Simon Hall. Peace and Freedom: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements in the 1960s. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. 267 Seiten. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-3839-6.
Reviewed by Brian Daugherity (Department of History, College of William and Mary)
Published on H-South (June, 2006)
Make Love, Not War: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements of the 1960s
Simon Hall's Peace and Freedom examines the relationship between the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s. Addressing the question of why these two movements did not work more closely together, Hall postulates that differences in how African Americans and peace activists viewed the war, the racial tensions reflected in Black Power, and factionalism within the peace movement precluded a meaningful and potentially beneficial relationship.
Hall begins by explaining how the various civil rights organizations responded to the Vietnam War. He argues that the organizing experiences of SNCC and CORE, which focused on the intransigent Deep South in the early 1960s, radicalized their members and led them to denounce the war more quickly than other civil rights organizations. Hall credits the year 1964, especially Freedom Summer and the Democratic Party's Atlantic City convention, with changing the mindsets of activists associated with these organizations. He correctly notes growing frustration within SNCC and CORE during this period--with the FBI, the Johnson Administration and Democratic Party, and the federal government more broadly. Hall argues that this disillusionment encouraged these organizations to be more critical of federal government policy--domestic and foreign. When American involvement in Vietnam grew, then, SNCC became the first major civil rights organization to denounce the war, followed quickly by CORE.
Hall argues that other civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and National Urban League, were less inclined to publicly oppose the war because of their stronger belief in the beneficence of the federal government. While SNCC and CORE were willing to break with President Johnson and suffer significant consequences for doing so, more "moderate" organizations sought "the difficult balance that national civil rights leaders sometimes had to strike between principle and pragmatism" (p. 66). Choosing to focus their efforts and energies on civil rights issues, the NAACP and Urban League remained virtually silent--except for occasionally disparaging remarks aimed at antiwar civil rights activists--until the political and war climate changed at the end of the decade.
After discussing the reactions of these civil rights organizations to the war, Hall examines the relationship between civil rights organizations and the peace movement. He concludes that, despite significant attempts by peace activists to reach out to African Americans and occasional signs of cooperation, black Americans generally did not become active supporters of the antiwar movement.
Early efforts at cooperation, including the Assembly of Unrepresented People (AUP) and National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam (NCC), went poorly. Racial tensions existed between black and white activists--somewhat akin to the well-known problems of the 1964 and 1965 Freedom Summer campaigns--and Hall points out that at the AUP "there was a tendency for peace and civil rights activists to meet separately" (p. 33). At the NCC convention in November 1965, civil rights activists bemoaned the intellectual nature and tedious debate of the peace activists, and many civil rights delegates eventually left early. Clearly in 1965 there were two separate movements for change, one focused on domestic racism and the other on America's growing involvement in Vietnam.
Over time, black opposition to the war in Vietnam grew, and the possibility for cooperation between the peace and civil rights movements improved. Hall notes signs of collaboration--particularly in early 1967--which fueled the hope that inter-movement cooperation might strengthen their respective efforts. The possibility of such collaboration, however, faded quickly, and the involvement of civil rights organizations in antiwar activism declined. Hall explains, "by the end of the year , the two movements seemed as far apart as ever" (p. 107).
Some of the reasons behind the inability of the antiwar and civil rights movements to work together dated back to the mid-1960s. These included the fact that the antiwar movement was overwhelmingly white, college-based, and prone to intellectualism. Although black activists increasingly opposed the war itself--particularly because of the draft--an oppositional stance did not automatically lead to involvement in antiwar activities.
Black opposition to the war, moreover, was often based on different reasons than those of white antiwar activists. Blacks linked the war with Western colonialism and racism more quickly than whites, and were also more likely to be concerned with the racially biased draft system. African Americans also expressed concern about the mounting costs of the war and how the financial investment overseas would impact domestic spending and President Johnson's Great Society programs--many of which sought to improve the status of African Americans. As Hall explains, "black radicals opposed the Vietnam War for different reasons from those of the white movement" (p. 144).
By 1966, moreover, feelings of black nationalism and racial solidarity pervaded the civil rights movement, particularly the organizations which had already come out against the war and which were therefore most inclined to cooperate with the peace movement. Advocates of Black Power worried about being co-opted by the predominantly white peace movement and sought, if anything, separate black antiwar organizations. As these civil rights organizations expelled their white members, it became clear that their ability to cooperate with predominantly white antiwar organizations was in jeopardy. This was not lost on the expelled whites, many of whom went on to become active in the antiwar movement. At the same time, growing racial violence in America's cities concerned peace activists and highlighted the chasm between advocates for racial change and those fighting against the war in Vietnam. Hall concludes, "arguments about emphasis and multi-issuism, the cultural and 'intellectual' barriers between white students and antiwar activists and black civil rights workers, and interracial tensions, would, throughout the decade, plague efforts to build a broad, radical, multiracial, multi-issue antiwar coalition" (p. 33).
Peace and Freedom is organized in six chapters, roughly following the chronology outlined above, with an introduction and a conclusion. Its balanced coverage of both civil rights and antiwar activism allows the reader to learn a good amount about both movements. Hall also tells the story through a variety of different perspectives, from those of the national civil rights organizations to grassroots activists in Virginia and Cairo, Illinois. His ability to move between these geographically diverse locales strengthens his overarching points about the relationship between the two movements.
The arguments in Peace and Freedom are well supported by archival and secondary research, and Hall's knowledge of the two movements is impressive. Importantly, he points out where his argument differs from that of previous scholars, whether with regard to civil rights or antiwar activities. Doing so with a balanced tone, and acknowledging the importance of all previous scholarship, greatly adds to the book's maturity and readability. At times, Hall's use of countless quotations makes for laborious reading, but on the other hand this shows careful organization and provides a more direct and personal connection to the era he is discussing.
To the extent that Hall seeks to explain why the civil rights and antiwar movements were unable to work together more carefully, he has succeeded. Peace and Freedom does, however, raise questions for future scholarship. Among civil rights historians, the book will leave some wondering if Hall's explanations of the civil rights organizations' positions on the war are so clear-cut. Many African Americans, of course, came out against the war--some quite early--despite never having been involved in anything resembling the SNCC/CORE "organizing experience" of the Deep South. At the same time, as Hall explains, a number of members of both SNCC and CORE opposed coming out against the war, despite the fact that they were involved in the same organizing experience as their colleagues. More in-depth examinations of the personalities involved can shed additional light on the decision-making process, both individually and collectively. With regard to SNCC and CORE, additional scholarship may also help explain how the shift toward Black Power--and power struggles within these organizations--helped bring about their public opposition to the war. It is also important to recognize that African Americans as a group generally were not as concerned with America's involvement in Vietnam as they were with civil rights issues. Certainly this helps to explain the lack of black involvement in the antiwar movement, but it also helps to explain why more "moderate" civil rights organizations chose not to oppose the war earlier. When SNCC came out against the war in 1966, as Hall notes, many blacks considered this a mistake, and undoubtedly other organizations and their leaders noted the reaction.
These things said, Hall's Peace and Freedom: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements in the 1960s is a must read for anyone interested in the relationship between the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s. It is also an important contribution to the historiography of the two movements individually, and the decade more broadly.
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Brian Daugherity. Review of Hall, Simon, Peace and Freedom: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements in the 1960s.
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