When I grew up in the 1940s and 50s, black people couldn’t marry white people, they had to sit in the back of the bus, public bathrooms were segregated, and the Klu Klux Klan rained hate and violence on people of color in the south.
Fast forward to the 60s, when I was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. I recently read in TGI Forum (Sept. 12) that Keith Robinson and I were students there at the same time. What is fascinating, however, is how each of us interpreted what happened regarding the Free Speech Movement, as well as the evolution of attitudes and events that materialized nationwide after 1964, in diametrically opposite ways.
This is the way I experienced 1964 and the cultural revolution that followed it.
Inspired by Martin Luther King, blacks and whites protested segregation and racism with marches, sit ins, and other forms of non-violent actions that birthed the Civil Rights Movement. In the summer of ‘64, called “Freedom Summer,” some students from UCB traveled to the south to assist with voter registration for Blacks who had been denied the right to vote. Three young Civil Rights workers, men from the north, were killed there. That fall, the Chancellor of the UCB campus clamped down on students’ rights to set up informational tables about Civil Rights, as well as the Vietnam War, on the campus.
Thus the rise of FSM, where 800 students sat down in Sproul Hall, Administration Building, in a peaceful protest. Because of my location on the hallway floor, I was the last person dragged by my collar to the booking room on Dec. 4.
Before boarding a bus that would take us to Santa Rita Prison, the press stopped me for comment. I responded, “This is just the beginning. We will not give up until we win.”
That statement was circulated in newspapers all over the county; my husband’s grandmother in Rancho Santa Fe, California, read it and disinherited him. The important thing for both of us was that I did the right thing, not the loss of an inheritance. Neither I, nor any of my friends who were arrested, were ever communists. Rather, we were idealists who felt the call to help our fellow humans. And we did win. Due to overwhelming faculty support, the ban on political tables was overturned.
John Kennedy was our hero. My husband and I followed his call in ‘65 to serve in the Peace Corps as health educators in an impoverished area of Brazil where half of babies died of malnutrition and disease by the age of two. When we returned to Berkeley in ’67, we were astounded to see that the beatniks, dressed in black while reading poetry in coffee houses, had transformed into hippies sporting a riot of colors, dancing in the parks and flashing the peace sign. Truly, there had been the birth of a cultural revolution that extolled “Make Love, not War,” while we were overseas.
The 60s were a time to question, and to support liberation for women and gays, as well as farmworkers in the Salinas Valley and those with physical, mental, hearing and sight challenges.
Health care in the US was examined, as well as the American diet of fast and heavily processed foods. Abuse of nature with pesticides and other man-made contaminations resulted in a movement of respect and care for our natural environment as well as a surge of hippies going back to the land to grow organic gardens. In the 60s, the Civil Rights Movement ushered in the Peace Movement, Women’s Movement, Gay Movement, Organic Food Movement, Holistic Health Movement, and the Environmental Movement.
The 50s was a time of repression, but the 60s became more than a time of liberation and freedom. Music and the arts flourished. Birthing, childcare, schools and health clinics were revamped all over the country. The 60s ushered in a whole different way of looking at destructive habits in the culture and in ourselves.
Rather than categorizing and rubber stamping people, we championed the rights and human potential of people regardless of race, religion, color or views. And instead of accepting harmful cultural values and living in denial of those people in need, we asked, “what is my human potential” and “ how can I help others?”
In closing, I agree with Keith Robinson that 1964 was a turning point in American History. But to me, the 60s became a time to open one’s arms, to embrace all of humanity, and to care for the Earth with respect and love. Because of the 60s cultural revolution and the shift in values, we Americans, in this great country of diversity and free speech, thankfully benefit from those humanitarian changes today.
Gabriela Taylor is a writer, author of “Geckos and Other Guests: Tales of a Kauai Bed and Breakfast,” traveler and a resident of Kapaa.