ethel’s words

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THE SIXTIES: OVERVIEW

Most of us ordinary folks are limited in our knowledge of history to a bundle of images--most of them dramatic. That era of insight, spirit, and hope referred to as “The Sixties” now irretrievably deformed by careless historians and commentators, provides excellent examples.

One of the most famous images is the dead body of a student at Kent State University, another student gasping in horror. The students shot by the National Guard were NOT protestors; they were walking by. This important fact has disappeared.

Any mention of the massive protests brings images of students and hippies, young persons. Partially correct, yes, but always left out is the fact that the protesting was started, not by students, but by middle-aging, middle-class, mostly white women as Women Strike For Peace, (and even that preceded by The Quakers, who are ever there to stand for peace).

Another small but influential group, the handful of superbly decent (saintly, if you have that word in your lexicon) geniuses who have distilled out of Christianity a few crystals of kindness, non-violence, and amazing intellectuality-out-of-superstition--who were as quick as Quakers to condemn the brutality of power against a still-colonial people. The Catholic Workers group, never condemning out-of-sync humans as such, but always opposing violence, hatred, and cruelty, have remained steadfast; probably their most widely viewed image is protesting children’s “war drills” (“air-raid drills”) in their New York City locale.

A most inspiring image (returning to “Women Strike ...”) that is beginning to fade even for me (the many decades demanding to show the grinding of Time) is Women Strike For Peace carrying armloads of flowers to the inquisitory UnAmerican Activities Committee (the short name) ridiculing with gentleness and helping to break the iron grip of nascent Fascism. Most think of Edward R. Murrow--a moral giant among men and deserving of every bit of veneration he gets--as the slayer of McCarthyism and ignore the mighty contribution of women’s organizations and the Civil Rights Movement--an imperative whose time had come.

The Civil Rights Movement, based on non-violent response to organized terrorism and assassination, set the tone for the Sixties war protest. The countless heroes of the Civil Rights struggle--all willing to die for liberation and justice--the Freedom of their dreams--could never be identified. For several years I kept names of slain Civil Rights workers, hoping for a “Victory” display of names among flowers. Such a clear “victory” was denied, as a triumphant “peace!” was denied to Viet Nam protestors.

Ethel C. Hale