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The 1960’s, a time period essentially classified as the 1950’s through the 1970’s, is a period of many social issues and cultural change in America. It is the time of the Civil Rights Movement and on top of that it is the time of the anti-Vietnam war movements. There is no end to the amount of books that cover interesting and unique perspectives on these two decades of American history. Through the study of five texts, new facts and opinions about the 1960’s are revealed and common themes across narratives are identified. When each author addresses new perspectives and argues differing claims about its influence, the undeniability of historical fact becomes cloudy with perception and proves that history can be rewritten by its analyzers.
Peace and Freedom: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements in the 1960’s by Simon Hall is one such book that examines a new perspective on the major events and social issues of the 1960’s. Through Hall’s examination of the time period, he determines a connection between the African American freedom struggle and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. He uses many primary and secondary sources to explore how those involved in the Civil Rights Movement responded to the war and how those who opposed the war became involved with the mainstream peace movement. He believes that the civil rights and antiwar movements failed to work together, despite common beliefs and motives. By bringing up both the civil rights and antiwar movements in two of the most important social issues of the 1960’s and tying them in together to explain how they relate, he efficiently describes the two biggest tensions of the time period without pretending like one did not affect the other.
Another interesting retrospective look into the 1960’s is detailed in Speaking Out: Activism and Protest in the 1960’s and 1970’s by Heather Ann Thompson. Heather details events of the past to explain how they defined the present, arguing that the Civil Rights Movement inspired essentially all over civil rights groups of the time period and beyond to develop more successful methods. Her research involves analyzing many leaders of the successful Civil Rights Movement and showing the similarities in ideology and strategy between them and many different movements. Her strengths lie in the primary sources documented in the end of each chapter, from classic documents to lesser known movement texts. This perspective is unique and informative in that it introduces the basic events and ideas of the Civil Rights Movement to its readers while using these facts to determine how they have impacted the present. It also explains a less commonly explored impact on American culture than usual – the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on activism in general.
A more traditional approach to the history of the 1960’s came from Lester A. Sobel’s book Civil Rights: 1960-66. This narrative ignores the events of the era that didn’t have to do with the Civil Rights Movement and instead describes actual events and historical stories pertaining to the movement. While this book doesn’t document many sources like the others, it also remains mostly unbiased in its attempts to describe the socio-cultural situation of the African American at the time. It accurately describes the need for a revolution and the steps that those involved in the Civil Rights Movement took to get there.
While many books take a more liberal approach when addressing the Civil Rights Movement, as it was a very liberal movement itself, a very conservative perspective on this time period can be found in The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s Changed America by Roger Kimball. Roger Kimball argues his conservative perspective on the Civil Rights Movement by examining events and leaders of the movement and determines that the counterculture of the 1960’s affected current American culture in a mostly negative way. Despite his extremely biased perspective, it gives new insight that wasn’t established in the previously mentioned narratives. Though the content of the book may be questionable and a product of revisionist history, his approach and unique perspective creates and entirely new documentation of the era, marking the Civil Rights Movement as the beginning of America’s downfall.
Finally, Debating the Civil Rights Movement: 1945-1968 by Steven F. Lawson and Charles Payne tackles multiple perspectives on this era of history. While Payne covers “the view from the trenches” and examines documents and accounts of those involved in the movement, Steven F. Lawson covers “the view from the nation” using equivalent documents to describe the history from the viewpoint of those not involved. Included in their foreword, they explain that “there is no simple, wholly agreed-on ‘truth’ that captures what has happened in the past”. Together, these two perspectives play an influential role in historiography by identifying that there is no correct and absolute history, and that facts can be used to skew opinion one way or another. They use historical facts and primary sources to back up their arguments in a way where both are acceptable and believable. Ultimately, they epitomize the idea that history is only a product of its authors.
As depicted in the selection of five narratives about the Civil Rights Movement, a lot of debate still surround the major events, its effects on present day America, and the influence it has had. Some, like Thompson, argue the positive influence that activists during this era have had on America, while some, like Kimball, identify them as those responsible for the fall of America. Some works of writing take on new and interesting perspectives, such as Hall’s book, and some just state historical fact in order to educate, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions. Ultimately, no matter what conclusions the author tries to express, each of these narratives is based around real events involving real people with real positive and negative outcomes. The assumption that this movement has ultimately changed America one way or another is prevalent across narratives. The discrepancies and debates that arise are entirely a product of how the historian choses to tell the story.
Through historiography, a researcher can come to many different conclusions based on where they look. Over time, people’s opinions change on historical events or new perspectives are brought to light. While the facts are concrete, the description of their influence and effects are entirely based on opinions, which most works of historical writing include. These five narratives with entirely different descriptions of the same era prove that history is only a product of its writers and further proves that there is no concrete, single truth when it comes to history. It is up to the historian to remove and ignore all biases to discover the real truth among the endless books and authors who claim to know what really happened.
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