Discuss how and why various groups of people within American society began to challenge and criticize the nation’s way of life in the 1960s. Were their criticisms valid? What were some of the goals of these groups, and how did they go about achieving them?

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There were numerous groups in the 1960s who initiated activist movements, including those for disability rights and the rights of queer people (the Stonewall Uprising occurred outside of a New York City nightclub of the same name in 1969). The most notable movements of the decade, however, were the civil...

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There were numerous groups in the 1960s who initiated activist movements, including those for disability rights and the rights of queer people (the Stonewall Uprising occurred outside of a New York City nightclub of the same name in 1969). The most notable movements of the decade, however, were the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, and the second-wave feminist movement. History has demonstrated that all of these movements were valid due to their insistence that the country try to live up to its founding principles and become a society that would allow life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of its citizens.

The civil rights movement began shortly after the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. It was a response to Jim Crow-era segregation, legitimized by the Supreme Court after its 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision. The movement sought to curtail the relative ease and impunity with which white Americans, including the police, could violate black Americans, both in violent and nonviolent ways. The civil rights movement's goals were numerous. Some of them are still works in progress, but its main goals were equal public accommodations, desegregation of public schools, and voting rights. While black men were first legally recognized to vote after the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, Southern states created various hindrances to ensure that black people (black women didn't receive the right to vote until after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment) wouldn't exercise their right. One tactic was physical intimidation.

Civil rights activists battled discrimination in public accommodations with sit-ins and boycotts, and challenged voting discrimination with marches, mass voting drives, and campaigns to promote literacy among poor rural black people who were unable to vote not only due to discrimination but also as a result of being unable to read.

The antiwar movement was a challenge to the Vietnam War. Not only did many Americans, particularly young ones, balk at the possibility of losing their lives in a war that the US government initiated as part of the Cold War, but also many of the nation's citizens were outraged by some soldiers' immoral behavior against the Vietnamese people, including murder, torture, and rape. Antiwar protests also included marches. Those with more public notoriety, such as antiwar activist Abbie Hoffman and actress Jane Fonda, used their fame to convey their messages on talk shows, hoping to change public sentiment on the war. Their plan worked. In the mid to late 1960s, the Vietnam War was popular with most Americans. But by the early-1970s, it had fallen into disfavor, largely because Americans were losing the war. The Vietnam War ended in 1975.

In the late 1960s, around the time that antiwar protests began, women (most of them straight, white, and middle-class, at first) began marching for equal rights. They, too, wanted equal access to public accommodations (women were not allowed in bars unaccompanied), equal access to education (later ensured by the 1972 passage of Title IX), and equal access to work. Women protestors used both traditional methods of protest as well as more dramatic displays, such as the burning of bras to protest feminine conformity.

The feminist movement would intensify during the 1970s. But the women's movement largely took inspiration from the civil rights movement. The movement's leaders argued that the rights of women ought to be protected by the Constitution, resulting in the push for the Equal Rights Amendment, which was never ratified. Recent attempts to bring the amendment back for passage have also failed. Thus, while there are protections in the Constitution against racial discrimination, there are none to ensure the equality of women—one of the fundamental goals of the second-wave movement's activists.

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