sense, New Jersey’s role in the Civil Rights movement. This paper analyzes how violence is used as a distinction between riots in the North and South. It also investigates the main causes of the Civil Rights movement and subsequent rioting in Newark, including the phenomenon of  “White flight,” redlining and the housing crisis, and poverty caused by rapid urbanization. Lastly, the paper considers the impact of the lack of public welfare programs, intercommunity-autonomy and governmental transparency as tools for curbing civil unrest amongst majority black communities.

Lasting Effects on the City of Newark

Twenty-six people died during the Newark riots, most of whom were Black residents of the city, and over 700 people were injured or hospitalized during the riots. The property damage resulting from the looting and fires valued at over ten million dollars, and spaces still exist where buildings once stood (Rojas & Atkinson, 2017). The long-term physical and psychological effects of the riots on the people of Newark and on the reputation of the city itself cannot be understated (Rojas & Atkinson, 2017). Beyond the pain and grief caused by the loss of life and property, the riots represented a paradigm shift for Newark as a city. The eruptive violence in the city streets was perhaps the final nail in the coffin arranged by systemic racism, as Newark’s reputation as a dangerous city plagued by violence and corruption solidified in the minds of its former White residents and White generations long after (Rojas & Atkinson, 2017). As a result, the entrenched Black communities of Newark found themselves losing tax revenue and job opportunities quickly. The disadvantages that came from the riots and their causes only further incentivized White families to keep their tax dollars and children as far away from Newark as possible; this also occurred during a time in which taxes for police, fire, and medical services were being increased to compensate emergency departments for their involvement in the riots (Treadwell, 1992). Areas such as Springfield Avenue, once a highly commercialized street, were turned into abandoned, boarded up-buildings, further contributing to Newark’s negative reputation (Treadwell, 1992). What once were public housing projects, well lived-in homes, and family businesses remain vacant and crumbling, if not already demolished from the looting and fires fifty years ago which much of Newark did not rebuild (Treadwell, 1992). Even church buildings which once conveyed a sense of openness to all of the public are lined with fences and barbed-wire to prevent looting and vandalism (Treadwell, 1992). While the riots did lead to Black and Latino Americans vying for political positions that previously belonged to the White population, ushering in the election of the first Black mayor and first Black city council members in Newark in 1970 (Treadwell, 1992). Despite Black Americans gaining some control politically, the Central Ward still lacked economic and social renewal, with any efforts towards regenerating Newark failing to undo the larger effects of the riots of 1967 (Treadwell, 1992). Any of the limited economic development that did occur was largely restricted to “White areas”, such as downtown Newark, as opposed to the Black communities (“50 Years Later,” 2017). Larry Hamm, appointed to the Board of Education at 17 years old by Newark’s first Black mayor, expounds on the economic disparity between Black and White Newarkers, with “dynamism [prevalent] downtown, and poverty in the neighborhoods,” (Hampson, 2017). Fifty years after the riots, police brutality remains a constant for Black Newarkers, with a 2016 investigation into the Newark police department finding that officers were still making illegal and illegitimate arrests, often using excessive force and retaliatory actions against the Black population (“50 Years Later,” 2017). A city with a large Black population, one third of Newark residents remain below the poverty line, with Newark residents only representing one fifth of the city’s jobs (Hampson, 2017). Despite the foothold that Black Americans have gained in Newark’s politics, the economic power largely remains in the hands of White corporations and organizations (Hampson, 2017). Other economic factors, such as increases in the cost of insurance due to increased property risk, tax increases for increased police and fire protection, and businesses and job opportunities either closing or moving to different (Whiter) neighborhoods following White flight also have a significant lasting economic impact on the city (“How the 1960s’ Riots Hurt African-Americans,” 2004). The people of Newark were also affected psychologically and emotionally. On one hand, many Black Americans felt empowered – their community had risen against injustice and was largely successful in catching the nation’s attention despite the lack of real organization, challenging the system that desperately tried to keep them isolated and creating a movement that emphasized their power (“Outcomes and Impacts – the North,” 2021). Yet, just as many Black Americans became hopeless, seeing a country and its law enforcement continue to disregard their lives and stability, treating them as secondary citizens despite the many legal changes made under the guise of creating equality (CBS New York, 2020).

The riots of 1967 destroyed Newark’s reputation and economic stability, steeping the population in poverty. While the Black Community used this opportunity to gain political power in the city and to jumpstart the Black Power movement in New Jersey, many Black Newarkers remain in despair, seeing their community members injured and killed with no change to the systemic cycle of racism that perpetuates the city.

The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders Report (Kerner Commission Report)

The 1968 National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders Report is one of the most referenced resources in this paper, due to the unique document’s origins, in which sitting President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 tasked a commission specifically with determining the causes of the rising number of U.S. race riots that had occured that summer, with the riots in Detroit and Newark acting as catalysts for the founding of the commission. While Johnson essentially anticipated a report that would serve to legitimize his Great Society policies, the Kerner Report would come to be one of the most candid and progressive examinations of how public policy affected Black Americans’ lives (Wills, 2020). The Commission was led by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, and consisted of ten other men, most of whom were White. The only non-white members of the Commission were Roy Wilkins, an NAACP head, and Sen. Edward Brooke, a Republican from Massachusetts (Bates, 2018). Despite the lack of racial representation on the commission, the members placed themselves in the segregated and redlined Black communities they were writing about, interviewing ordinary Black Americans and relaying their struggles with a humanistic clarity that was largely uncharacteristic of federal politics in the 1960s. This report identified rampant and blatant racism as the cause of the race riots of 1967, starkly departing from Lyndon B. Johnson’s views on race relations and in the process establishing historical legitimacy as a well-supported and largely objective source (Haberman, 2020). The Kerner Commission clearly outlines how segregation, White Flight and police brutality contributed the most to worsening race relations and rising tensions between Black communities and the White municipal governments who mandated said communities (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 119, 120, 160). Despite the Kerner Commission clearly outlining the causes and effects of the racial climate of the 1960s, the commission makes no effort to justify the riots themselves, or even validate the emotions and frustrations resulting from the oppression that the Commission identifies. For everything that the commission does state, it leaves just as much unstated. As the Commission explains, America in the 1960s was in the process of dividing into two separate, unequal, and increasingly racially ubiquitous societies, and the Commission itself validates this theory by displaying a clear identification of what the Black experience looks like while having next to no willingness to justify or defend the riots themselves (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 225). The Kerner Commission is a factually accurate but contextually apathetic document which, for its purpose in this paper, serves as one of the key documents due to its accuracy; yet it is important to acknowledge its shortcomings in the larger context of the Civil Rights Movement. Despite clearly identifying both the causes of the 1967 race riots and racial tensions in America, the Kerner Commission has gone largely ignored, as many of the issues identified by the commission remain present in Black communities, and in some instances, have worsened significantly, such as the issues of income inequality and rising incarceration rates (Wilson, 2018).

Section 1: How Newark and the Northern Civil Rights Movement was Alike and Consistent with Civil Rights Movements in the South

Newark’s riots and Civil Rights movement reflected many of the same characteristics seen in Civil Right movements across the country, both in the North and South. Key similarities between Newark and the rest of the Civil Rights movements in the United States, as well as decisive factors that sparked the rioting in Newark, include the phenomenon of “White Flight”, effects from police brutality and over-policing as a result of White Flight, and the quickly deteriorating relationship between black communities and law enforcement with the introduction of the National Guard into areas of conflict, combined with the familiar effects of redlining that are still visible across the United States today.

White Flight

One of the main causes of the Newark riots was the phenomenon known as “White flight”, and the effects caused by extreme racial isolation. To truly understand the impacts of “White Flight”, one must first define the concept. “White Flight” is the unique phenomenon of middle class White Americans leaving cities that were becoming more diversely integrated with Black Americans who were migrating from rural areas to these cities. In the 1950s, 45.5 million White Americans lived in areas considered to be “cities”, yet research by Thomas Sugrue in his work Sweet Land of Liberty explains how although the White population in cities did increase in the next decade, it was not of the same rate as previous years or in line with the Nation’s whole white population, with theoretically 4.9 million White Americans leaving cities between 1960 and 1965 (Sugrue, 2008, ch. 7, Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 119). American cities were becoming less white, caused by Black American populations in cities increasing, and resulting in an even greater Black population in urban centers (Sugrue, 2008, p. 259). This population movement was not only seen in the South or key cities in the North such as Detroit and Chicago (though present there as well). Kevin Mumford explains Newark’s experience with this phenomenon, citing how the Central Ward of Newark (i.e., the “heart” of the city) included 90 percent of the black population of Newark, a drastic difference from the initial years of the Great Migration which saw only 30 percent of Newark’s black population settling in the Central Ward (Mumford, 2007, p. 23). White flight changed the landscape of New Jersey, with densely populated cities such as Newark, Trenton, and Camden becoming more clearly divided from new suburban residential areas, and the development of these new suburban areas leading thousands to flee the inner cities (Mumford, 2007, p. 50).

White flight impacted more than just the distinct and divided racial makeup of cities and suburbs; impacts were also seen in other areas of life. The “persistant racial segregation” in post-war America often decided what kind of education an individual received, what jobs were accessible, and even the quality of an individual’s life (Sugrue, 2008, p. 201). Urban (i.e., majority Black) residents were further hurt from this White flight, as suburban areas located close to urban centers drained urban areas of their taxes, decreased their population, and left fewer jobs available to urban communities (Sugrue, 2008, p. 206). The lack of urban taxes funding urban public schools resulted in unequal educational opportunities, further validating the White argument that having Black Americans in cities “ …signified disorder and failure” (Mumford, 2007, p. 5).

What ultimately made White Flight possible and cyclically reinforced White privilege was agency. White Americans possessed the agency to choose home ownership, involved and “cookie-cutter” communities, and access to adequate education. They had stronger and better-funded education systems, public services, and largely avoided many of the social problems that plagued black communities, including economic instability, lack of reliable housing, and health issues further exacerbated by overcrowded living conditions. Furthermore, White Americans did not fear the police, as this form of law enforcement showed an extensive history of protecting and benefitting White communities. As explained by Sugrue,”Ultimately, the problem of housing segregation was one of political and economic power, of coercion, not choice, personal attitudes, or personal morality,” (Sugrue, 2008, p. 249). The existence of a black middle class and integrated suburbs represented a deterioration of this agency, and was therefore not permitted by the larger White population. The considerable and ever growing gap of wealth, stature, and control between White and Black Americans was not lost on the Black urban population. After being revitalized by the hope that the World War II emphasis on freedom and liberty gave Black Americans, the disappointment and bitterness that stemmed from the lack of social change morphed public opinion in Black communities from that of optimism to resentment (Sugrue, 2008, p. 257). This resentment, exacerbated by continuous outside stressors, would eventually bubble over into violent demonstrations. The hundreds of racial revolts of the 1960s [The Newark riots among them] marked a major turning point in the black revolution, highlighting the demand for African American self-determination (Woodard, 2003, p. 289).

White Flight was a fundamental motivator in the Newark riots, yet was experienced by urban centers across the North, South, Midwest, and West Coast. The stark contrast between Black and White Americans in regards to agency over housing, public programs, education and law enforcement, stemming from the upending of White Americans’ tax dollars from urban centers grew dramatically and inversely during the 1950s and 1960s, setting the stage for a period of unprecedented violence and racial unrest in America’s cities. Post-war optimism among Black Americans was severely dashed by the lack of extension of freedom and liberty at home, and the financial and social atrophy that followed would inform fierce resentment among Black Americans, ushering in a newer, more embittered chapter of the Civil Rights movement.

Police Brutality, “Snipers”, and the National Guard

As American cities became increasingly Black due to the phenomenon of White flight, already strained relationships between Black Americans and law enforcement worsened. Newark saw a palpable shift in intercommunity relations with the police. Over-policing and police brutality in Black neighborhoods acted as a product of a lack of racial representation in the ranks of American police forces (Bigart, 1968). To further emphasize this divide between the police and minority groups, the use of brute force was prevalent on the Black population, especially during the riots of the late 1960s. Police brutality against John William Smith acted as an inciting event to the Newark riots, but brazen, and often fatal violence at the hands of Newark’s police forces fanned the flames of violent unrest.

Even before the Newark riots, the police were infiltrating and undermining Civil Rights groups in America’s cities. One such case that preceded the riots occurred in the suburb of East Orange, New Jersey, in which multiple Black Muslims were arrested, resulting in the arrestees being released from jail having sustained a fragmented skull, lacerations, and genital trauma at the hands of the police (Mumford, 2007, p. 110). This incident occurred only a week before the Newark riots, and is, in hindsight, indicative of the Newark Police Department’s willingness to enact acts of brutal violence in the name of “keeping the peace” and disrupting leftist organizations (Mumford, 2007, p. 110). As chronicled by Sugrue, the Black population of America,”…doesn’t see anything but the dogs and hoses. It’s all the white cop,” (Sugrue, 2008, p. 329).

The Newark riots began, fittingly, at a police station. After John William Smith was allegedly beaten by two white officers and brutalized in holding, a mob formed in front of the Fourth Precinct demanding to see the taxi driver and his condition. Any hopes of the crowd being dispersed peacefully and a riot being avoided were dashed when a Molotov cocktail struck the police station (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 33). The ensuing riot control would prove more destructive and archaic than the looting and arson being committed at the hands of rioters. Riot police, armed with automatic rifles and carbines, fired indiscriminately into the air, at cars, at residential buildings, and into empty storefronts of pro-black businesses (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 38). At least four looters were shot and at least six civilians were killed as a result of firing into crowds (Bergesen, 1982, p. 264-5). Beyond gun violence, a specific instance in which a black off-duty police officer attempting to enter his precinct during the riots was beaten and brutalized by his white coworkers who did not recognize him offers an indication of how unprompted much of the violence against the Black population of Newark was (Carroll, 1967). In the end, 26 people died, and over 69 were injured (Carroll, 1967).

As extreme as the violence against demonstrators was during the Newark riots, it was far from unique. Similarly tactless and lethal methods of crowd control had been deployed during race riots in Watts and Detroit (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 20, 54). Another similarity between these three race riots, as well as other race riots in the South, were the supposedly looming presence of urban snipers (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 180). While it remains unseen if Black nationalists armed with sniper rifles were truly as ubiquitous as the media would have then made it seem, what is verifiable is the fact that Riot Police used urban snipers as justification to scale up militarization efforts and enter and proliferate Black communities (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 40, Mumford, 2007, p. 142). Despite being difficult to verify, the threat of snipers waiting patiently to pick off police officers in dense urban areas was a deeply vivid and real threat to police and National Guardsmen sent into Newark and other cities. In Newark, there are multiple accounts of police firing indiscriminately into apartment windows out of fear for snipers. It is assumed, however, that most reports of sniper fire during race riots across cities in the United States were misidentified shots sourced from police or National Guardsmen (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 180).

The presence of the National Guard as peacekeepers during the Newark riots is another factor that is both consistent with other race riots and contributed heavily to high death tolls among said race riots. Of the roughly 17,000 enlisted New Jersey National Guardsmen that responded to the riots in 1967, only 303 of them were Black (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 37). The largely white Guardsmen who were tasked with keeping the peace in cities in the full swing of anarchy had for the most part only had limited experience with black people, let alone crowd control operations. The majority of the reporting Guardsmen at Newark were young, not adequately psychologically or tactically prepared, and “trigger happy” (Bigart, 1968). The naivety of these Guardsmen, the presence of military-grade equipment such as machine guns and armored vehicles, and the looming threat of snipers created a situation in which it is possible that black demonstrators were seen as an enemy force to be subdued or neutralized, rather than American citizens engaging in protest. By any measure, however, the temperament of the National Guard displayed a clear and fervent prejudice against African Americans, and Guardsmen were reported to have taken part in the destruction of Black lives and property alongside Newark Police and New Jersey State Police (Bigart, 1968). Reinforcing a clear bias against Black Americans, Black enlistment in the National Guard declined deeply following integration within the Guard. There is no way of knowing for sure if a higher number of enlisted black Guardsmen would have led to a deeper understanding of Black communities, and in turn a less destructive response to the race riots of the 1960s; yet the police brutality that faced John William Smith, and the subsequent brutality that faced Newark rioters further exacerbated the riots themselves, with police using the word “sniper” as an excuse to wreak havoc on the Black masses.

Redlining and the Turn from Legal to Public Discrimination

Redlining is a discriminatory practice in which Black citizens were segregated into specific neighborhoods under the guise of lacking financial assistance through loans and government programs, rather than Jim Crow Laws. Large areas of residential housing occupied disproportionately by Black homeowners were designated to be high-risk by banking organizations, and would thus be denied housing loans to move out of their neighborhood. The results of this practice were strictly segregated neighborhoods that existed far beyond the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and ostensibly dashed any possibility for Black Americans to build generational wealth. Redlining is a key example of how many discrimination practices, in both the North and South, changed from being legally enforced to publicly and socially enforced. Redlining and public discrimination practices affected Black communities in both the Northern and Southern United States, and contributed directly to the Newark riots by preventing Black Americans from accruing generational wealth, pushing out “ghetto” communities through urban renewal, and forcing Black Americans to remain in impoverished communities through publicly enforced racial lines.

Redlining was conceptualized and implemented during the Second World War, when William Levitt revolutionized residential communities with easily built and affordable housing in the form of Levittown, America’s first true suburb. Initially, Levitt, a staunch segregationist, outright banned Black Americans from living in his communities on the basis of race. As a result, Black Americans paid more on average for housing than White Americans did, while being excluded from access to new and contemporary housing (Sugrue, 2008, p. 200). As advancements in legal protections for Black Americans were made during the 1950’s, realtors, leasing managers and landlords shifted their efforts towards a more privatized form of discrimination, emphasizing the individual rights of businesses to decide who to do business with (Sugrue, 2008, p. 202). White Americans in the North during this time had developed a curious sense of superiority over the discriminatory culture and customs of the South, despite engaging in the same discriminatory practices under the guise of “Freedom of Association,” (Sugrue, 2008, p. 202). White Americans in the north drew their own lines, publicly enforcing White-only neighborhoods and refusing Black consumers access to their housing market, similar to the Jim Crow laws in the South. At the same time that White liberals were expressing admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, they were drawing invisible borders through their communities, ready and willing to relegate Black Americans to ghettos if it meant their property value remained high (Mumford, 2007, p. 65). Black Americans not only faced discriminatory lending practices, as a single black family had the potential to shutter a community of well-to-do-whites, but in addition the Federal Housing Administration was in open support of restrictive covenants (Sugrue, 2008, p. 204).

For Black Americans, it was not only enough to prove that they could exist in white neighborhoods without presenting a risk to White financial assets and housing, it was their responsibility to justify their existence in White suburbs against the risk of financial loss. As Sugrue explains, “It was one thing to challenge the status quo; it was another to create viable alternatives,” and black communities were not able to create these alternatives while still effectively being segregated (Sugrue, 2008, p. 220). As a result of these discriminatory practices, Black Americans’ experiences with White Americans was primarily relegated to that of interactions with the police. Redlining only served to further solidify many Black communities as “ghettos”, as many areas that became heavily redlined were already suffering from unemployment and disinvestment. Furthermore, redlined communities were subject to urban renewal efforts, where black communities were essentially uprooted to make room for expanding public projects that were intended to displace the ghetto population (Theoharis & Woodard, 2003, p. 291). A specific example of this phenomenon would be the “Medical School Crisis”, a major catalyst for the Newark riots in which a school campus was proposed that would displace Black citizens in Newark’s Central Ward (Theoharis & Woodard, 2003, p. 291).

The effects of redlining in Black neighborhoods was severe. The extent of the widening wealth gap was not lost on Black Americans, who truly began to feel the effects of a lack of self-governance and generational wealth, both of which could not exist inside redlined communities. Black Americans became further aware not only of the wealth gap, but in the differences in status and power that existed between Black and White Americans (Sugrue, 2008, p. 257). Economic inequality became synonymous with racial inequality, and Black Americans began actively protesting both as a result of redlining (Sugrue, 2012, p. 10). As previously mentioned, urban development was a rising trend amongst metropolitan areas, and the superhighways needed to make the newly paved American Highway system work often involved building massive ramps and tracts of highway over residential housing that could not be sold (Sugrue, 2008, p. 259). Public school systems were affected as well. As previously recounted in the effects of White flight, taxes were being drained from urban centers to fund schools bordering between central cities and White suburbs, yet Black Americans did not benefit from these schools, remaining segregated and without necessary resources to make their education truly “equal” (Sugrue, 2008, p. 206). Gerrymandering further ensured these separate school districts, drawing more invisible lines that dictated which schools children living in certain areas would attend (Sugrue, 2012, p. 13). Many White community members argued that these schools were not separated intentionally, but that it was “… the natural consequence of individual choices about where to live and where to send children to school,” completely disregarding that the segregated districts are a byproduct of White-imposed redlining (Sugrue, 2012, p. 14). The effects of this practice were so dire that Newark’s mayor called for the state control of public schools (Bigart, 1968). In the end, the image many White Americans held of Black neighborhoods became a self-fulfilling prophecy; that redlined areas were occupied by gangsters, bootleggers, and other criminals. In reality, the economic hardships imposed by stringent redlining created the circumstances under which crime was inevitable (Sugrue, 2008, p. 203).

Beyond a network of financial discrimination, the White general public also maintained the lines surrounding redlined communities through publicly and socially enforced separation. Rare cases of Black families attempting to move into segregated majority White neighborhoods such as Levittown were almost always met with at best, verbal, and at worst, physical abuse (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 119). To Whites, the impoverished neighborhoods of Newark were no better than “…a vast crawl of negro slums and poverty, a festering center of diseases, vice injustice, and crime,” (Mumford, 2007, p. 52) and the acceptance of Black families into White neighborhoods represented a direct threat that their communities would be labeled the same way.

Redlining and the practice of socially and publicly enforcing discrimination measures affected Black communities across America, and contributed directly to the riots by preventing Black Americans from leaving the poverty-stricken neighborhoods known as “ghettos”, forcing urban renewal on the already limited spaces Black Americans could live, and furthering the wealth gap between Black and White Americans. Redlining proved to be a long-lasting roadblock in the slow march towards the advancement of America’s Black Population. Its inception and widespread use was indicative of a still-segregationist White America who was willing to explore alternative avenues in the name of maintaining the racial purity of their neighborhoods. Redlining essentially served as the next interpretation of Jim Crow laws – severe stratification of Black economies, reinforced by a White majority committed to keeping said system in place (Mumford, 2007, p. 22). In response to these measures, Black groups that were not against using violence to enact results began to popularize, leading to an expansion of the Black public sphere, the establishment of the Black Power movements, and the rise in riots across the country.

Section 2: How Newark and the Northern Civil Rights Movement Differed from the

Civil Rights Movement of the South

Despite their significant similarities, the Northern and Southern Civil Rights movement differ in various ways that allow for specific characteristics of each movement. The greatest difference between the two regional movements was the ideas and theories surrounding the use of, and different applications of, violence as a means for social change. As the South turned towards nonviolent measures of civil protest, the North did the opposite, at times using the South as an example of how nonviolent protests were not successful (Sugrue, 2008, p. 291). After experiencing the nonviolent tactics of the South and observing the little change it brought to the North, people in Newark and other cities in the North began to use more aggressive tactics, such as firebombs, molotovs, and violent protests, both as aggressors and defenders.

The South and Nonviolence

In the years leading up to the Newark riots, attention was once again on the South as nonviolent ideology continued to spread and characterize the Southern Civil Rights movement.

Nonviolent protests stemmed out of Selma, Alabama, when Civil Rights workers staged a protest in 1965, law enforcement interrupted the protest, and weeks later two White supporters of the Civil Rights movement were killed by racists due to their participation (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 20). Other indicators of the Southern ideology of the Civil Rights movement are further exemplified by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a Civil Rights organization which used protest measures such as sit-ins, boycotts, and the Freedom Rides, and whose headquarters was located in Atlanta (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 29). When the Freedom Riders arrived in Newark in 1961 on their way to Tennessee, the Black community of Newark saw firsthand how nonviolent protesting in the South functioned (Mumford, 2007, p. 78). Newark would experience many other nonviolent Civil Rights events before the riots of 1967, including the events of Freedom Summer 1964, which acted as a campaign to recruit Black voters, and the actions of the Congress of Racial Equality (at this point a civil disobedience organization that would later join the Black Power movement) who organized sit-ins at White Castle diners across New Jersey for better treatment of Black consumers and just hiring protocols for aspiring Black employees (Mumford, 2007, p. 80). Violence against Black Americans continued despite these protests, including the death of Lester Long Jr. and Walter Mathis, which further reminded the

Black community of one of the most notorious lynchings, Emmett Till (Mumford, 2007, p. 117).

It was clear to many Black Northerners that racism, discrimination, and brutality against Black Americans would not bend to nonviolent will, therefore causing the Northern Civil Rights movement, and, by extension, the Newark rioters, to use more aggressive tactics in order to stimulate change.

Violence and Resistance in Newark and the North

Black Americans in Newark and across the North bore witness to the nonviolent protests in areas such as Birmingham and Selma, and, instead of imitating their methods, used these events as justification for turning to more violent tactics (Sugrue, 2008, p. 291). Nonviolent protesting measures were criticized by many, including key individuals such as Nathan Wright, an author prevalent in the Black Power movement, who claimed that it lowered “black self-esteem” and led to the ideology that Black community members themselves were not worth defending (Mumford, 2007, p. 111). To many Black Americans, violence was a justifiable means, aligning with the psychoanalytic theory of Frantz Fanon, who claimed that “…the development of violence among the colonized people will be proportionate to the violence exercised by the threatened colonial regime,” (Mumford, 2007, p. 109). Up to this stage in the Civil Rights movement, and for decades after, the effect of White colonialism, segregation, brutality, redlining, and other discriminatory measures more than sufficed as violence exercised against the Black American people, and therefore provided the North and the rioters of Newark with a justifiable means to turn towards violence.

The Northern Civil Rights riots themselves were steeped in aggressive tactics, though it is uncertain in many circumstances whether the rioters were the true initiators of such events. Molotovs and firebombs became key components of the movement, mostly the threat rather than the use themselves. Police confiscated six bottles with the makings of Molotov cocktails after raiding the homes of various Black Americans who were classified as “militant”, and Black activists anonymously dispersed guides on how to assemble these incendiary weapons (Mumford, 2007, p. 115, Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 22). During the Newark riots, fires spread through downtown Newark, yet officials from the Fire Department adamantly claimed that the rioters were not the ones who set the fire (Carroll, 1967). There were also reports of gunfire between law enforcement and Black rioters, with the gunfire being “aimed” at police reportedly originating from the tops of buildings and the interiors of cars, further exacerbating the rumors of “snipers” attacking the police and National Guard (Carroll, 1967).

Other riots in the North experienced severe aggression as well, though with substantial evidence that some rioters were instigators in the events. In the Plainfield riots, a series of New Jersey riots that mirrored those of Newark, black youths were reported physically assaulting and murdering a police officer, Gleason, to which the police department then claimed that “…under the circumstances and in the atmosphere that prevailed at that moment, any police officer, black or white, would have been killed…” in the hostile situation (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 44). This, black rioters recognized, would be used as a justification for retaliation against all Black rioters. Rioters (the majority young) then began arming themselves with carbines from a local arms manufacturing company, and firing without clear targets (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 45). This is a drastic change from the nonviolent protests that characterized the South, and furthered the distinction between the Northern Civil Rights and Southern Civil Rights movements. Though the changes between the protesting tactics of the North and South remain markedly different, there remain many differences between Northern protests as well, including the roles that welfare and public programs, intercommunity agency, and governmental transparency play in maintaining peace.

Section 3: How Various Civil Rights Movements in the North Differed from Newark and Each Other

Anti-Poverty and Welfare Programs

Anti-Poverty and welfare programs proved to be invaluable tools for New Jersey’s cities in diffusing racial violence before it escalated to the level of the Newark riots. In New Brunswick, following the events in Newark, a growingly despondent group of Black youths began committing what the Kerner Commission refers to as “random vandalism” and “mischief” (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 46). Despite being relatively harmless, concerns still loomed that an eruption of violence comparable with Newark remained a possibility in New Brunswick. As a result, the city government funded a summer program for the city’s anti-poverty agency (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 46). Enough young people signed up for leadership positions in the summer program that the city cut their stipends in half and hired twice as many young people (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 46). This summer program did not single-handedly deescalate racial tensions between Black youth and White city government, but it did establish a rapport that was utilized to come to a sort of common ground (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 46). The same cannot be said about the events that transpired in Plainfield, around the same time. Like New Brunswick, Plainfield was on the brink of extreme racial violence, and in similar fashion, young people and teenagers were demanding community recreation activities be expanded. The city government, however, refused, and Plainfield went on to sustain violence and destruction at the hands of rioters, second only to the Newark riots (Mumford, 2007, p. 107).

Perhaps it seems overly simplistic to suggest the difference between neighborhood kids and radicalized arsonists is simply having something to do; but what is repeatedly noted by the Kerner Commission in their profile of an average Newark rioter is a lack of preoccupation. They describe the typical rioter as young, male, unmarried, uneducated and often unemployed (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 73). These men often did not attend high school or university, and went into and out of periods of joblessness. What is noteworthy is that the attitude of these men towards education and employment is that of frustration, rather than apathy (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 78). According to the Commission Report, rioters typically desired more consistent and gainful employment or the opportunity to pursue a higher education, but were stymied by race or class barriers (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 78). The Kerner Report established a pattern of explaining systemic barriers to positive social, health, economic, and education outcomes, quickly followed by assertions of black pathology. The report does not conclude that it is absolutely logical to find oppression intolerable and that some type of action should be expected, or an apathy toward political and educational systems would be a rational response to these barriers (Bentley-Edwards et. al., 2018). Regardless, there appears to be a direct correlation between giving urban youths leadership positions within their communities, and a desire to preserve and protect that community. Perhaps if this tactic was employed by the city of Newark, there would have been less desire to loot and proliferate, and more importantly, the possibility that this tactic could be used in contemporary urban centers.

Communal Autonomy and Self-Governance

As mentioned earlier in this paper, a sense of communal agency was paramount in upholding White privilege, and was a consistently desired standard in New Jersey’s cities during the 1960s. In Elizabeth, an impending race riot was preemptively undone by utilizing intercommunity autonomy and self-governance (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 40). Among a hundred volunteer peacekeepers in Elizabeth was Hesham Jaaber, an orthodox Muslim leader who led two dozen of his followers into the streets, armed with a bullhorn to urge peace and order (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 40). Both demonstrators and police dissipated and a full riot failed to materialize in Elizabeth (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 40). This approach can be compared with the Newark riots, in which peace was supposed to be achieved at the hands of nearly 8,000 heavily armed, excessively violent White National Guardsmen who knew nothing about the people they were supposedly deployed to serve. Per the example in New Brunswick, a correlation between the effectiveness of de-escalation measures from law enforcement who live in that community and the ineffectiveness of de-escalation in cities when law enforcement do not reside in that community becomes apparent.

Government Transparency and Community-Government Partnerships

An excellent example of how government transparency can positively affect race relations is the previous example of New Brunswick. Despite the success of the anti-poverty summer program, there still remained a radical sect of incensed young people in the city. When this group of 35 teenagers expressed an interest in speaking directly to the newly instated Mayor Sheehan, the Mayor obliged their request and agreed to meet with them (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 46). After a long discussion in which the teenagers “poured their hearts out,” Sheehan agreed to draw up plans to address the social ills that these young Black Americans were facing. In return, the 35 young people began sending radio broadcasts to other young people, insisting that they “cool it,” and emphasized the Mayor’s willingness to tackle Black issues (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 46). Sheehan also demonstrated her willingness for peaceful negotiation with her constituents when in the days after the Newark riots, a mob materialized on the steps of city hall, demanding that all those jailed during demonstrations in New Brunswick that day be released from holding. Rather than using the police to disperse the group by force, Sheehan met the mob face to face with a bullhorn and informed them that all held arrestees had already been released. Upon hearing this, the mob willingly dispersed and returned home (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 47).

It is perhaps unsurprising that the Newark police did not utilize these tactics, though they had ample opportunities to do so. In the moments directly before the riot, in front of the Fourth Precinct Station House, Mayor Addonizio and Police Director Spina repeatedly ignored attempts by Civil Rights leader Robert Curvin to appease the crowd by performing a visual inspection of John William Smith for injuries (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 117). It was not until nearly a full day of rioting had occurred before Mayor Addonizio even considered a political solution to the rioters demands, and by that point it was too late to reach an arrangement (Mumford, 2007, p. 129).

The consistent factor among instances of avoided and deescalated violence is a level of mutual respect between city government officials and Black communities. Repeatedly, arson, looting, and destruction of property occurred in areas where rioters felt that their surroundings, their infrastructure, and community did not belong to them. Based on evidence mentioned in this section, it is clear that the more a community is involved in administering the area that they live in, the more they feel inclined to defend and preserve their neighborhood.

Conclusions and Why Teaching This History is Necessary

This paper analyzed key distinctions between inciting events of the Civil Rights movement riots in the North and South, including the differing ideologies on nonviolent verses violent protesting, the phenomenon of “White flight” and subsequent redlining, the housing crisis and poverty caused by rapid urbanization and lack of public welfare programs. This paper explains how intercommunity autonomy and government transparency, along with anti-poverty measures were underutilized tools in curbing civil unrest amongst Black communities, leading to increased tensions, anger, and distrust between Black Americans and White communities and government. It also compares the violence prevalent in Northern Civil Rights movement protests, stemming from disregard and denial of the blatant systemic racism rampant in the states, to the nonviolent protesting measures characteristic of the South and the Civil Rights movement as a whole. Throughout the recapitulation of the Civil Rights movement, specifically that in New Jersey using the Newark Riots of 1967, a side of state history that is often overlooked becomes clearer. Through this clarification, one can see the effects this history still has on New Jersey, and, in a larger sense, the United States today. As students continue to see protests regarding the injustice, inequality, and brutality facing Black communities in New Jersey and across the country, the importance of understanding the decisions throughout history that sparked these events becomes all the more important. Without understanding “White flight”, students cannot fully understand why center cities have a vast majority Black population, while suburbs remain significantly White. Without understanding redlining in key cities such as Newark, students cannot understand why New Jersey schools severely lack diversity, still remaining severely separated, or why tax money from central cities are being redirected to schools bordering suburbs.

Without understanding the deep history of police brutality toward Black Americans, students cannot fully understand or analyze the tragedies of today, such as the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah Jovan McClain, and countless others. Racism and discrimination is deeply rooted not only in the South, not only in the North, but in New Jersey and the entirety of America, and the effects of such racism and discrimination are still seen daily. It is impossible to separate the history of New Jersey from its racist roots, making understanding these roots integral to understanding New Jersey. Now more than ever, teachers are forced to critically think about what role the history of racism in America has in their classroom – yet the conversation must exist with students for as long as the effects of this racist past are still seen in classrooms across the United States, including their home state. By centering the education of racism on New Jersey, students make a deeper connection to the history, and recognize that racism and segregation, as often taught in history classes, did not solely exist in the South, but down the street from them, in their capital, and across the “civilized” North. Teachers can use Newark as a way to initiate the conversation of racism in New Jersey, educating students on how racist institutions and injustices evolved into rioting, how the cycle is still seen today, and how many of the reasons people in 1967 rioted are still reasons that they saw people riot in 2020. When teaching about the Civil Rights movement, teachers can include the North in their instruction, emphasizing how racism looked different in the North compared to the South, yet still perpetuated inequality. It is not a happy history, nor one that citizens should be proud of- and it is far from being rectified. Yet, it is the duty of citizens and students of New Jersey to research these topics that are often overlooked and hidden, to analyze how racism and discrimination still impacts Black New Jersians, before analyzing the post-war Civil Rights movement and the activism and movements such as Black Lives Matter in New Jersey today. By failing to educate students on the effects of racism in the North, students are left uneducated on how to identify legal and institutionalized racism, and vulnerable to misinformation. Until the measures of deeply ingrained racism and discrimination are fully dissolved and racial injustice is consistently upended, beginning with proper education, protesting and civil unrest will remain a constant in the American experience, as will the consistent need to educate students on these injustices.

References

Primary Sources:

“50 Years Later, Newark Riots Recall an Era Echoed by Black Lives Matter.” (2017). NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/50-years-later-newark-riots-recall-era-echoed-black-lives-n780856.

Bates, K. G. (2018). “Report Updates Landmark 1968 Racism Study, Finds More Poverty and Segregation.” NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2018/02/27/589351779/report-updates-landmark-1968-racism-studyfinds-more-poverty-more-segregation.

Bigart, H. (1968) “Newark Riot Panel Calls Police Action ‘Excessive’; Newark Riot Panel Charges Police Action against Negroes Was ‘Excessive’.” The New York Times. Retrieved from https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1968/02/11/91220255.html?page Number=1.

Carroll, M. (1967). “Newark’s Mayor Calls in Guard as Riots Spread.” New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1967/07/14/83616047.html?page Number=1.

CBS New York. (2020). “Newark Public Officials Reflect on 1967 Riots amidst New Protests: ‘The City Has Now Begun to Rise from the Ashes’.” CBS New York. CBS New York. Retrieved from https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2020/06/01/newark-riots-1967-protests/.

Haberman, C. (2020). “The 1968 Kerner Commission Report Still Echoes Across America.” The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/23/us/kerner-commission-report.html.

Hampson, R. (2017). “Newark Riots, 50 Years Later.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/07/12/50-years-after-newark-trump-urban-america-inner-city-detroit/103525154/.

Handler, M. S. (1967). (“Newark Rioting Assailed by Meeting of N.A.A.C.P.; N.A.A.C.P. Hits Newark Riots.” The New York Times. Retrieved from https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1967/07/16/83617963.html?page Number=1.

“How the 1960s’ Riots Hurt African-Americans.” (2004). National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from https://www.nber.org/digest/sep04/how-1960s-riots-hurt-african-americans.

“Outcomes and Impacts – the North.” (2021). RiseUp North Newark. Retrieved from https://riseupnewark.com/chapters/chapter-3/part-2/outcomes-and-impacts/.

Reeves, R. (1967). “Riots in Newark Are the Worst in Nation since 34 Died in Watts.” The New York Times. Retrieved from https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1967/07/15/83617474.html?page Number=11.

Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. (1968). Bantam Books. Retrieved from https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat03997a&AN=RUL.b115507 2&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Robinson, D. (1967) “Jersey Will Seek U.S. Funds to Rebuild Newark; Riot Victims Would Get Food, Medicine, Business Loans and Money for Rent.” The New York Times. Retrieved from  https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1967/07/18/90375693.html?page Number=22.

Rojas, R., & Atkinson, K. (2017). “Five Days of Unrest That Shaped, and Haunted, Newark.” The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/11/nyregion/newark-riots-50-years.html.

Special, H. B. (1967). “Newark Riot Deaths at 21 as Negro Sniping Widens.” The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1967/07/16/archives/newark-riot-deaths-at-21-as-negro-s niping-widens-hughes-may-seek-us.html?searchResultPosition=26.

Sullivan, R. (1968). “Negro Is Killed in Trenton.” New York Times. Retrieved from https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1968/04/10/89130687.pdf?pdf_redirect =true&ip=0.

Treadwell, D. (1992). “After the Riots: The Search for Answers : For Blighted Newark, Effects of Rioting in 1967 Still Remain : Redevelopment: The Once-Bustling Commercial Thoroughfare at the Center of That City’s Unrest Is Still an Urban Wasteland 25 Years Later.” Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from  https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1992-05-07-mn-2525-story.html.

Waggoner, W. H. (1967). “Courtrooms Calm as Trials Start for 27 Indicted in Newark Riots.” The New York Times. Retrieved from https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1967/09/26/83634623.html?page Number=41.

Wills, M. (2020). “The Kerner Commission Report on White Racism, 50 Years on …” JSTOR Daily. Retrieved from https://daily-jstor-org.ezproxy.usach.cl/the-kerner-commission-report-on-white-racism-50 -years-on/.

Wilson, B. L. (2018). “The Kerner Commission Report 50 Years Later.” GW Today. Retrieved from https://gwtoday.gwu.edu/kerner-commission-report-50-years-later.

Secondary Sources:

Anderson, C. (2017). White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (1st ed.). Bloomsbury, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Bentley-Edwards, K. L., Edwards, M. C., Spence, C.N., Darity Jr., W. A., Hamilton, D., & Perez, D. (2018). “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? The Missing Kerner Commission Report.” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the SocialSciences 4, no. 6: 20–40. https://doi.org/10.7758/rsf.2018.4.6.02.

Bergesen, A. (1982). “Race Riots of 1967: An Analysis of Police Violence in Detroit and Newark.” Journal of Black Studies 12, no. 3 (March 1, 1982): 261–74. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.rider.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN= edsjsr.2784247&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Lieberson, S., and Wilkinson, C. A. (1976). “A Comparison between Northern and Southern Blacks Residing in the North.” Demography 13, no. 2: 199–224. https://doi.org/10.2307/2060801.

Mumford, K. J. (2007). Newark : A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America. American History and Culture. New York University Press. Retrieved from https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat03997a&AN=RUL.b140884 3&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Sugrue, T. J. (2012). “Northern Lights: The Black Freedom Struggle Outside the South.” OAH Magazine of History 26, no. 1: 9–15. doi:10.1093/oahmag/oar052

Sugrue, T. J. (2008). Sweet Land of Liberty : The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North. 1st ed. Random House. Retrieved from https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat03997a&AN=RUL.b140557

6&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Theoharis, J., & Woodard, K. (2003). Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, 1940-1980. 1st ed. Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved from https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat03997a&AN=RUL.b1327086&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Same Bigotry, Different Name: Race Suicide, the Birth Dearth, and Women’s Rights

Same Bigotry, Different Name: Race Suicide, the Birth Dearth, and Women’s Rights

Megan McGlynn

Despite the fact that roughly half of the world’s population is born female, women’s roles in history are consistently regulated to side characters and often left out of core history classes. In those same classes there is a lack of discussion of the ways that women have been affected by the issues of the time in often dramatically different ways from men, but from each other as well. We have a tendency to treat the experiences of all women as one universal experience in education which could not be far from the truth. Even the optional women’s history courses taught at some high schools have unregulated curriculums created by teachers that want more for their students but may unintentionally let their own ideas of whose story matters steer the course away from the point. Intersectionality is the crux of progress, understanding that no one is ever just one thing. Gender, race, class, sexuality, religion, and a whole host of other aspects of a person are independent of each other and differ widely, allowing for humanity to benefit from the wonder of a complete variety of distinct perspectives and unique people. Limiting women’s history to an optional course with no clear path hurts the learning of all students and sets the standard that women are a separate branch of human history, that their stories and lives have had no bearing on the course of events.

As teachers, it is our responsibility to determine where and how we can incorporate supplemental material into our core curriculum in order to provide additional insight and get to more topics than we might be able to delve fully into. One such topic of importance that gets zero attention in U.S. history is women’s movements. Sure we talk about the 19th amendment; but only long enough to ensure students that it fixed everything overnight, missing the whole sections on the rights of women of color and the other ways women were still restricted. The current struggle federally over the rights women have to their own reproductive choices is an issue I guarantee that your students have questions about. They know little about Roe v. Wade, or the numerous attempts to overthrow it. What they do know is that this coming year may change the landscape of the nation and that is terrifying. One of the most overused cliches in the English language is ‘knowledge is power’, and it could not fit better here. Arming students with an understanding of the origins of these battles gives them context, motivation, and a place to start. And what better way to do so than to connect the present legislative concerns with where U.S. history classes love to focus; U.S. presidents. Shortly, the opinions of two presidents from opposite ends of the 20th century will become clear; Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. In order to take them in fully however, we first must form a distinct picture of the issues facing the nation today.

In December of 1971 a pregnant woman, named Jane Roe in court documents for privacy, sued her county district attorney Henry Wade alleging that the Texas abortion law violated her constitutional rights. Two years later on January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 majority in Roe’s favor, declaring safe access to abortion a constitutional right.[1] The ruling ensured legal protection for those seeking the essential medical procedure despite the countless protests and legislative attempts at blocking access throughout the years, and restricting eligibility for the procedure based on the length of pregnancy. Forty-eight years later, the state of Texas has passed the most restrictive abortion legislation to date.[2] The bill, SB 8, bans all abortions except those fitting into slim medical necessity criteria after ultrasound scans first pick up evidence of cardiac activity typically around six weeks’ gestation. The term “heartbeat bill” has caused strife as it inaccurately labels electrical pulses as a heartbeat, attaching emotional images of infancy to a cluster of cells the size of a grain of rice.[3] Not only is the nickname misleading, but six weeks is only two weeks after a missed period and is the earliest possible time a pregnancy test can give a positive result. Therefore an abortion is nearly impossible for any Texas woman to receive by the time they discover they are pregnant.

This is by far not the first time Texas legislation has made national headlines for its restrictive nature or controversial stance, but now there is an insurmountable fear of how influential this bill may be. Texas is not the first state to pass a “heartbeat bill” but all others have been struck down as unconstitutional. This law has skirted the limitations of previous legislation by putting the onus of prosecution on civilians instead of the government. Per Roe v. Wade, government officials cannot prosecute an individual for seeking an abortion but according to the Texas Tribune the new legislation has remedied that stating, “While abortion patients themselves can’t be sued under the new law, anyone who performs or aids with the abortion can be sued”.[4] By creating a civil avenue for abortion persecution Texas lawmakers have stepped into uncharted waters where it is unclear if attempts to throw the bill out will succeed. A successful bill of this kind will produce similar bills across the country until women’s reproductive healthcare is completely unrecognizable in a post Roe v. Wade world.

Unfortunately though perhaps unsurprisingly, attacks such as this on the rights and liberties of women are persistent throughout American history. The above instance is a prime example of these attacks which increase in number and intensity during periods of increased women’s rights activism, but are ultimately always present. The right to vote was the first cause that women congregated in support of solely for themselves in the United States. Women sought the influence of voting privilege and equal treatment under the law; if men and women are all citizens why should they not have the same liberties? For some this made perfect sense and women came together locally and eventually nationally to advocate for women’s suffrage.

In 1890 the two national suffrage organizations, the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association, separated for twenty years due to conflicting support for the 15th amendment and Black men, finally came together again with the help of suffragist Alice Stone Blackwell.[5] Under the name of the National American Woman Suffrage Association the group led women’s suffrage efforts ultimately culminating in the ratification of the 19th amendment giving White women the right to vote. This success was certainly to the chagrin of the opposition; which was a surprising combination of men and women who felt that White women did not need to vote as they spent most of their time in the home caring for children. Coupled with this group’s perceived lack of political knowledge, they believed that giving White women the ability to vote would only raise taxes and not change much else. Anti-suffragists believed that most White women did not want the vote and made their voices heard through protests, political cartoons, scathing articles, and speeches.[6] But even the formation of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage by Josephine Dodge in 1911 to coordinate and amplify anti-suffrage opinions did tip the scales and the 19th amendment passed.[7] When women activists would once again bring calls for equal treatment to the national stage, similar opposition surfaced.

Though it was first drafted fifty years earlier, in 1972 the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was passed by both houses of Congress and ratification of the potential 27th amendment seemed all but certain. The amendment’s sudden and long overdue position as a topic of national conversation was the credit of a new age of women’s activism; women’s liberation. Often shortened to women’s lib in discussion, the movement aimed to free women of the unequal barriers present in professional spaces. These barriers kept them from the opportunities afforded to men in the same spaces, as if these working women were not privy to a secret password. The ERA was the universal translator, a legal declaration that adequate pay, promotions, and authority were not to be hidden above a glass ceiling away from women who were held back from reaching them.

So in 1972, support was high from the women’s liberation movement and a true success for women’s rights felt close enough to taste.[8] Women were tired of the inconsistencies and being told that the vote was enough to fix hundreds of years of inequality. But the deadline for ratification came and went without a ratified ERA, leaving the nation wondering how. In the ten year time limit thirty-five out of the thirty-eight required states ratified the amendment.[9] But this was not enough. As shocking as it may seem, this is attributed to the work of one woman, Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly was an author, activist, and lawyer who formed the Stop ERA movement on her own. She believed that equality was not truly in the interests of men or women and would ultimately lead to a detrimental moral shirt in American society.[10] Her emphatic public expression of this opinion frightened the public and had the intended effect on politicians. It was this extremist comparative approach that was responsible for the failure of the ERA and is yet another example of the oppositional forces that spark up against fights for women’s rights.

Though separated by decades, these two 20th century movements, suffrage and women’s liberation both tackled the mistreatment of women in the United States, pulling the discrepancies to the forefront of national discussion. What is most shocking is that 50 years separate these two movements but they frankly could have taken place at the same time. Nothing changed from the ERA’s conception while White women were gaining the right to vote in 1920 and its failed ratification in the last decades of the century. This is even more apparent when you consider the inherent issues of race in women’s movements. The suffrage movement was populated by abolitionists who fought for the 13th amendment decades prior securing Black men their constitutional right to vote. Yet the same White women who had shown up in support then refused to acknowledge that suffrage should come for all women at once. They selfishly secured their own rights ahead of all other women and proved that their earlier activism for Black men was only in the interest of paving their own way. This racial divide in women’s movements is demonstrative of the larger social perception of race, the lines of demarcation that defined acceptance and persecution so clearly outlined by skin color.

The intersection between the treatment of women and racially motivated fears in the United States is considerably large. Women are, by virtue of reproductive anatomy, the individuals who give birth to the next generation. Those who wish to control the future makeup of the population therefore have always had a vested interest in the ways women choose to procreate or not, and with whom they do so. Sociologist Edward A. Ross established the term ‘race suicide’ at the beginning of the 20th century to refer to situations ‘when the birth rate within a so-called race dropped below the death rate’ and expected the end result of this to be ‘that the “race” would die out’.[11] This definition with its use of the word suicide heavily implies that the focus of the blame falls within the race in question and is not due to outside forces impacting the race.[12] Later on we will see evidence of President Theodore Roosevelt taking Ross’s idea and running with it, popularizing a national idea that race suicide was killing the United States and that the only remedy was a strictly traditional large family. Prominent political and academic thinkers of the era seeing as women produce children, also blamed them for White race suicide in America as the term gained popularity.

Just as Edward Ross coined the term race suicide in the early 1900s, Benjamin Wattenberg coined the term ‘birth dearth’ in 1987 in his book titled The Birth Dearth: What Happens When People in Free Countries Don’t Have Enough Babies?. Birth dearth is close in meaning to race suicide. Quite simply it refers to a lack of births contributing to a lower population and in the next generation a lack of adults to replenish those retiring out of the labor force or passing away.[13] Again, as with Roosevelt, Wattenberg lists many reasons that caused this horrific decline. Of those causes, most directly implicate women. Of the subheadings in chapter 10 titled Causes, two-thirds (12 of 18) specifically target women. They include education (for women), working women, abortion, contraception, divorce, and decreased fecundity all of which except the last attacked personal decisions women made in their lives. These decisions were perceived by Wattenberg to have caused a majority of the birth dearth decline, leaving the country open to being outmatched in advancement and population by other Eastern countries.[14] Instead of focusing on the family as Roosevelt did, Wattenberg chose to turn his attention to the outside influences of immigration and fears of the advancement of other countries.

            Based on the history and current events described previously, it is clear that women’s personal decisions have been the concern of the public and the government for well over a century, and far beyond the time frame examined. Whether or not the individual choices of a group as large as women should be controlled or inspected so closely is not up for debate, but the reason for that examination certainly is. The picture that Ross and Wattenberg painted of a future United States devoid of children centers women’s contributions in a specifically narrow light. The research conducted in this paper aims to answer the question raised by the opinions of figures like Ross and Wattenberg. That is, what are women’s roles in nationalism as mothers and how are expectations for women shaped by government officials and national culture? With that question at the focus a secondary question forms that will also be answered in the following pages; why and how has progress in women’s rights led to backlash and a privileging of unequal gender and racial hierarchy? Holding tightly to those two questions it is important to examine the body of work conducted in this vein looking at both the suffrage and women’s liberation movements and their backlash.

                        At every turn, women’s rights activists struggled in a greater culture that benefits from the reduction of women’s capabilities and denial of the positive effects that liberation and equality provide. There is a consistent bubbling undercurrent of discontent in American society that continues to exist in the pervasive nature of disease, perpetually infecting the nation with discontent whispers of feminist pursuits as the biggest possible detriment to national prosperity in existence. These whispers push and claim that elimination of and movement beyond feminism into postfeminism is the only cure, women must forget the call for equality because they already can have it all. This is certainly not the case and frankly is a desperate albeit successful attempt to bring women’s issues full circle, to replace the barriers that are already broken one by one.

            The use of the word backlash above is deliberate. Backlash is a term that originated with Susan Faludi who examines the distinct spikes in discontent that push into aggressive, propagandist backlash in her book of the same name, aptly subtitled The Undeclared War Against American Women. She describes the intense media and governmental assault on women’s liberation that occurred in the 80’s, at the height of the movement managing to sow indecisive and malcontented seeds of self-doubt into the minds of women across the nation. This gave the backlash places to hide in the minds of its victims and a convenient space for denial in the spotlight.[15] But the backlash of the 80’s is not the only one we have experienced as a country, far from it in fact.

            But the 80’s were not the first decade to experience backlash, it historically comes as a direct “reaction to women’s ‘progress’” as Faludi dives into further.[16] That being said, Faludi is not the only historian to connect the seemingly cyclical attacks to women’s progress historically. In Building a Better Race : Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics From the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom, Wendy Kline contends that the history of eugenics in America has been passive and pretends that eugenic efforts have ceased which she demonstrates is far from the truth.[17] Kline asserts that eugenics is responsible for the notion of race suicide in the beginning of the 19th century and the concept of the birth dearth in the 80’s.[18]

Notably Kline is not the only historian to share this opinion. In her essay “Reproduction: The Politics of Choice” taken from an anthology of her works titled No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women Estelle B. Freedman reiterates the importance of eugenics on reproductive decisions in the United States. According to Freedman, when fears of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant women committing race suicide bubbled to the surface of American life, eugenics was already heavily rooted in the United States as well as other predominantly White European nations across the ocean.[19] It was not long until eugenics ideologies gripped the medical practice of these countries allowing doctors, White men, to decide which women were fit for reproduction. She discusses laws implemented in the United States to institute compulsory sterilization by stating, “The laws applied to men or women of any background, but they disproportionately affected immigrants, African Americans, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, the poor, and disabled women. Twice as many American women as men underwent compulsory sterilization”.[20] Freedman’s analysis of the perilous situation eugenic efforts placed people of color, women, and those who were disabled in demonstrates how the fear of race suicide was not just a lack of White babies, but an increase in non-White babies.

The way President Roosevelt viewed women and their role in society is discussed in Leroy Dorsey’s article “Managing Women’s Equality: Theodore Roosevelt, the Frontier Myth, and the Modern Woman” where he articulates a nuanced view of the man and his perspective. Dorsey asserts that Roosevelt built his idea of womanhood around the idea of the frontier woman, creating a niche way to build support for women’s equality while still claiming that motherhood was of the utmost importance to the equal frontier woman.[21] He managed to find a balance where he could support a progressive approach to women’s equality while still championing a traditional view of marriage and family aligned with its emphasis on national welfare. This midrange stance did leave Roosevelt in contention with women’s rights activists who felt he could push harder in support of the movement, but Dorsey argues that Roosevelt’s careful balance was wholly intentional and actually was necessary in order to “consider the application of Victorian principles in a modern age”.[22] Though Dorsey does make a solid argument, he neglects a large portion of Roosevelt’s beliefs, mainly regarding racial purity and race suicide. These beliefs are ever present in his presidency and opinions, to leave them out of the analysis creates an inaccurate depiction of Roosevelt and his impact.

            Though her work does not contend with the implications of race suicide or eugenics, Elaine Tyler May does investigate the legislation surrounding women’s bodies and choices. Her book, America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation lays bare the history of the contraceptive pill and how inaccurate the assumptions of its grandiose accomplishments for women were. The pill was FDA approved in 1960 and was viewed publicly as an incredible advancement in birth control technology.[23]  Prior to the pill, the Comstock Law made it illegal to send information about contraceptives or any contraceptive devices through the mail.[24] The Comstock Law was in effect from 1873 to 1936. From its introduction to the birth control scene, the pill was represented in mountains of legislation and informal governmental rulings limiting it as well as other forms of contraception. Presidential gag rules were also cyclically introduced would ban U.S. aid for health organizations working in other countries that provided abortion, even if that was a small percentage of the services provided.[25] Though the gag rules were a part of foreign policy, they are incredibly telling in regards to American positions on contraception and abortion, both of which heavily impacted women’s lives.

            While May heavily addresses the legislative efforts to control women’s reproductive rights, the work of Grant and Mislán focuses on the media that influenced the spread of race suicide ideology in the first place. Through close examination of articles published in two newspapers, the Columbia Missourian and the Columbian Tribune, in Columbia, Missouri, Grant and Mislán demonstrate how objectivity as a tenet of journalism ethics contributed to the rise in eugenics scientific legitimacy.[26] The trust that local communities placed in their newspapers to provide ethical, honest, evidence-based claims lent itself to being taken advantage of by journalists with clear biases. Coupled with the lack of other news outlets to compare information with and the insulated nature of small communities, race suicide ideology implanted and festered without much resistance. Through examination of these works, a picture develops of a society where women’s civic impact is emphasized by their willingness and ability to produce children to combat the racial suicide of the American race.

The research conducted in this paper on the recurring antifeminist backlash and emphasis on women as wombs for national protection against a non-White population increase fits in nicely with of Susan Faludi, building upon her research into backlash against women’s liberation. To do so it will highlight a specific focus of the opposition on women’s reproductive capabilities as their primary quality over all others, taking required emphasis away from other qualities and damaging women in the long run. From there the bridge between this discussion of backlash and the eugenics arguments of the 20th century is easy to cross as historiography has evolved to understand how eugenics was responsible for the restrictions placed upon women and continues to be. In this way the intention is to complement and build upon these works to foster a stronger understanding of the reproductive harm caused by fearful efforts to mitigate supposed racial tensions.

Further, it is clear that an examination of presidential opinions and decisions will demonstrate the clear and intentional steps taken to protect a white supremacist nationalist view that has carried on throughout the decades undetected by giving the same rhetoric a facelift and vocabulary change while maintaining the oppressive structure and values. Eras with strong women’s rights movements challenge this placement of women in society and as a result see a huge backlash from those aiming to protect this view in the highest realm of politics. This will be evident in the analysis of the sources from the periods of women’s suffrage and women’s liberation that establish the rhetoric of each. Presidential speeches and opinions illustrate how women’s role in the family was essential to the continuation of American excellence.  Ultimately, this will culminate in an argument that is difficult to dispute, that women’s role in American nationalism as breeders has been planned by men in power for the better part of a century to use them as pawns in a one sided race war.

            Though Edward Ross coined the term race suicide, credit for its proliferation into 1900s American vernacular and everyday life goes to then president, Theodore Roosevelt. He was inaugurated for his second term as President of the United States on March 4, 1905 in Washington, D.C. Nine days later he appeared in front of the National Congress of Mothers to address his concerns over the grave dangers that plagued the nation. Roosevelt was uniquely positioned as the first president to have been reelected following a term ascended to from the vice president position. In this position he felt justified by his victory to press further onwards with his beliefs on maintaining the pride and prowess of the nation via a close adherence to traditionally apt goals of marriage and family. Through an emphasis on the strict traditional representations of men and women’s roles, Roosevelt aimed to mitigate the plight of ‘race suicide’ in the United States; in doing so he alienated and invalidated the women fighting for women’s suffrage by asserting that a woman’s civic duty began and ended with their children.

            Roosevelt brought race suicide to national attention through his public speeches and written work over the course of his presidencies, heightening national fear and promoting the idea of procreation as function of national security.  In this speech he claims, in reference to his own example of what would happen if all American families only had two children, that “a race that practiced race suicide would thereby conclusively show that it was unfit to exist, and that it had better give place to people who had not forgotten the primary laws of their being”.[27] Here he demonstrates the racial imperative he believed Americans held to have a large family, anything less was not enough. Roosevelt doubly emphasized this notion for women in this speech, highlighting the importance of choosing motherhood over personal ambitions. He believed, as many soon would, that the American population was in a serious decline that would diminish America’s prestige around the world and lead to a change in the demographic makeup of the country. This would reduce the White population’s majority in the country as well, as he claimed “But the nation is in a bad way if there is no real home, if the family is not of the right kind.”[28]  In this speech Roosevelt further emphasized the “primary duties” of men and women; for men to tend to the financial needs of their families and for women to tend to the physical, emotional, moral needs of their children.[29] These two roles are treated the same in that they are essential and play the largest part in protecting the white race but are different in that women who choose not to have children are demonized. And, this distinction comes at the same time that American women are struggling for the right to vote.

Despite condemning both men and women who shirked their duty to procreate and raise children with strong American ideals, Roosevelt targets women more vehemently than men.  He asserts that the nation suffers if the home is in bad shape providing several examples, most of which are specifically towards women. Roosevelt calls these examples a woman losing her “sense of duty”, sinking into ‘vapid self-indulgence’, and “let[ting] her nature be twisted so that she prefers a sterile pseudo-intellectuality”.[30] In this way he connected the future population numbers to women’s personal decisions. From there it was not difficult to make the jump to controlling women’s decisions about their bodies in the interest of the nation. In doing this, he places a woman’s civic duty in direct connection to her decision to procreate and removes the ability to be a proud citizen without having done so. His audience, being mothers who took part in the National Congress of Mothers, received this message well, embraced it as they were validated by the prestige his beliefs awarded their position. In proliferating this message to an audience of mothers, Roosevelt played into pre-existing divisions amongst women regarding suffrage efforts and further increased the divide by providing means for a motherly superiority complex in the form of nationalist praise.

This public speech was not Roosevelt’s first time deliberating on the topic of race suicide. It happened to be a subject of correspondence between him and his associates. He also made it clear in his writing that his particular stance was racially motivated. In a personal letter to politician and friend Albion W. Tourgée, sent in November of 1901, this latter racial matter is made clear as Roosevelt begins the letter by saying, “I too have been at my wits’ end in dealing with the black man”, elucidating further in his next paragraph by writing, “I have not been able to think out any solution of the terrible problem offered by the presence of the negro on this continent”.[31] Further in this sentence he explains that he is resigned to the fact that it would be impossible to expel Black men from America either by death or emigration, so “the honorable and Christian thing to do is to treat each black man and each White man strictly on his merits as a man”.[32] From these quoted passages, Roosevelt’s opinion is clear; he does not want Black men in America and they would be banished as soon as possible if only that was feasible. The fact that this letter predates his speech to the National Congress of Mothers by four years emphatically stresses that Roosevelt’s belief in the severity of race suicide was motivated by an increasing non-White population in the United States.

Further delving into the former president’s personal correspondence shows much of his public sentiments as president were very much rooted in personal truths. One year following the letter described above to Albion W. Tourgée, in October of 1902 Roosevelt wrote to Bessie Van Vorst the notable author of the magazine series and book titled The Woman Who Toils: Being the Experiences of Two Gentlewomen as Factory Girls. This book focused on the lives of factory working girls. Roosevelt begins by complementing Vorst’s magazine series before condemning another article by a different author published in the same magazine on the unemployed rich population. In comparing the women at the focus of the two articles Roosevelt finds similarity stating that he sees, “An easy, good-natured kindliness, and a desire to be independent” claiming that these qualities “are no substitute for the fundamental virtues, for the practice of the strong racial qualities without which there can be no strong races”.[33] Here he defines independence as a quality that is incompatible with American womanhood, and a lack of independence as better for the White race.

A final letter written by Roosevelt in April of 1907 demonstrates that his view if race suicide did not waver and ultimately grew stronger following the 1905 speech. This letter was written to the editor, Dr. Albert Shaw, of The American Monthly Review of Reviews regarding issues Roosevelt had with an article published in the journal titled “The Doctor in the Public School” written by Dr. Cronin. In the article Dr. Cronin says with a level of professional certainty that American families do not need to have more children than are depicted by the national birth rate of the time.[34] But Roosevelt contests this calling the idea erroneous and claiming that the doctor is not fit to write definitively on the subject because he is not as well read as the president is on the subject.

Roosevelt calls attention to what he sees as the biggest issue of this misinformation, which he says is a “tendency to the elimination instead of the survival of the fittest; and the moral attitude which helps on this tendency is of course strengthened when it is apologized for and praised in a magazine like yours.”[35] Cronin’s article asserts in a journal read by the well-off of American society an argument that goes directly against Roosevelt’s own and removes the imperative placed on the elite to reproduce profusely. This is a direct threat to White American nationalist efforts like Roosevelt’s to increase White birth rates. Further evidence that Roosevelt is incensed by the article because of this perceived threat is seen when he states, “These teachings give moral justification to every woman who practices abortion; they furnish excuses for every unnatural prevention of child-bearing, for every form of gross and shallow selfishness of the kind that is the deepest reflection on, the deepest discredit to, American social life.”[36] By writing in this passionate way, Roosevelt betrays his true feelings of reproductive control and the women who assert that right. These private, personal decisions of American women are a direct reflection on the entire nation and as such are terrible choices that should be shamed unlike how Dr. Cronin bears their justification. Time and time again through his public speeches and private letters, former President Theodore Roosevelt demonstrates his belief that women who chose not to have children were criminals at the center of a racial betrayal. By his description, women’s continued birthing and raising of new White children was all that protected the country from the loss of a truly American society.

It is important to note that President Roosevelt’s fears of racial imbalance in the United States were not sparked by Black men though they were the target of most of his vitriolic rhetoric. In reality the fear of Jewish and Irish Catholic immigration was the true catalyst for his sentiments, Black men simply garnered the heavy burden of his prejudices because they were the visibly identifiable group amongst the three. In reality, Black men have been present in the country since 1619 when the first African slaves arrived while Jewish and Irish Catholic immigration grew considerably in the early 1900s, making them the “real” outsiders. Though today Jewish, Irish Catholic, and Protestant White people are all considered a part of the same White population in the United States, this was not the case at the beginning of the 20th century. Protestants were the White race and were clearly different from the former groups in society. Though his ideology clearly developed a focus on Black men and their potential corruption of White birth rates, it bloomed from fear of increased immigrations effects of the birth rate because White did not mean what it means today.

Former President Roosevelt was perhaps fortunate that he could be so outspoken about the views he held regarding race suicide and women’s reproductive decisions in both his private communication and public speeches as president, as his views were common amongst those he spoke to. The presidents of the country during the women’s liberation movement did not have that same so-called luxury and had to combat the new fear of being taken out of context in conversation and being recorded. One of the biggest lessons learned by President Nixon was the importance of hiding your personal opinions from the public. This is evidenced by his commissioning of the infamous ‘Nixon tapes’, recordings of his meetings and phone calls in the Oval office and his private study which have been released in recent decades as part of public record. His recorded conversations contrasted with public communication and decisions show his opinion of mothers but also his impact on their lives and how these things were steeped in his own racism.

Richard Nixon’s paranoia about a leak in the White House and his need to always be covered in case of miscommunication not only led to his impeachment but also provided the public with copious records of his personal communication and a glimpse into the man behind the president. One thing that Nixon clearly knew to keep private was his racist ideology, though he had no problem discussing it on his private telephone line. On October 7, 1971 Nixon called sociologist Daniel Moynihan to discuss an article titled “I.Q.” written by psychologist Richard Herrnstein and its impacts on education, welfare, and government intervention. During this conversation they begin discussing Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan. At this point Nixon says, “everybody says, ‘Well, God, you can’t—the work requirement is only for the purpose of making these poor colored women, you know, who can’t work and with little babies coming every month—or it’s every nine months, I believe. Anyway, whatever the case is, you can’t make them work’”, assuming that only women of color need to use welfare programs and that they simply cannot stop having children.[37] Later on in the same conversation he says that it is the responsibility of a nation’s leader to know the hard truths that drive decision making but never say them outloud. Nixon says, “My theory is that the responsibility of a president, in my present position, first, is to know these things. … But also my theory is that I must do everything that I possibly can to deny them.”.[38] The things in question being that Black people and Jewish people would damage the performance of a voting ticket and that women do not belong on the Supreme Court. Here the overlap between his racist views and misogyny is tentatively expressed, but that is developed further in a future tape.

            Roe v. Wade occurred in 1973 while Nixon was still president. He never publicly commented on the ruling however so his opinion was not known until the January and February 1973 tapes from the Oval office were released in 2009. On January 23rd, the day after the decision, Nixon and his special counsel Chuck Colson were discussing the decision and Nixon said, “I know, I know. I admit, I mean there are times when abortions are necessary. I know that. You know [when] you have a black and a white.” And then following a prompt by Colson adding “Or rape.” as an afterthought.[39] This shows with clarity how his racist views overlapped his views on women. It was not acceptable for women to have mixed race children and the thought of allowing women to make that decision after a traumatic event like rape was not nearly as important to him as keeping the races separated.

            Though never explicitly stated publicly, these views were present in his decisions. The most notable one being his veto of the Comprehensive Child Development Act in 1971, a bill that would have extended the programs available from the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) establishing national public daycare facilities among other provisions.[40] A main reasoning of Nixon’s veto was keeping focus on the family. His veto reads “good public policy requires that we enhance rather than diminish both parental authority and parental involvement with children.”[41] In speaking to his Secretary of the Treasury John B. Connally on the phone Nixon confirmed that his stance was not only concerned with family stability but also with keeping stay at home mothers in childcare saying, “I mean, I think if you ever start down this—the road of having the state raise the kids and giving mother, whether they work or not, the option of that, it’s bad, you see?”[42] His motives in vetoing the child care bill were to strengthen the American family by continuing to force American women to stay home with their children and reducing the number of Americans on welfare programs. This was in spite of their personal wishes regarding going to work if they were not able to afford private child care. This coupled with the way he spoke about women of color on welfare on the tape with Moynihan in 1971, referenced above, demonstrates that he believed women must earn the right to need government assistance for their families and that supporting families was not as important as protecting his ideal of the American family.[43] The fact that this was the president’s opinion of American family life during the women’s liberation movement’s fight for equality of opportunity is baffling and explains how he managed to produce the exact opposite of his intended result.

            Contrary to Nixon’s intention of building up the American family by vetoing the OEO bill, his action directly contributed to the degradation of the American family and subsequent birth dearth that Ben Wattenberg would write his titular book about. As we have discussed earlier on, Ben Wattenberg was an economist who analyzed decreasing birth rates in the United States, finding that White births suffered a considerably higher decline, and claimed that the nation’s authority as a world power would undeniably suffer as a result.[44] His fears of the United States being overtaken by Eastern socialist countries heavily influenced his results. These findings were published in The Birth Dearth where he contended that this was because of a variety of social and legal successes of women’s movements and contributed his own solutions for a White birth increase. The highlights if these contributing issues included increased higher education and job opportunities for women, accessibility of contraception and abortion, and divorce, while his most notable solution was banning abortion because a majority of abortions were done on wealthy White women, a ban would naturally increase the White population.[45] At the time of the book’s publication, Wattenberg was a notable public figure following his time as an advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson and condensed versions of the book’s argument were  published in prominent newspapers including the New York Times and Los Angeles Times which also published scathing reviews of the book.[46] That is to say that his view on the topic was projected to the national stage much in the same way as Roosevelt and Nixon’s were by nature of their position.

A scathing indictment of Nixon’s decision to veto was published in the New York Times the day following the decision, quoting Nixon as saying, “our response to this challenge must be a measured, evolutionary, painstakingly considered one, consciously designed to cement the family in its rightful position as the keystone of our civilization.”.[47] Yet, the birth dearth is cited as beginning in 1971, continuing until the present day, so that conscious decision did not play out as planned.[48] Worse, Nixon’s veto is still contributing to the unequal distribution of wealth and participation in the labor force that still plagues women in America despite the efforts of the women’s liberation movement. According to Lisa Rabasca Roepe, author of the Business Insider article “Richard Nixon Sabotaged a Generation of Women, but Now Congress Has Another Chance – If It Can Pass Biden’s $3.5 Trillion Spending Plan”, the birth dearth is evidence “that Nixon’s veto weakened the family structure in exactly the way he was trying to prevent”.[49] By forcing childcare to remain a private industry, many families could not and still cannot justify having both parents in the workforce when the salary of one parent would be used in almost its entirety to pay for childcare that can be done at home instead.

In effect, growing costs of living and a lack of childcare options forced many women to choose between having a family and a career. This sentiment was echoed throughout the ranks of the women’s liberation movement, as women cried out for support that President Nixon refused them. Combined with the widespread use of the birth control pill, Nixon’s veto contributed to the birth dearth by making the choice easy; to have a career women had fewer children. The nation was not prepared to make the necessary efforts to ensure that families were supported in ways that mattered so that was the only way. If only Nixon had taken the time to consider women as individuals separate from their relationship status or obligation as mothers the American family could have prospered the way he intended.

It may not seem so, but the relationship between Roosevelt’s views on race suicide and Nixon’s impact on the birth dearth is quite close. Nixon was born in 1913 while race suicide rhetoric, strengthened and popularized by President Roosevelt’s speeches years prior was still wildly prominent in American culture. He grew up breathing in and internalizing these messages that the White race was dying and that minority groups were overtaking “true Americans”. In truth the birth dearth was inspired by the rhetoric of the early 1900s, a continuation of the same mantra with a fancy new name and subtler approach. This is a fantastic place to build connections as a teacher, to demonstrate the importance of chronology when understanding history. Nixon was a young child at the height of race suicide ideology so it is no wonder that his own beliefs so similarly mirror this notion minus the name. Our societal beliefs form slowly and change even slower, fifty years is not so long in the grand scheme of time.

The 1973 case of Roe v. Wade was the first national government ruling that gave women the right to make decisions about their bodies that they had been making without government approval for centuries, but some in the government finally recognized the need for women to be in charge of those health decisions. The current backlash and attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade are reflective of the attitudes of older decades. Fears of race suicide and separation of the family unit pushed presidents and therefore the public to the extreme of the traditional family unit barring women from gaining strides in reproductive rights in the same way that they did with the vote and workplace equality. The views and actions of Presidents Roosevelt and Nixon were crucial to the pressure on American citizens to participate in the good American family ideal in order to preserve the nation from potential racial disparities and consequently White women had to be controlled. Their bodies housed all potential for another generation of Americans and they had to be made to do what was ‘right’. With all the evidence laid out it can be clearly seen that this was an intentional decision by the men in power to use White women as pawns in this war of perception by making their bodily decisions for them.

Using the primary sources depicted in this article and the historiography provided, the means to develop a short but effective interjection to a U.S. history classroom are clearly available. The situation of Roe v. Wade’s standing as a Supreme Court ruling is the most recent legislative example in a long storied history of the American government and our presidents attempting to assign limitations to women. Our students were not alive for even the most recent prior examples of these attempts but that does not mean they cannot learn. Incorporating new primary source material from notable and already frequently discussed U.S. presidents provides further detail to an undiscussed issue and will also teach your students more about developing full opinions of historical figures as flawed human beings.

References

Primary Sources

Address by President Roosevelt before the National Congress of Mothers. Theodore Roosevelt Collection. MS Am 1541 (315). Harvard College Library.

“Child Development Legislation Dies in House.” In CQ Almanac 1972, 28th ed., 03-914-03-918. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1973. http://library.cqpress.com/cqalmanac/cqal72-1249564.

Colson, Chuck and Richard Nixon. “President Nixon and Chuck Colson Discuss the Supreme Court Decision Roe v. Wade.” Edited by Luke A. Nichter. Nixon tapes and transcripts. Accessed October 23, 2021. http://www.nixontapes.org/chron53.html.

Douglas, Erin and Carla Astudillo. “We Annotated Texas’ near-Total Abortion Ban. Here’s What the Law Says about Enforcement.” The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune, September 10, 2021. https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/10/texas-abortion-law-ban-enforcement/.

Irvine, Bethany. “Why ‘Heartbeat Bill’ Is a Misleading Name for Texas’ near-Total Abortion Ban.” The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune, September 2, 2021. https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/02/texas-abortion-heartbeat-bill/.

Jane Roe, et al., Appellants, v. Henry Wade, Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute (United States Supreme Court 1973).

“Richard Nixon and Daniel P. Moynihan on 7 October 1971,” Conversation 010-116, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4002184

“Richard Nixon and John B. Connally on 8 December 1971,” Conversation 016-044, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006696

Roosevelt, Theodore. “The American Birth Rate”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches. Edited by Louis Auchincloss. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 2004, 520.

Roosevelt, Theodore. “The Danger of ‘Race Suicide’”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches. Edited by Louis Auchincloss. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 2004, 259.

Roosevelt, Theodore . “Dealing with the Black Man”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches. Edited by Louis Auchincloss. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 2004, 244.

Rosenthal, Jack. “President Vetoes Child Care Plan as Irresponsible.” The New York Times. The New York Times, December 10, 1971. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/12/10/archives/president-vetoes-child-care-plan-as-irresponsible-he-terms-bill.html.

Wattenberg, Ben J. The Birth Dearth: What Happens When People in Free Countries Don’t Have Enough Babies? New York, NY: Pharos Books, 1987.

Secondary Sources

Dorsey, Leroy G. 2013. “Managing Women’s Equality: Theodore Roosevelt, the Frontier Myth, and the Modern Woman.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 16 (3): 423–56. doi:10.14321/rhetpublaffa.16.3.0423.

Faludi, Susan. Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women. New York: Crown, 1991.

Freedman, Estelle B. “Reproduction: The Politics of Choice.” in No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women, 229-252. New York:Ballantine Books, 2002.

Grant, Rachel and Cristina Mislán (2020) “Improving the Race”: The Discourse of Science and Eugenics in Local News Coverage, 1905–1922, American Journalism, 37:4, 476-499, DOI: 10.1080/08821127.2020.1830627

Hochman, A. (2014, April 29). Race suicide. Eugenics Archive Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://eugenicsarchive.ca/discover/connections/535eedb87095aa0000000250

Kennedy, Lesley. “How Phyllis Schlafly Derailed the Equal Rights Amendment.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, March 19, 2020. https://www.history.com/news/equal-rights-amendment-failure-phyllis-schlafly.

Kline, Wendy. 2001. Building a Better Race : Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics From the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom. Berkeley: University of California Press. https://search-ebscohost-com.rider.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=112975&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Lange, Allison. “National American Woman Suffrage Association.” History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage, Fall 2015. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/nawsa-united.

Lange, Allison. “National Woman Suffrage Association.” History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage, Fall 2015. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/nwsa-organize.

Lange, Allison. “Opposition to Suffrage.” History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage. National Women’s History Museum, Fall 2015. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/naows-opposition.

May, Elaine Tyler. America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation. New York: Basic Books, 2011.

Roepe, Lisa Rabasca. “Richard Nixon Sabotaged a Generation of Women, but Now Congress Has Another Chance – If It Can Pass Biden’s $3.5 Trillion Spending Plan.” Business Insider. Business Insider, August 15, 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/care-economy-biden-nixon-veto-50-years-infrastructure-american-families-2021-8.


[1] Jane Roe, et al., Appellants, v. Henry Wade, Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute (United States Supreme Court 1973).

[2] Bethany Irvine, “Why ‘Heartbeat Bill’ Is a Misleading Name for Texas’ near-Total Abortion Ban.” The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune, September 2, 2021. https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/02/texas-abortion-heartbeat-bill/.

[3] Bethany Irvine, Heartbeat Bill. 2021.

[4] Roe, Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute; Erin Douglas and Carla Astudillo, “We Annotated Texas’ near-Total Abortion Ban. Here’s What the Law Says about Enforcement.” The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune, September 10, 2021. https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/10/texas-abortion-law-ban-enforcement/.

[5] Allison Lange, “National Woman Suffrage Association.” History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage, Fall 2015. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/nwsa-organize.; Allison Lange, “National American Woman Suffrage Association.” History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage, Fall 2015. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/nawsa-united.

[6]  Allison Lange, “Opposition to Suffrage.” History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage. National Women’s History Museum, Fall 2015. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/naows-opposition.

[7] Allison Lange, “Opposition to Suffrage.”

[8] Lesley Kennedy, “How Phyllis Schlafly Derailed the Equal Rights Amendment.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, March 19, 2020 https://www.history.com/news/equal-rights-amendment-failure-phyllis-schlafly.

[9] Lesley Kennedy.

[10]  Lesley Kennedy.

[11] Adam Hochman, (2014, April 29). Race suicide. Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://eugenicsarchive.ca/discover/connections/535eedb87095aa0000000250

[12] Adam Hochman, Race Suicide.

[13] Ben J. Wattenberg, The Birth Dearth: What Happens When People in Free Countries Don’t Have Enough Babies? New York, NY: Pharos Books, 1987.

[14] Ben J. Wattenberg, The Birth Dearth.

[15] Susan Faludi, introduction to Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women. (New York: Crown, 1991), xxii.

[16] Susan Faludi,  xix.

[17] Wendy Kline, 2001. Building a Better Race : Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics From the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom. Berkeley: University of California Press, 6.

[18] Wendy Kline, Building a Better Race, 159, 164.

[19] Estelle B. Freedman, “Reproduction: The Politics of Choice.” in No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women, (New York:Ballantine Books, 2002), 233..

[20] Freedman, 234.

[21] Leroy G. Dorsey. 2013. “Managing Women’s Equality: Theodore Roosevelt, the Frontier Myth, and the Modern Woman.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 16 (3): 423–56. doi:10.14321/rhetpublaffa.16.3.0423. 446,447.

[22] Lroy G. Dorsey. 2013. “Managing Women’s Equality”, 448.

[23] Elaine Tyler May, America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation. New York: Basic Books, 2011, 1.

[24] Elaine Tyler May, America and the Pill, 1.

[25] Elaine Tyler May, America and the Pill, 53-55.

[26] Rachel Grant and Cristina Mislán (2020) “Improving the Race”: The Discourse of Science and Eugenics in Local News Coverage, 1905–1922, American Journalism, 37:4, 476-499, DOI: 10.1080/08821127.2020.1830627, 476.

[27] Address by President Roosevelt before the National Congress of Mothers. Theodore Roosevelt Collection. MS Am 1541 (315). Harvard College Library.

[28] Address by President Roosevelt before the National Congress of Mothers. Theodore Roosevelt Collection. MS Am 1541 (315). Harvard College Library.

[29] Address by President Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt Collection.

[30] Address by President Roosevelt before the National Congress of Mothers.

[31] Theodore Roosevelt. “Dealing with the Black Man”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches. Edited by Louis Auchincloss. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 2004, 244.

[32] Theodore Roosevelt. “Dealing with the Black Man”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches, 245.

[33] Theodore Roosevelt. “The Danger of ‘Race Suicide’”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches. Edited by Louis Auchincloss. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 2004, 259.

[34] Theodore Roosevelt. “The American Birth Rate”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches. Edited by Louis Auchincloss. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 2004, 520.

[35] Theodore Roosevelt. “The American Birth Rate”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches, 521.

[36] Theodore Roosevelt. “The American Birth Rate”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches, 522.

[37] “Richard Nixon and Daniel P. Moynihan on 7 October 1971,” Conversation 010-116, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4002184

[38]  “Richard Nixon and Daniel P. Moynihan on 7 October 1971,” Conversation 010-116.

[39] Chuck Colson and Richard Nixon. “President Nixon and Chuck Colson Discuss the Supreme Court Decision Roe v. Wade.” Edited by Luke A. Nichter. Nixon tapes and transcripts. Accessed October 23, 2021. http://www.nixontapes.org/chron53.html.

[40] “Child Development Legislation Dies in House.” In CQ Almanac 1972, 28th ed., 03-914-03-918. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1973. http://library.cqpress.com/cqalmanac/cqal72-1249564.

[41] “Child Development Legislation Dies in House.”, 1973.

[42] “Richard Nixon and John B. Connally on 8 December 1971,” Conversation 016-044, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006696

[43] “Richard Nixon and Daniel P. Moynihan on 7 October 1971,” Conversation 010-116.

[44] Ben J. Wattenberg, The Birth Dearth

[45] Ben J. Wattenberg, The Birth Dearth

[46] Morris, Richard. “The Birth Dearth: What Happens When People in Free Countries Don’t Have Enough Babies? by Ben J. Wattenberg (Pharos: $16.95; 182 Pp.).” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, August 2, 1987.; Shabecoff, Philip. “Warning on Births Provokes Dissent.” The New York Times. The New York Times, August 23, 1987. https://www.nytimes.com/1987/08/23/us/warning-on-births-provokes-dissent.html.

[47] Jack Rosenthal. “President Vetoes Child Care Plan as Irresponsible.” The New York Times. The New York Times, December 10, 1971. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/12/10/archives/president-vetoes-child-care-plan-as-irresponsible-he-terms-bill.html.

[48] Lisa Rabasca Roepe. “Richard Nixon Sabotaged a Generation of Women, but Now Congress Has Another Chance – If It Can Pass Biden’s $3.5 Trillion Spending Plan.” Business Insider. Business Insider, August 15, 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/care-economy-biden-nixon-veto-50-years-infrastructure-american-families-2021-8.

[49] Lisa Rabasca Roepe. “Richard Nixon Sabotaged a Generation of Women”

Midwifery and Abortion in the Modern Curriculum

Midwifery and Abortion in the Modern Curriculum

Nora Sayed

Teaching sensitive topics in the classroom is difficult no matter the subject material. Especially when incorporating political ideologies and scientific disagreements. The science of childbirth has been a tumultuous one. The impact of women in the field of childbirth, and medicine in general, has often been overlooked due to the mostly male presence in the medical narrative. When doctors began to control the practice of childbirth and hospital births became more common, the history of midwifery took a downward turn. However, midwifery has been the central practice for childbirth for thousands of years. The definition of a midwife is a person (typically) a woman who is trained to assist in childbirth and has been a central figure in history in every culture globally. Midwifery is centrally important because it was the original practice of childbirth and pioneered the obstetric field. Not only did midwifery pioneer the obstetric field, but the ideology of a woman’s right to her own body. Midwives were often seen assisting, in some capacity, with women seeking abortions. When combining secondary education and specifically sensitive topics such as childbirth, and more specifically midwifery, the teacher should present the information, facts, history, and current events to the student and then guide them in making their decision. Due to the recent political activity regarding the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, allowing students to understand more about the medical history regarding midwifery as well as abortion could assist in them making a well-informed opinion.

Research regarding early modern midwifery states that despite it being the most common practice with regards to childbirth in human history, it only became a licensed medical profession in the 16th century. Comparatively to today’s standards, midwives played the role of multiple healthcare professionals and even social workers. The role of the midwife was to assist the new mother in any   way possible. Meaning she would visit the mother during pregnancy, assist with the labor and delivery process, and then return post-labor to teach the mother about her newborn and best care practices. Not only did midwives do all of these things, but they would also check on mothers to see if they were fit to care for their newborn child. Samuel Thomas has a Ph.D. in history with a focus on Early Modern England and taught history at the college level for ten years. He currently teaches at a high school in Cleveland Ohio and is an author of a series about Midwives in 17th century London. Thomas wrote an essay about the social importance of midwives in society as well as the lack of historical credit given to them.[1] This historical lack of credit accounts for the later shift in care in the obstetric field during the 17th century when childbirth became hospitalized. Along with this shift towards childbirth and obstetric care in general taking place in a hospital, the entire fundamental practice changed from constant care with the expecting mother to check ups and generalized advice. “Trained midwives delivered superb medical care and gave birthing women personal attention that physicians were too rushed to provide. It is suggested that the elimination of midwifery in the United States slowed the decline in infant and maternal mortality.”[2] Not only did this shift impact childbirth, it also stimulated the drastic change in the perception of abortion.

 In the 17th century abortion was seen as a mother’s choice with drugs being sold in drug stores that would induce miscarriage. After childbirth, and consequently OB/GYN care, was taken over my male practitioners in hospitals this viewpoint drastically changed. Which eventually led us to the modern debate over abortion in the United States. According to historian Leslie Regan, “At conception and the earliest stage of pregnancy, before quickening, no one believed that a human life existed; not even the Catholic Church took this view. Rather, the popular ethic regarding abortion and common law were grounded in the female experience of their own bodies.”[3] Contrary to popular belief, abortion was not banned by the Catholic Church canonically until 1869[4]. Midwives would often help women gain access to an abortion and would allow them the choice to do so. However, at the turn of the Progressive Era this practice became ‘taboo’ and was restricted; “The combined campaign to control abortion and midwifery took the form of a classic Progressive Era reform movement”[5].  This campaign to control abortion continues today with peaks and troughs such as the recent ban on legal abortion in Texas as of 2021.

When considering how these topics should be brought into the classroom it is important to consider the parameters of the subject. For instance during my field experience at Ewing High School in New Jersey this past fall I was able to observe a women’s studies class. This experience was very eye opening as it allowed me to see how different, less common topics, were tackled in the classroom. The teacher had Pro-Choice posters in her class, along with abortion on her curriculum as a discussion topic not be overlooked. Ground rules I have observed both in and out of the classroom when bringing up sensitive topics include: placing parameters and clear goals for the discussion topic; giving the students objective background information to prepare them; going through the topic with respect for opposing viewpoints or possible emotions; as well as allowing them time to summarize, reflect and ask questions. This basic framework works with any sensitive topic or current events issue. According to the National Education Association’s article on teaching sensitive topics in history, “One of the greatest challenges facing teachers right now is teaching our students to engage with hard histories in this specific historical moment,” says Rich, a director of research at the university’s Rowan Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. “Currently, everything feels particularly fraught, and we are unsure of where students and families fall across the highly polarized political spectrum.”[6] Despite the complicated political climate and sensitivity of the topics, these histories should not be left out of the classroom. Allowing students to analyze and learn about uncomfortable historical topics allows for more informed decision making in their future.

Although abortion and childbirth are somewhat obscure topics when it comes to the traditional curricula of the public school system there are ways to integrate them into the classroom. For World History classes, when discussing the Medieval Period and the Black Plague it is important to also touch on the overall medical sphere of the time period, and midwives were a huge character of that. Not only did midwives deliver babies and care for mothers, they continued to care for the delivered baby well into childhood acting almost as a family practitioner. The importance of midwifery can continue into US History 1 and 2 by integrating nurse-midwifery that gained its roots in the Civil War with the rising popularity of nursing, and later officially began in 1925.[7] These are some more abstract and creative ideas regarding midwifery in the classroom, whereas the famous 1973 Roe v Wade case can be touched on in both Civics and American History curriculums for its monumental impact on both second wave feminism and medical history.

The importance of history cannot be overlooked when the topic becomes unsavory. Despite abortion and midwifery being more high-level or sensitive issues to be debating in the classroom, there are tools and ways to allow for their discussion with students. Without teaching students about more thought-provoking topics they will never have the opportunity to make informed decisions thus creating uninformed citizens who will continue to misinterpret history. A teacher’s place is not one to force opinions or political standings on their students but to open their minds to new things that they might not have previously understood or heard of. The debate over legal abortion access will continue, and by informing our students of the history regarding it we will be able to have pride in their future decisions.

References:

Devitt N. The statistical case for elimination of the midwife: fact versus prejudice, 1890-1935 (Part I). Women Health. 1979 Spring;4(1):81-96. PMID: 10297450.

Dawley K. Origins of nurse-midwifery in the United States and its expansion in the 1940s. J Midwifery Women’s Health. 2003 Mar-Apr;48(2):86-95. doi: 10.1016/s1526-9523(03)00002-3. PMID: 12686940.

Hovey G. Abortion: a history. Plan Parent Rev. 1985 Summer; 5(2):18-21. PMID: 12340403.

Reagan, Leslie J. When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973. University of California Press, 1998.

Reagan LJ. Linking midwives and abortion in the Progressive Era. Bull Hist Med. 1995 Winter;69(4):569-98. PMID: 8563453.

Rosales, John. “Teaching the ‘Hard History’ behind Today’s News.” NEA. NEA Today, August 29, 2018. https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/teaching-hard-history-behind-todays-news

Thomas, Samuel S. “EARLY MODERN MIDWIFERY: SPLITTING THE PROFESSION, CONNECTING THE HISTORY.” Journal of Social History 43, no. 1 (2009): 115–38. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20685350.


[1] Thomas, Samuel S. “EARLY MODERN MIDWIFERY: SPLITTING THE PROFESSION, CONNECTING THE HISTORY.” Journal of Social History 43, no. 1 (2009): 115–38. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20685350.

[2] Devitt N. The statistical case for elimination of the midwife: fact versus prejudice, 1890-1935 (Part I). Women Health. 1979 Spring;4(1):81-96. PMID: 10297450.

[3] Reagan, Leslie J. When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973. University of California Press, 1998.

[4] Hovey G. Abortion: a history. Plan Parent Rev. 1985 Summer;5(2):18-21. PMID: 12340403.

[5] Reagan LJ. Linking midwives and abortion in the Progressive Era. Bull Hist Med. 1995 Winter;69(4):569-98. PMID: 8563453.

[6] Rosales, John. “Teaching the ‘Hard History’ behind Today’s News.” NEA. NEA Today , August 29, 2018. https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/teaching-hard-history-behind-todays-news.

[7] Dawley K. Origins of nurse-midwifery in the United States and its expansion in the 1940s. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2003 Mar-Apr;48(2):86-95. doi: 10.1016/s1526-9523(03)00002-3. PMID: 12686940.

Surviving the Right-Wing Assault on Education

Surviving the Right-Wing Assault on Education

Leah Rosenzweig

A recent article by the editors of Rethinking Schools recalled an 1867 Harper’s Weekly editorial invoked the phrase: “The alphabet is abolitionist.” It meant that with the denial of literacy under the “slavocracy,” merely learning or teaching others to read and write was in itself an abolitionist act.

Educators have always been vulnerable to the threat of white nationalism, with their main duty being the enhancement and diffusion of knowledge, a great, if not the greatest, weapon of all. Just look at how fearful the idea of teaching formerly enslaved people to read made white supremacists during Reconstruction.

Now, 150 years later, white supremacism has evolved, not only as an intrusion to the way teachers relay facts or clarify concepts or ideas, but as a threat to the very stasis of the classroom, as kids are becoming influenced by back-alley online movements that promote nationalism, anti-Semitism, and misogyny. And so, while teachers don’t and shouldn’t create incognito accounts on 4chan, they should try to stay current with right-wing Internet trends, so that they’re able to catch things like hand symbols and disconcerting research paper citations.

One Chicago teacher created a toolkit for confronting white nationalism in the classroom, which offers various entry points for addressing whether or not and how a student may have become radicalized. In general, white nationalism has managed to creep its way back into the classroom in more ways than one can seemingly count. As a National Education Association article from earlier this year recalls, an Illinois high school teacher found himself, for the first time in his 32-year career, standing in front of his social studies class in 2017, reminding students that Nazis are not good people.

While this was a direct response on the part of the teacher to Donald Trump’s comments about the Charlottesville Nazis being “very fine people,” it was also a pretty abrupt shift for the teacher when it came to how he expressed his opinions of politicians’ statements in the classroom. The last six years have completely shattered the delicate walls that separate politics and everything else. For teachers, addressing the current state of politics is not a matter of grandstanding—it’s become a matter of human decency, of living up to their positions as presumptive role models and advocating for their students.

Laws around banning critical race theory — or worse, the bill introduced in Missouri which bans teaching that “identifies people or groups of people, entities, or institutions in the United States as inherently, immutably, or systemically sexist, racist, anti-LGBT, bigoted, biased, privileged, or oppressed” only serve to confuse young people. By banning educators from teaching about these systemic realities, and further, prohibiting them from even acknowledging that many systems are built upon “isms” and “antis,” politicians and their supporters deny young people the right to understand the very world they’ve inherited.

Denying this type of learning, and the civil discussion that accompanies it, is in itself a type of suppression. By prohibiting students the ability to learn the truth of their country’s history, lawmakers and the right-wing nationalists who today have emerged as a truly influential voting contingent in this country are disenfranchising young people. Despite this massive threat, teachers across the country are already fighting back, with many arguing that there is simply no way to stay neutral when not only our democracy but our ability to teach the truth is at risk.

If anything, schools should step up when it comes to bringing politics into the classroom—help teachers develop tactics and show support when necessary. As places that bring so many types of young people with so many different perspectives together, schools have a better opportunity than most institutions to help teachers develop a more human approach to viewing the world. Students, therefore, will be less susceptible to being radicalized by right wing forces online and will maybe even use their newfound knowledge to educate their parents and communities.

As educators, we must remember that staying neutral is perhaps more dangerous than any right-wing threat. Ignoring the recent explosion of right-wing nationalism and Nazi sentiments is not a way of staying out of politics, but a way of proliferating harmful politics. We cannot, in good conscience, become Adolf Eichmanns in the classroom. We must instead fight for what is just and for what betters our students and the world.

The Rethinking Schools article ended with a quote from Angela Davis. “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

References

Owen, T. (2019). How teachers are fighting the white nationalists brainwashing their students,” Retrieved from  https://www.vice.com/en/article/j5yg54/how-teachers-are-fighting-the-white-nationalists-brainwashing-their-students

Rethinking Schools. (2021). Right-wing legislators are trying to stop us from teaching for racial justice. We refuse. Retrieved from https://rethinkingschools.org/articles/right-wing-legislators-are-trying-to-stop-us-from-teaching-for-racial-justice-we-refuse/

Saul, S. (2021, November 14). How a school district got caught in Virginia’s political maelstrom,” New York Times. Retrieved from

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/14/us/loudoun-county-school-board-va.html Walker, T. (2021). Teaching in an era of polarization. NEA Today. Retrieved from https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/teaching-era-polarization

Students Taking Action Together: Strategies that Blend SEL with Civil Discourse for Democratic Change to Meet the NJSLS Social Studies Practices

Students Taking Action Together: Strategies that Blend SEL with Civil Discourse for Democratic Change to Meet the NJSLS Social Studies Practices

Laura Bond and Lauren Fullmer

The racial reckoning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, renewed focus on climate change and the Capitol insurrection have collectively revealed to youth that systematic change is needed to reduce structural inequities (Fullmer & Bond, 2021). With students back to in-person schooling, the eagerness for expression, social connection, and understanding how constructive social change is possible has never been greater than during the 2021-2022 school year.

Social Studies teachers stand in this rich moment in time, to teach civil discourse and citizenship in alignment with the new 2020 NJSLS Social Studies Standards. Students Taking Action Together (STAT), a project from Rutgers University’s Social-Emotional Character Development Lab, has developed five research-based strategies to equip teachers in grades five through twelve with the tools to integrate social-emotional competencies and academic standards with active practices to be explicitly taught and practiced in the classroom to foster citizenship skills.  In this article, we illustrate how the five strategies embed SEL competencies required to meet the challenges of civic engagement and democratic change and then examine how each strategy delivers upon the NJSLS Social Studies practices so students are equipped to lead change in their schools and communities.

The Five STAT Strategies

STAT is a set of five SEL research-based strategies –  Norms, Yes-No-Maybe, Respectful Debate, Audience Focused Communication (AFC), and PLAN, a social problem-solving framework – that scaffold the integration of active civics-based social studies practices for grades five through twelve using existing curricular content.  The strategies explicitly promote social-emotional competencies, academic skills, dispositions, and actions required for an informed and engaged citizenry (Fullmer et al., 2022).  In ready-made lesson plans, organized around the themes of race, class, and gender, students explore constructs of power, oppression, human rights, injustice, and inequality. The lessons showcase the use of a STAT strategy related to a historic event and/or relevant civic issues being addressed in national and local debates. 

Each strategy builds upon the foundational SEL skills developed by the previous strategy and therefore, the strategies are meant to be taught in the sequence in which they are presented.  By doing so, students have ample opportunity to practice explicit SEL competency skills and the academic standards to engage in civic dialogue and debate for democratic action.

Figure 1: The Five STAT Strategies

NormsEngages students in developing ethical standards that lay the groundwork for a relationship-centered classroom community.
  Yes-No-MaybeOffers students opportunities for peer opinion sharing, in which they reflect on their views on an  issue to take a stand and actively listen to the diverse perspectives of their classmates.
  Respectful DebateEncourages students to practice the skill of perspective taking by analyzing all sides of an issue, in order to gain an appreciation for diverse viewpoints and a level of comfort in modifying their original thinking.
    Audience-Focused Communication (AFC)Allows students opportunities to tailor their language and style of presentation to a specific audience with the goal of understanding the perspective and context of their audience and communication, toward optimally conveying their good ideas about changing a policy or practice for the greater good of their classroom, school, and society.
               P.L.A.N.Involves students in collaborative problem solving with action planning to make a change in policies and practices that maintain privilege and power and limit whose voices have input in key decisions.


The Norms Strategy

To engage the civil discourse skills of peer opinion sharing, perspective taking, social problem solving, norms nurture a safe, relationship-centered and open learning environment (Elias & Nayman, 2019). Unlike classroom rules, which are generally teacher constructed to establish an efficient and open environment, norms are co-created by students and the teacher.  Through a discussion facilitated by the teacher, students decide upon desirable and undesirable classroom learning commitments and behaviors. Ultimately, students develop a list of affirmatively stated norms and discuss the rationale behind each norm and its impact on their well-being. Students also collectively determine ways to handle “norm-breaking” as a shared commitment to collective responsibility.

Engaging in the Norms strategy allows students to practice the SEL skills of self-awareness, self-management, relationship-building, and social awareness to form a safe and interdependent learning environment.  Students practice how to recognize their feelings about working together within the classroom community, how to keep their impulsive behaviors in check, develop knowledge of the sensitivities and needs of their peers, and to communicate in a positive and constructive way with classmates and adults. Acting as a living class constitution, norms allow for students to rehearse the civic skills of respectful listening, peer opinion sharing, empathic debate, information gathering to shape arguments, and collaborative problem-solving required in the next four strategies. In this fashion, students build the competencies, both social-emotional and academic, to take informed action. 

The Yes-No-Maybe Strategy

The Yes-No-Maybe strategy facilitates peer opinion sharing, which is the basis for genuine civic dialogue.  This simple entry-level strategy allows students to express and share their opinions on historic or current issues, given their initial impressions and then after reading a source on the issue. This strategy supports students’ social-emotional skills of self-management, in which students have to withhold judgment, refrain from reacting, and the social awareness skills through perspective-taking and respectful listening.

Students reflect on several neutral statements related to a historic or current event inspired by a teacher-selected source. They take a stance on each statement by moving to a space in the classroom marked “yes”, “no” or “maybe” that reflects their opinion. They practice respectful listening by discussing their opinions in those small informal gatherings within those spaces, and sharing them out with the full group. Next, students read a background source directly related to the issue to inform their thinking.  They are then given a second opportunity to change and/or share their opinions by moving to the appropriate location in the room on the same neutral statements provided the additional information from the source or from listening to their peers. Students reflect on if their opinions changed in the second round and if so, what inspired the shift in their opinion. The instructor facilitates these conversations, but does not seek to arrive at a consensus or other conclusion.

The Respectful Debate Strategy

Engaging in civic debate for understanding, rather than debate to win, is embodied in Respectful Debate (Civility and Society – A SmartBrief, 2019).  With the skills of perspective-taking and respectful listening in place, this strategy introduces students to the more complex skill of establishing and defending an informed position on a topic while empathically listening to opposing views. Respectful Debates provide rich opportunities for students to practice their self-awareness and emotional regulation skills (Elias & Schwab, 2006). Students engage their social awareness by realizing the impact of their emotions on themselves and others, build confidence as they recognize their limitations and potential as they speak, and collaborate in teams. They self-regulate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors as they dialogue with peers in preparation, present their argument and summarize the opposing side’s argument.

Students can be provided with or gather evidence for their assigned position on the debate statement or question. Students are assigned the stance of “pro” or “con” and work in small groups. Unlike traditional classroom debates, students are charged with arguing on both sides of the issue and intentionally reflecting on and accurately understanding the position of their opposition, allowing them to more objectively analyze the issue and broaden their perspectives. This poses a challenge when students strongly disagree with one side of the issue and find themselves dealing with strong emotions that they must regulate. This challenge presents opportunities for teachers to teach emotional regulation techniques, such as deep breathing, positive self-talk, and waiting before speaking.

Audience-Focused Communication (AFC)

Civic discourse is realized with Audience-Focused Communication (AFC), which is a stand-alone strategy to be implemented without the need to be taught in the sequenced order of the previous three strategies.  It’s a deliberate and strategic focus on speaking and related skills that can be harnessed to present on academic topics, such as pivotal decisions or historic debates, as well as school-based issues, such as the inclusiveness of student government, bullying, and freedom of expression.  With AFC, students are given a rich opportunity to find their stance and voice and to use media effectively in order to impact an audience to mobilize consensus-making or to excite change. AFC can also be used as a natural extension of PLAN (what we refer to as PLAN Integrative), in that it provides students with detailed guidance with regard to how to best present the solutions and action plans that they developed.  Fundamental to AFC is asking students to put themselves in the shoes of the listener/receiver, and not assume that they always are speaking to people just like themselves.  This is true for sharing work in a class, making an announcement over the loudspeaker, preparing a presentation for an assembly, or developing and delivering a petition to the Student Council.

The essence of AFC is that students exercise their social awareness and relationship skills working collaboratively to identify their audience, determine the format of their presentation, and take into consideration their audience’s background and prior knowledge to effectively craft their message and communicate it to influence the audience. Self-awareness and self-regulation skills are key to this strategy, which demands students self-assess and continually evaluate how to best present the information and craft their argument to have the maximum impact on the audience.

PLAN: A Problem-Solving Framework

The fifth and final strategy, PLAN, builds on the skills students practice in the preceding strategies and shifts the focus to social problem solving and action planning to prepare students to take civic action. PLAN stands for Problem definition, Listing options, Action plan, and Notice success and lessons learned for next time. With PLAN, students work in small groups to collaboratively examine and evaluate a historic or a current problem that has no obvious solution or perhaps revisit a past situation to better understand how different analyses or decisions might have led to different actions and outcomes.  

Then, they consider the options to address the problem and weigh the pros and cons of each. Students work together to develop a SMART goal and related action plan to solve the problem. They also engage in perspective-taking to consider the impact of their action plan on the various stakeholders involved and look to implement when feasible (hence, the title, Students Taking Action Together). The process culminates with a reflection, in which students notice successes with their plan and possible revisions to their thinking to be more successful the next time around.   In the spirit of John Dewey, as students apply PLAN to classroom and school-related problems, it will accelerate their ability to apply their skills to historic and civic issues.

How the STAT Strategies Align to the NJSLS Practices

The new Social Studies practices engender opportunities for students to practice civic discourse, dialogue, debate and action in the classroom.  The STAT strategies guide Social Studies teachers to strike a balance between content acquisition and active practices that maximizes students’ ability to rehearse and transfer the skills they learn (Fullmer et al., 2022).  STAT strategies are designed to accompany and supplement lesson content.  They provide guidance on how teachers can integrate the active practices for civil discourse and action into existing curricula.  In the crosswalk figure below, we’ll show how STAT coaches teachers to achieve this integration in meaningful and effective ways.

Figure 2: A Crosswalk of STAT’s Integration of the NJSLS Social Studies Practices

 Y-N-MRDAFCPLAN
Developing Questions & Planning Inquiry

   
Each lesson features an organizing question to foster thinking & support planning.  Students are given a debate question and assigned an initial side (they will ultimately take both sides) for which they must plan an approach to gather information and present it.Students formulate inquiries to understand the context within which they will be presenting.The first step in the PLAN process involved identifying the problem/ questions that will be the focus of inquiry.
Gathering & Evaluating Sources    Students read a central article/source and share their opinions before and after reading the article.Students must review sources to prepare their positions for the debate.Students must gather information from relevant and appropriate sources to determine presentation context and constraints.PLAN works from the existing curriculum or school situations/contexts, so students must gather this information at the outset and value the information in proportion to the reliability of its sources.
Seeking Diverse PerspectivesStudents express their opinions. Articles/sources offer multiple views on the issues.Students must examine both points of view and argue both sides of the debate.Students are encouraged to consider a range of presentation modalities and to gather perspectives from individuals with experience at presenting to the intended audience(s).The second part of the PLAN process involves brainstorming a wide range of possible solutions to the problem.  Prior to that, the problem is defined from the perspective of each of the groups involved.
Developing Claims and Using Evidence  Students respond to claims before and after reading the article/sources.To be successful, students must bring forward credible sources of evidence to support their positions.Students working in groups to finalize their presentation context and message must put forward their approaches using credible evidence.Students will be expected to justify their claims based on evidence in textual and other sources.
Presenting Arguments and ExplanationsStudents read & draw on the source’s key arguments, supporting evidence to inform and express their opinions. Students must refine, present, and defend their arguments within the constraints of the debate.Students must justify their particular positions regarding how the presentation should be made to be appropriate to the audience and context.The third step in the PLAN process involves presenting solutions and detailed plans, including anticipation of obstacles.  
Engaging in Civil Discourse and Critiquing ConclusionsStudents exhibit curious compassion towards those with divergent views and seek to understand them through inquiry, rather than judge them.Students learn emotional regulation techniques to remain calm when involved in controversial discussions with their peers.When students work collaboratively to plan a presentation, the process of civil discourse – when deciding upon the content that will be presented and the method of delivery – is more important than the product (i.e. choosing the “right” content or format).The fourth step of PLAN involves critiquing the conclusions reached by those who dealt with the issue in history and the conclusions the students reached when implementing their action plan.
Taking Informed Action Students gain the confidence and competence of developing informed opinions and expressing their opinions in social settings required to take. Students consider the views of all relevant stakeholders by engaging in perspective-taking to ensure that their plan of action is inclusive.Students will take action based on their plans and will gather feedback/debrief to inform their future action in similar situations.The final step in PLAN involves reflecting on actions taken and identifying how things would be done differently in future situations; when applied to history, this includes projecting different outcomes if past decisions were different, including implications for the present and future.

Developing Questions & Planning Inquiry

Civic discourse often starts with asking questions of leaders and elected officials.  The first Social Studies practice of Developing Questions & Planning Inquiry is explicitly integrated into STAT lessons.  Each lesson features a core question to assist the teacher in organizing the lesson content and student thinking.  Relevant issues are integrated into the lesson anchor question to promote student engagement.  Students then use the question to dig deeper into exploring the issue. 

For example, in a Yes-No-Maybe lesson, the statement, “The coronavirus has not fueled anti-Asian racism?” is presented to students to frame the development of neutral statements, shaping students’ thinking and questioning as they engage in dialogue with their peers.  At the end of the lesson, students revisit the question and respond to the essential question.  In this vein, students learn how the power of relevant questions can drive collective discussion and learning around the issue.  The Yes-No-Maybe strategy demonstrates to students that civic discourse starts with asking questions.  The table below indicates exactly how students engage the skill of planning for inquiry and developing questions across the STAT strategies, once Norms have been established.  The practice necessary to spark civic discourse is scaffolded and spirals up through the strategies to PLAN.

Gathering & Evaluating Sources

The second practice, Gathering & Evaluating Sources, facilitates students’ inquiry by having them gather credible sources, given the framing statement or essential question to enhance their background knowledge and to consider all perspectives on the issue.  With the STAT lessons, students are exposed to a wide range of primary and secondary sources, including podcasts, political cartoons, and newspaper articles and are equipped with the critical literacy skills needed for civic life, as well as to promote informed citizenship.  Through repeated practice, students learn that words are a form of power and that no source is entirely neutral in nature. 

In the Respectful Debate strategy, after the students are presented with a controversial statement that frames the debate, they are tasked with critically evaluating background sources on the topic to identify evidence in support of their position.  For example, in a Respectful Debate lesson on racial equality, framed around the statement “In order to achieve racial equality, Blacks should separate from Whites”, students are provided with a blog post from the New York City Urban Debate League and an audio recording of the 1961 debate between Malcolm X and James Baldwin.  Through the processes of deliberation, peer discussion, and reflection, students analyze the information from all angles and form new understandings by synthesizing it with their prior knowledge.

Seeking Diverse Perspectives

When building the muscle of evaluating background sources, students develop an understanding of their perspective on an issue, as well as an appreciation for the perspectives of others.  Seeking Diverse Perspectives is a practice that allows students to see and connect with the authentic and genuine emotional reactions and thoughts of their peers.  This allows them to develop empathy for individuals and groups of people of different backgrounds and experiences.  The Yes-No-Maybe strategy teaches students to exercise compassionate curiosity over biased assumptions to better understand the other’s perspectives.  Through respectful and empathic listening and peer opinion sharing, students become more open-minded and accepting of the notion that beliefs and opinions can change over time.

During a Yes-No-Maybe lesson on foot binding in China, students are invited to reflect on their views related to the statements: “Women, not men, perpetuate a society’s concept of what is beautiful” and “Expressions of beauty are typically crafted by the elite”.  Students then engage in peer opinion sharing and a review of background sources to consider how what people think is beautiful has changed over the years and differs around the world.  Through these experiences, students widen their perspectives and reevaluate their views about the meaning of beauty.

Developing Claims and Using Evidence

The fourth practice, Developing Claims and Using Evidence, equips students with the skills to engage in constructive and meaningful dialogue about important issues.  Students consider an issue from all perspectives and take account of any biases they may have to formulate their own viewpoint on the issue and develop a logical argument supported with the best possible evidence.  While all of the STAT strategies task students with exercising the skill of eliciting evidence from their analysis of background sources and engaging dialogue with peers (Fullmer et al., 2022), Respectful Debate really hones in on this practice.  Provided with background sources on a controversial issue, students not only identify the most compelling evidence to support their “pro” or “con” argument, but also, reflect on any gaps in the reasoning and evidence presented by their opponent.

For example, in a Respectful Debate lesson, students must identify evidence and construct arguments to support the “pro” and “con” sides of “Is it possible for sports to be inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community?”.  Provided with a video, timeline, and two articles, students identify the authors’ respective claims and compare it to their own and pull out the best pieces of evidence to not only support their claim, but to challenge that of their opponents.  By actively listening to both sides of the argument, students develop a collective understanding, as well as historical empathy for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Presenting Arguments and Explanations

While students are frequently asked to Present Arguments and Explanations in front of an audience, whether sharing the results of a science lab, describing why an invented algorithm works in math, or justifying the theme of a novel, they are rarely provided with the skills to do so with competence and confidence.  Yet, being able to tailor their presentations to a specific audience and regulate their tone of voice, eye contact, and nonverbal communication accordingly are essential elements of the fifth practice.  The Audience-Focused Communication (AFC) strategy equips students with the presentation literacy skills necessary to determine the appropriate format of a presentation (e.g., slideshow, song, video, speech) and the prior knowledge and views of their audience to most effectively present their argument in a way that makes sense and resonates with their audience.

Consider an AFC lesson at the end of a content-based unit, in which students are tasked with presenting on a topic or book that they recently learned about.  Students learn how to focus their message, given a specific audience, and consider how it will be received through perspective-taking.  Through deliberate planning and practice, students develop a step-by-step run-down of the flow of the presentation and rehearse SEL skills such as positive self-talk and deep breathing to be prepared to regulate their emotions.  With AFC, students are furnished with the presentation literacy skills to be active members in a participatory democracy.

Engaging in Civil Discourse and Critiquing Conclusions

Building off the previous two practices, the skill of Engaging in Civil Discourse and Critiquing Conclusions excites opportunities for collective listening and assessing the reasoning which is central to sensemaking. In a Yes-No-Maybe lesson students present their opinions and listen to their peers express their opinion on statements related to a topic, prior to reading a source.  After reading the source students move to a location in the room that reflects their opinion, even if it changed and discuss in small groups what argument shaped their opinions.  At the end of the lesson the class reflects on whether their thinking changed or not and discusses what reasons may have caused them to change their original opinion on the topic.  Thus, students learn the value of listening and reading diverse views on the topic and can refine their original thinking on the topic. 

Respectful Debate lessons ask students to summarize the opposing sides argument and question if the summary was accurate.  The process of summarizing the presented argument  provides students real practice for active listening in debate to expand their thinking on the topic. When students switch sides to argue the opposing argument it exposes them to analyze  the reasoning of a point of view they may not agree with. In this process they begin to organically critique the argument(s) by questioning their assumption and preconceptions on the topic.  At the end of the lesson students reflect about whether summarizing what the other side said and/or switching sides changed their opinion, and what about the summary was helpful.  The reflection is a potent opportunity to learn the value of listening to and standing in to argue for a contrary view can refine their own and the group’s concluding thinking as they strive towards collective understanding.

Taking Informed Action

The previous practices lay the groundwork for the final practice of Taking Informed Action, which is the very essence of democracy.  With the PLAN problem-solving framework, students examine a problem of the present or the past and consider the options to solve it by engaging in inquiry and background research.  Next, they consider the views and needs of all relevant stakeholders to develop an action plan.  In the final step, they engage in a collaborative discussion in which they reflect on the successes of their plan and identify areas for growth moving forward.  This encourages students to acknowledge that the problem-solving process is iterative in nature and requires constant revisions to be more inclusive and effective.

A PLAN exemplar lesson on Women’s Rights invites students to analyze how Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the women at the Seneca Falls Convention organized to address the issue of unequal social, civil, and religious rights.  Students then engage in perspective-taking to put themselves in the position of disenfranchised women during the mid-19th century to generate alternative solutions and action plans.  The hope is that students walk away from this lesson with a greater awareness of the social injustices in their communities and the skills to organize to take collective action.

Conclusion

The New Jersey Social Studies Standards are visionary.  They seek to educate students in history and civics and prepare them for active citizenship in a global and interdependent society.   Students Taking Action Together is a set of teaching strategies that are ideally matched to the NJSLS and the guiding practices articulated for attaining them.  These strategies embolden students with the necessary skills that nurtures a sense of hope and optimism that they can lead the change they wish to see in the world. 

References

Civility and Society: How to Boost Civil Discourse in K-12 Classrooms. (2019). Smartbrief.

Elias, M. J., & Nayman, S. (2019, October 28). Students taking action together (STAT). New Jersey Education Association.

Elias, M. J. & Schwab, Y. (2006). From compliance to responsibility: Social and emotional learning and classroom management. In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinsten (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management (pp. 94-115). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Fullmer, L. M., Bond, L. F., Molyneaux, C. M., Nayman, S. J., & Elias, M. J. (2022). Students Taking Action Together: 5 teaching techniques to cultivate SEL, civic engagement, and a healthy democracy. ASCD.

Fullmer, L., & Bond, L. (2021, March 29). Three strategies for helping students discuss controversial issues. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_resilience_in_the_face_of_horror

National Council for the Social Studies (n.d). Guide to civil discourse for students. Retrieved from www.socialstudies.org/sites/default/files/guide_to_civil_discourse_student_version.pdf 

National Council for the Social Studies. (n.d.) National curriculum standards for social studies. Retrieved from https://www.socialstudies.org/standards/national-curriculum-standards-social-studies-instruction

State of New Jersey, Department of Education (2020). New Jersey student learning standards – social studies. Retrieved from https://www.state.nj.us/education/cccs/2020/2020%20NJSLS-SS.pdf.