National Service, Activism, Reform, and Backlash in America, 1960s–1970s

Solicited by the OAH Committee on the Status of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Historians and ALANA Histories Endorsed by SHFG

Friday, March 31, 2023, 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Military; Politics; Social Welfare and Public Health

Papers Presented

Outsiders Within: Volunteers in Service to America and the Boundaries of Citizenship, 1962-1971

This paper analyzes the significance of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) to the history of the War on Poverty. It argues that VISTAs played an important role in mobilizing economically and politically marginalized communities. It also maintains that volunteers were useful scapegoats for opponents of reform. Critics sensationalized identity clashes between volunteers (mainly young, white, liberal, and middle-class) and the poor to discourage collaboration and justify termination of volunteers. By blaming “outside agitators” for local discontent, leaders across the political spectrum effectively denied the poor's agency and capability to make decisions for themselves. This study suggests that volunteers’ activism during VISTA’s early years (1962-1971) tested the nation's commitment to addressing socioeconomic inequality and political exclusion.

Presented By
Britney Murphy, Graduate Student, University of Connecticut

Governor Louie B. Nunn vs Appalachia and the War on Poverty in the Bluegrass

In 1962, Henry Caudill’s 'Night Comes to the Cumberlands' brought national attention to the dire economic conditions confronted by people in Appalachia, Kentucky. When Lyndon B. Johnson waged a “War on Poverty,” Kentucky was ground zero for this battle. In this paper, I evaluate the effectiveness of Great Society programs in Kentucky. I also examine the causes and consequences of their dismantling after the election of Governor Louie B. Nunn and the passing of the Green Amendment in 1967. The Nunn Administration used McCarthy-esque red baiting to end these poverty programs and arrest leaders in the anti-poverty movement.

Presented By
Stone Jonathon, Howard University

“Dealing with Social Change…While Still Preserving Worthwhile Traditional Values”: The U.S. Army’s Response to Revolutionary Social and Cultural Changes in 1968

Revolutionary social and cultural changes throughout the mid-1960s in the United States gained global traction – and expanded in dramatic and unpredictable ways for the U.S. Army, much of which was still mired in southeast Asia. General William C. Westmoreland struggled to understand the ways in which Tet and its perception crippled American domestic and political support for the war. By March 1968, Westmoreland began his transition from combat command in Vietnam to leadership of the U.S. Army. He pursued a conservative, backward-, and inward-looking institutional consensus amidst revolutionary political change. The Army’s institutional culture created a drag effect on the need for reform and modernization. In March 1970, the crisis of the Peers Inquiry’s revelations (on My Lai) catalyzed more substantive change. Questions of race and class rocked the Army from 1968-forward. American politics enabled the transition to an arguably more equitable all-volunteer force. One that was more socio-economically equal and inclusive of racial minorities and females.

Presented By
R. Zachariah Alessi-Friedlander, U.S. Army

Session Participants

Chair: Robert Bauman, Washington State University, Tri-Cities

Presenter: R. Zachariah Alessi-Friedlander, U.S. Army

Commentator: Marisa Ann Chappell, Oregon State University

Presenter: Stone Jonathon, Howard University

Presenter: Britney Murphy, Graduate Student, University of Connecticut