MYTHS & FACTS    
       ABOUT THE 1960'S
 
 

It seems that popular history is more a result of the deeds of those who reacted to events than those who were involved in them. Perhaps because of this, popular perceptions of events in the 1960s tend to be quite conservative. In an effort to see whether popular opinion of the Sixties is accurate, I've compiled the following list of myths and facts. I think the results tell us a lot about our culture and ourselves.
 

MYTH #1: Student protests were much more common in the 1960s than today.

FACTS:
Percentage of College Freshmen Who Said they Frequently or Occasionally Participated In Organized Demonstrations While In High School:
1966: 15.5%
1967: 16.3%
1996: 41.2%
2012: 26.1%

(sources: The American Freshman: 30 Year Trends by Alexander W. Astin, et al, (University of California, Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, 1997), p. 44 & 45; The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012 by John H. Pryor, et al. (UCLA: Higher Education Research Institute, 2012), p. 32).
 
 

MYTH #2: Most protests in the 1960's were about the Vietnam War.

FACTS:
In no year for which statistics are available did the majority of protests focus on the Vietnam war (Alexander W. Astin, professor of higher education at UCLA and president of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, et al, "The Power of Protest: A National Study of Student and Faculty Disruptions With Implications For The Future, (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1975), p. 38-39). In 1964-1965, the most prevalent issue was civil rights for racial minorities, with 38% of insitutions which experienced protests reporting  that the issue was civil rights (Astin 1975, p. 35). In 1967-68, the most prevalent issue was Vietnam, but even then only 38% of the protests were about the Vietnam war (Astin 1975, p. 35). In 1969-1970, protests about environmental issues were the most prevalent (Astin 1975, p. 39). In 1970-1971, the most prevalent issues included university facilities and student life as well as student power (Astin 1975, p. 31).

What ignited campus protest in the early 1960s were civil rights issues (Astin 1975, p. 19). This began on February 1, 1960, when four black students from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College sat in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro (Astin 1975, p. 19; Frederick Obear, provost of Oakland University in Rochester, MI, and professor of chemistry, "Student Activism in the Sixties", in Protest: Student Activism in America, edited by Julian Foster and Durwood Long (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1970), p. 14). Within a month, more than 300 students were arrested at similar sit-ins (Obear, p. 14). The first major demonstration at Berkeley in the 1960s, which occurred in 1964, was about free speech on campus: the university decided that off-campus political groups could no longer make use of a previously open area on campus to advocate their cause, recruit new members and try to raise funds, and some students protested (Astin 1975, p. 20-21). Eventually, the university accepted the idea that political activity could be conducted on campus, albeit with some restrictions (Obear, p. 18).

Overall, however, the majority of demonstrations were not about civil rights and the Vietnam War, but were more about general issues of student's rights (The American Freshman: 30 Year Trends by Alexander W. Astin, et al, (University of California, Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, 1997), p.  24). Thus one of the major causes of protest in the 1960s had been parietal rules, e.g., rules according to which living off-campus with someone of the opposite gender to whom one was not married was sufficient grounds for expulsion from the university (Edwin Diamond, sr. editor of Newsweek, "Class of '69: The Violent Years", in Turmoil on the Campus, edited by Edward J. Banden, (New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1970), p. 15). In the 1950s and early 1960s, it was generally accepted that universities had an obligation to police their student's sex lives, and the regulations often applied to women but not men. In the early 1960s, most universities had given up trying to widely enforce such policies, but nonetheless retained them, and this resulted in protests. For example, in March 1968, the New York Times ran an article on students who cohabited, identifying one of the persons they interviewed as a student at Barnard College from New Hampshire named "Susan". Barnard officials searched their records for coeds from New Hampshire and were able to determine that "Susan" was really 20 year old Linda LeClair, who was living with 20 year old Peter Behr, a student at Columbia University. She was called before Barnard's student-faculty-administration judicial committee and faced the possibility of expulsion. The student protest took the form of 300 other Barnard coeds signing a petition admitting that they too had broken the regulations. In the end, the judicial committee compromised: Leclair would be allowed to remain in school, but would be denied use of the college cafeteria and barred from all social activities. (Newsweek, April 8, 1968, p. 85 and Newsweek, April 29, 1968, p. 79-80.)

Frequently, the university at which a protest occurred would agree that the protesters of a university policy were right, and the university policy would be changed accordingly (Edwin Diamond, sr. editor of Newsweek, "Class of '69: The Violent Years", in Turmoil on the Campus, edited by Edward J. Banden, (New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1970), p. 16). For example, a week long sit-in by white, middle-class students at Duke University in the 1960s produced raises for black janitors and maids at Duke (Newsweek, June 24, 1968, p. 70). Similarly, a demonstration at Mills College in the 1960s ended when the university agreed to hire two more black professors and admit 20 more black students (Newsweek, June 24, 1968, p. 71). In general, and as a result of student protest, parietal rules were reduced or eliminated in many dorms, students were added to disciplinary committees, and universities re-examined their policies regarding investments and military contracts (Edwin Diamond, senior editor of Newsweek, "Class of '69: The Violent Years", in Turmoil on the Campus, edited by Edward J. Banden, (New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1970), p. 21). Interestingly, some of the same issues students were protesting in the 1960s are the same ones students protested in more recent times. For example, in April of 1968, students at Cornell University threatened to lock-in the university's board of trustees until they sold nearly $5 million worth of stock in banks that made loans to apartheid South Africa (Newsweek, May 6, 1968, p. 48).

In addition, it's worth noting that peaceful protests were the norm; violent protests were rare, but were widely publicized by the media (Astin 1975, p. 37).
 
 

MYTH #3: Most student activists and protesters of the 1960's were alienated, mentally ill, academically weak, rebelling against their parent's values and/or demonstrating out of concern for themselves (e.g., they didn't want to be drafted).

FACTS:
The protesters were not typically alienated, mentally ill or likely to drop out of college (Leonard L. Baird, Research Psychologist with the American College Testing Program, "Who Protests: A Study of Student Activists", in Protest: Student Activism in America, edited by Julien Foster and Durwood Long (New York: Morrow & Co., 1970), p. 131; (re: mental illness:) John L. Horn and Paul D. Knott (University of Denver), "Student Activists and Student Activism" in Student Activism edited by Paul D. Knott, (Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Co., 1971), p. 178-179). A large number of psychological studies performed on student activists consistently found that they were generally outstanding students, with unusually high G.P.A.s, and were disproportionately from upper middle-class professional or intellectual families with high ethical and political standards (Kenneth Keniston, professor of psychology at Yale, "The Sources of Student Dissent" in Black Power and Student Rebellion, edited by James McEvoy and Abraham Miller, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1969), p. 318; (re: student academic ability:) Astin 1975, p. 41). Moreover, student protesters were rarely concerned with protecting their own personal interests, but rather were concerned about the oppression of others - for example, protesters of draft policies were disproportionately those most likely to avoid the draft by pursuing graduate studies, and civil rights protesters were mostly white (Kenneth Keniston, professor of psychology at Yale, "The Sources of Student Dissent" in Black Power and Student Rebellion, edited by James McEvoy and Abraham Miller, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1969), p. 312 and 330).

Rather than being a form of rebellion against their parents, studies have found that the protesters were more likely to be defending values which their parents espoused, but which they (rather hypocritically) did not implement (Kenneth Keniston, professor of psychology at Yale, "The Sources of Student Dissent" in Black Power and Student Rebellion, edited by James McEvoy and Abraham Miller, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1969), p. 320; John L. Horn and Paul D. Knott (University of Denver), "Student Activists and Student Activism" in Student Activism edited by Paul D. Knott, (Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Co., 1971), p. 169 and 180).

Freshmen College Student's Estimate That The Chances Are Very Good They Will Drop Out Of College:
1968: 0.5%
1996: 0.8%
(source: The American Freshman: 30 Year Trends by Alexander W. Astin, et al, (University of California, Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, 1997), p. 54-55).
 
 

MYTH #4: College students in the 1960s were less responsible than and didn't study as hard as college students today.

FACTS:
Percentage of college students who "overslept and missed class or an appointment"
1968: 18.8%
1997: 34.5%
2012: 27.3% (just skipped class)

(source: "Academic and Political Engagement Among Nation's College Freshmen Is At All-Time Low, UCLA Study Finds", press release from Cooperative Institutional Research Program, released January 1, 1998, at www.gseis.ucla.edu/heri/press97.html; The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012 by John H. Pryor, et al. (UCLA: Higher Education Research Institute, 2012), p. 32.)

Percentage of college students who came late to class frequently or occasionally:
1966: 49.2%
1998: 60.3%
2012: 53.8%

(source: "Most of the Nation's College Freshmen Embrace the Internet As An Educaional Tool, UCLA Study Finds", press release from Cooperative Institutional Research Program, released January 25, 1999, at www.gseis.ucla.edu/heri/press98.html; The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012 by John H. Pryor, et al. (UCLA: Higher Education Research Institute, 2012), p. 32)

Percentage of College Freshman Stating That They Frequently Studied In The Library:
1968: 33.2%
1993: 16.0%
(source: The American Freshman: 30 Year Trends by Alexander W. Astin, et al, (University of California, Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, 1997), p.44-45)

Percentage Of College Freshmen Stating That They Frequently Checked Out A Book Or A Journal From The Library:
1968: 50.3%
1990: 26.7%
(source: The American Freshman: 30 Year Trends by Alexander W. Astin, et al, (University of California, Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, 1997), p.44-45)

In general, student activists were the best educated and most academically capable of  students, as noted above. Noam Chomsky of MIT observed that "There's no doubt that these are by and large our best kids." (Newsweek, September 30, 1968, p. 64).
 
 

MYTH #5: Marijuana use and support of marijuana use was more common among college students in the 1960s than today.

FACTS:
Percentage of college freshmen stating that marijuana should be legalized:
1968: 19.4%
1969: 25.6%
the percentage steadily rose through:
1977: 52.9%
then the percentage steadily declined through:
1989: 16.7%
then the percentage steadily rose through:
1997: 35.2%
(source: Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1997, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U. S. Dept. of Justice, p. 168.)

Percentage of college students who have ever tried marijuana:
Spring 1967: 5%
Spring 1969: 22%
Fall 1971: 51%
2008: 42.6% (of high school seniors)

(source: Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1977, Criminal Justice Research Center, U. S. Dept. of Justice, p.393; Bureau of Justice Statistics, accessed 2013: http://www.bjs.gov/content/dcf/du.cfm.)

Percentage of college students who said they have smoked marijuana within the last 12 months:
1997: 31.6%
2012: 31.8%

(source: Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1997, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U. S. Dept. of Justice, p. 240;  Bureau of Justice Statistics, accessed 2013: http://www.bjs.gov/content/dcf/du.cfm.)
 
 

MYTH #6: Students in the 1960s were more self-centered than students today.

FACTS:
College Freshmen Who Said That Being Very Well-Off Financially is Essential or Very Important:
1968: 40.8%
1996: 74.1%
2012: 81%

(source: The American Freshman: 30 Year Trends by Alexander W. Astin, et al, (University of California, Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, 1997), p.56, 57; The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012 by John H. Pryor, et al. (UCLA: Higher Education Research Institute, 2012), p. 43.)

College Freshmen Who Feel That Helping Others Who Are In Difficulty Is Essential Or Very Important:
1967: 61.8%
1996: 62.5%
2012: 72%

(source: The American Freshman: 30 Year Trends by Alexander W. Astin, et al, (University of California, Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, 1997), p.56-57; The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012 by John H. Pryor, et al. (UCLA: Higher Education Research Institute, 2012), p. 43.)

In general, students in the 1960s were more concerned with social issues than students today:

College Freshmen Who Said That Becoming Involved In Programs To Clean Up The Environment Is Essential Or Very Important:
1971: 42.9%
1996: 20.7%
2012: 26.5%

(source: The American Freshman: 30 Year Trends by Alexander W. Astin, et al, (University of California, Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, 1997), p.56-57; The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012 by John H. Pryor, et al. (UCLA: Higher Education Research Institute, 2012), p. 43.)

Freshman College Students Who Believe that "keeping up to date with political affairs" is an important life goal.
1966: 57.8%
1997: 26.7%
2012: 34.5%

(source: "Academic and Political Engagement Among Nation's College Freshmen Is At All-Time Low, UCLA Study Finds", press release from Cooperative Institutional Research Program, released January 1, 1998, at www.gseis.ucla.edu/heri/press97.html; The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012 by John H. Pryor, et al. (UCLA: Higher Education Research Institute, 2012), p. 43.)

Percentage of college freshmen who say they frequently discuss politics:
1968: 29.9%
1998: 14%
2012: 30.7%

(source: "Most of the Nation's College Freshmen Embrace the Internet As An Educaional Tool, UCLA Study Finds", press release from Cooperative Institutional Research Program, released January 25, 1999, at www.gseis.ucla.edu/heri/press98.html; The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012 by John H. Pryor, et al. (UCLA: Higher Education Research Institute, 2012), p. 32.)

Percentage of college students working on a political campaign:
1969: 16.4%
1997: 8.2%
2012: 9%

(source: "Academic and Political Engagement Among Nation's College Freshmen Is At All-Time Low, UCLA Study Finds", press release from Cooperative Institutional Research Program, released January 1, 1998, at www.gseis.ucla.edu/heri/press97.html; The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012 by John H. Pryor, et al. (UCLA: Higher Education Research Institute, 2012), p. 32.)
 
 

MYTH #7: People in the 1960s were more likely to be involved with radical political parties rather than the Democratic or Republican Parties.

FACTS:
Percent of Persons Who Consider Themselves Independent Rather Than Republican or Democrat:
1964: 22%
1967: 27%
1975: 33%
1989: 32%
1999: 38%
(source: Gallup Poll Web page: http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr990409c.asp)

Percentage of College Freshmen Who Described Their Own Political Views as "Far Left":
1970: 3.1%
1996: 2.9%
2012: 2.8%

(source: The American Freshman: 30 Year Trends by Alexander W. Astin, et al, (University of California, Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, 1997), p.56-57; The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012 by John H. Pryor, et al. (UCLA: Higher Education Research Institute, 2012), p. 37.)

Approximate numbers of college students belonging to the three largest student oriented political organizations in 1967:
Young Republicans: 150,000
Young Democrats: 140,000
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS, a more left-wing group): 35,000
(Newsweek, September 30, 1968, p. 65 and 66).

Freshmen were, however, more likely to describe themselves as liberal in 1970 (33.5%) than in 1996 (21.7%) or 2012 (26.8%) (The American Freshman: 30 Year Trends by Alexander W. Astin, et al, (University of California, Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, 1997), p.56-57; The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012 by John H. Pryor, et al. (UCLA: Higher Education Research Institute, 2012), p. 37). Yet, in some respects at least, the 1960's were much more conservative than the 1990's:

Percentage of College Freshmen Who Agreed Strongly Or Somewhat That The Activities of Married Woman Are Best Confined To The Home And Family:
1967: 56.6%
1996: 24.2%
(source: The American Freshman: 30 Year Trends by Alexander W. Astin, et al, (University of California, Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, 1997), p.56-57)

Percentage of Americans Believing That Sex Before Marriage Is Wrong:
1969: 68%
1990: 33%
(source: Daniel Yankelovich, "How Changes In The Economy Are Changing American Values", in Values and Public Policy, edited by Henry J. Aaron, et al, (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1994), p. 47)

Percentage of White Americans Believing That They Had A Right To Keep Blacks Out Of Their Neighborhood If They Wanted To, And That Blacks Should Respect That Right:
1968: 55%
1990: 22%
(source: Daniel Yankelovich, "How Changes In The Economy Are Changing American Values", in Values and Public Policy, edited by Henry J. Aaron, et al, (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1994), p. 30.)
 
 

MYTH #8: Most Americans in the1960s and early 70s would recognize that people have a right to peacefully protest the policies of their government.

FACTS:
Percent of Persons Opposing Organized Peaceful Protest of a Government Policy
1970: 75%
(source: Rita James Simon, Public Opinion in America, (Chicago. IL: Rand-McNally, 1974), p. 118)
 
 

COMMENT:

No doubt one of the reasons the media and public's reaction to student protesters of the 1960s was that there seemed to be such a change in student mentality compared with students in the 1950s. Students in the 1950s were commonly referred to as the "Silent Generation" or the "Apathetic Generation". They have been described by various commentators as being extraordinarily self-centered, overly concerned with material comforts and wealth, completely lacking in cynicism and skepticism regarding government and big business, dull conformists, and politically illiterate and irresponsible (Newsweek, June 24, 1968, p. 68-69 and Obear p. 13). Americans in the 1950s tended to be suspicious of persons with unconventional political views and opposed to allowing the expression of unconventional political and social views. For example, in 1953, 35% of people responded "No" the the question "In peacetime, do you think newspapers should be allowed to criticize our form of government?" (Rita James Simon, Public Opinion in America, (Chicago. IL: Rand-McNally, 1974), p. 107). In December of 1956, 72% of persons thought that Communists should not be allowed to speak on the radio (Richard G. Niemi, professor of political science at the University of Rochester, et al, Trends In Public Opinion: A Compendium Of Survey Data, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1989), p. 126, table 5.6). In 1954, 60 percent of respondents thought that persons opposed to churches and religion should not be allowed to speak in their city (Niemi, et al, p. 111, table 5.1). And in 1958, 59% of freshmen at Michigan State University agreed with the statement that "a lot of teachers, these days, have radical ideas which need to be carefully watched" (Newsweek, June 24, 1968, p. 68). Many educators thought that such apathy and closed-mindedness was something that should be overcome. For instance, Robert Goheen, the President of Princeton University, advised the freshman class of 1960 to cultivate a "substantial discontent" so that they might "seek a possible better instead of being content with an actual worse" (Obear, p. 21). Of course, as Obear notes, by the late 1960s, Goheens advice had changed considerably!

It would be a mistake to suppose that the above statistics give a complete picture of students and culture in the 1960s. But in many respects, the students of the 1990s are considerably more liberal and prone to protest than the students of the 1960s, as the statistics above indicate. Many of the issues which were the focus protest in the 1960s, such as freedom in one's personal life, student input and influence in university policies, and civil rights are widely taken for granted in the 1990s. But it's worth remembering what all the fuss was about.

- Keith Korcz
 

RELATED LINKS:

Free Speech Movement - documents and photos from the free speech movement at Berkeley 1964-1965.

Psychedelic '60s. A fascinating website, containing an annotated guide to literature of the 1960s as well as images of 1960s posters and handbills.

Plastic Tales From The Marshmallow Dimension - from a radio show at NYU, contains a wide variety of links to websites about 1960s music and culture.

Hippies On The Web - lots of information about Haight-Ashbury!

Hippyland - a wide variety of links and information about the 1960s.

An interesting site devoted to Woodstock 1969.

For pages devoted to 60s TV shows such as Laugh-In, Batman, Get Smart, That Girl, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Star Trek, The Monkees, Wild, Wild West, I Dream of Jeannie, etc., try Crazyabouttv.com.