Class Of '66

Class Of '66: Living in Suburban Middle America

Paul Lyons
Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Class Of '66
    Book Description:

    In the midst of the Vietnam war, sit-ins, counter-culture, and campus rallies, the 1966 graduating class of a South New Jersey coast high school came of age on the margins of political and cultural upheaval. Rather than presenting the stereotype of Sixties youth scene, this study reveals this group to be conservative teenagers shaped by mainstream loyalties to God, Country, and Family. These "Coasters"-white, middle-class, suburban baby-boomers-were spectators of rather than participants in the decade's activism. Yet, even as they were missed by the powerful currents of the times, their lives were touched by those currents more than is suggested by the stereotype of Richard Nixon's "Silent Majority."Paul Lyons interviewed 47 members of the class of 1966, recording recollections of their school days, politics, work, family life, community, and expectations for future careers and family. Each chapter is complemented by personal profiles of individual "Coasters." Removed from both the urban experience and that of the elite suburbs, these teenagers disprove popular cultural assumptions that all baby boomers, with few exceptions, went to Woodstock, protested against the Vietnam War, engaged in drug experimentation, or joined the hippie counter-culture. Instead, Lyons' study explores how their then relative ambivalence to political and cultural rebellion did not preclude many "Coasters" from indirectly incorporating over the years certain core Sixties values on issues of race, gender, mobility, and patriotism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0447-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    This is a story about white, middle-class American baby boomers who came of age during the 1960s. Is it possible that an essential part of the story of the Sixties generation has not been told–and retold–given the procession of movies likeThe Big Chill,television shows likethirtysomething,nostalgic retrospectives in magazines likeRolling Stone,documentaries, and memoirs?

    During the nearly twenty years that I have been teaching a course on the 1960s, I have become fascinated with the distorted views my students hold about the meaning of terms like “baby boomers” and “60s generation.” They assume, often...

  5. 1 Home Life
    (pp. 7-39)

    It wasn’t until after the Korean War that the Garden State Parkway extended down to the South Jersey shore area. At the time, Atlantic City’s decline, accelerated by commercial air traffic to Florida, was becoming apparent. The offshore communities of Wilbur, Channing, and South Bay presented attractive options to many of those fleeing both the urban decay and the increasing black presence in Atlantic City and nearby Pleasantville.¹ By 1965, as the decline approached its nadir, Elwood G. Davis, in a report on poverty commissioned by Atlantic Human Resources, the local antipoverty agency, could sharply juxtapose Atlantic City’s reputation of...

  6. 2 School Days
    (pp. 40-71)

    The week the class of 1966 graduated from Coastal High School, Ronald Reagan won the Republican gubernatorial primary in California; James Meredith was shot walking to Jackson, Mississippi; the Gemini 9 astronauts walked in space; Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announced that more troops would be sent to Vietnam; and Robert Kennedy attacked apartheid before students in Capetown, South Africa: “It is your job, the task of the young people of this world to strip the last remnants of that ancient, cruel belief from the civilization of man.” Locally, it was the year that conservative Republican Charles Sandman became the...

  7. 3 Vietnam
    (pp. 72-102)

    In James Fallows’s influential “What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?” Harvard antiwar activists are juxtaposed with the sons of Cambridge blue-collar workers.¹ The collegians, mostly exempt from the war through anything from student deferments to psychiatric rationalizations submitted by friendly shrinks, look on as the less privileged march off to boot camp. The imagery is powerful and, as I shall suggest in this chapter, deceptive. In our images of the generation who lived through the Vietnam era, we tend toward a dualism of doves and vets, the soon-to-be yuppie twentysomethings and the victimized “salt of the earth”...

  8. 4 The Sixties
    (pp. 103-122)

    Only occasionally does reality break through the stereotype concerning the Sixties, or baby-boom, generation. A 1989 Gallup Poll concluded, “Although we tend to characterize the youth of the ’60s as being politically and socially rebellious, large majorities of those now up to 49 years old say they did not get involved in anti-war or civil rights movements, did not smoke marijuana on a regular basis or experiment with psychedelic drugs, and did not ‘dress like a hippie’ twenty years ago.”¹ More typical, unfortunately, is the gushing prose ofTime’s “Pictorial History of 1968: The Year That Shaped a Generation,” which...

  9. 5 White on Black
    (pp. 123-162)

    The Coastal High School 1966 yearbook is lily-white. There were no African-American students, administrators, teachers, maintenance or custodial workers. A black matron was hired on the janitorial staff several years later but “left because the kids were so rough on her.” Most 1966 graduates do not recall knowing many blacks while they were growing up. Some admit that their parents, especially their fathers, were “like the Archie Bunker-type guy,” with strong prejudice directed toward blacks, but also some aimed at Jews and Catholics. One graduate with deep local roots had a grandfather who belonged to a local Ku Klux Klan...

  10. 6 Growing Up Female
    (pp. 163-201)

    As late as 1970, Coasters were being told, “While carpenters are hammering nails, businessmen are reading statistical reports, and spies are out spying, most American girls will be baking cakes, sterilizing bottles, and waxing floors. To them fall the responsibilities of homemaking, child rearing, and morale boosting.”¹ So it is prudent to begin with the assumption that what was called the women’s liberation movement, modern feminism, reached southern Jersey towns with, at the least, some cultural lag.

    Fully one-half of female graduates’ mothers worked, in addition to taking care of household and child rearing, although most worked part-time and often...

  11. 7 Career, Family, Community
    (pp. 202-217)

    During a quintessential moment in the mythmaking of the Sixties, a guest leaned over to Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin inThe Graduateand whispered, “Plastics.” When one imagines or reconstructs that scene, one can almost hear the audience chuckling, even smirking, at what was presumed to be a ludicrous offer. Yet our imaginings rest on implicit assumptions concerning the Sixties generation: for one, the belief that young Benjamin personifies baby-boom resistance to, if not contempt for, mainstream business careers and opportunities.

    The career of Joey Campion suggests one silent majority alternative toThe Graduate.Joey got married shortly after finishing high...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 218-246)

    As we approach the twenty-first century, for the first time in American political history more than half of the electorate will be suburban.¹ I cannot make the claim that the 1966 graduates of Coastal High School represent that suburban reality. I would, however, suggest that these particular baby boomers reflect significant components of the American suburban middle classes that too often are obscured and misrepresented in much that passes for political and cultural criticism.

    I wish to challenge two myths: one, concerning what might be called the yuppification of the middle class; two, concerning the same yuppification of baby boomers....

  13. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 247-252)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 253-262)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-268)
  16. Index
    (pp. 269-271)