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Generation on Fire

Generation on Fire: Voices of Protest from the 1960s, An Oral History

Jeff Kisseloff
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Generation on Fire
    Book Description:

    The political and cultural upheaval of the '60s has become a subject blighted by misconceptions and stereotypes. To many, it is synonymous with widespread drug abuse, failed social experiments, and general irresponsibility. Despite sustained public interest, few remember that many of the freedoms and rights Americans enjoy today are the direct result of those who defied the established order during this tumultuous period. It was an era that challenged both mainstream and elite American notions of how politics and society should function. In Generation on Fire, Jeff Kisseloff's continuing work in oral history, witnesses speak about their motives and actions during the 1960s through the present. Kisseloff provides an eclectic and highly personal account of the political and social activity of the decade. Among other things, the book offers firsthand accounts of what it was like to face a mob's wrath in the segregated South and to survive the jungles of Vietnam. It takes readers inside the courtroom of the Chicago Eight and into a communal household in Vermont. From the stage at Woodstock to the playing fields of the NFL and finally to a fateful confrontation at Kent State, Generation on Fire brings the '60s alive again. In this riveting collection of never-before published interviews, Generation on Fire unapologetically contextualizes the world of the 1960s, illuminating the ingrained social and cultural obstacles facing those working for change as well as the courage and shortcomings of those who defied "acceptable" conventions and mores. Sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious, the stories in this volume celebrate the passion, courage, and independent thinking that led a generation to believe change for the better was possible.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7156-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[xii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    In 1998, Tom Brokaw wrote a best-selling book about Americans who came of age in the 1930s. Because so many of them survived the hardships of the Depression only to risk their lives in World War II, Brokaw called the bookThe Greatest Generation.

    Brokaw was right to herald the enormous courage of America’s World War II vets. Once the war was over, however, many settled into lives of conformity and comfort, paying little heed to the specters of poverty, racism, and McCarthyism that haunted the country. But it was the children of Brokaw’s “greatest” generation—the so-called baby boomers...

  4. Bernard LaFayette Freedom Rider
    (pp. 6-25)

    Growing up in Tampa, you learned early on that there was an invisible line that was always there, and you didn’t cross it. Whenever you heard of a lynching or a beating, you knew that it could happen to you simply because you were Negro. All Negroes had, in a sense, a bullseye on their backs, so, for example, you didn’t have eye contact with a white girl. All a white had to do was say, “He insulted me,” or “He stuck his tongue at me.” You could get lynched for that. As a result, you walked along many times,...

  5. Bob Zellner The Traitor
    (pp. 26-50)

    My father was a preacher man in the Methodist Church. I was named for Bob Jones, the ultraconservative preacher. My mother and dad both graduated from Bob Jones College, and Bob Jones performed their wedding ceremony. In fact, my dad went to Europe in the Second World War with Bob Jones on a cockamamy scheme to save the Jews of Europe by converting ’em all to Christianity.

    My father had been in the Klan in Birmingham. His father had been in the Klan. His three brothers and his sisters were all very active Klan people. He eventually left the Klan...

  6. Gloria Richardson Dandridge The Militant
    (pp. 51-63)

    Yes, that picture. I had been inside a little shoeshine place talking to General Gelston, the head of the National Guard unit in town when I heard this bang. We thought it was bullets, so we went crashing out of there. When I got out in front to see what was happening, this Guard charged me. I was furious, so I pushed his rifle away and cursed at him. I was thinking, “What on earth do they think they were doing?”

    In retrospect, I think, “Was I crazy?”

    A few days later, I was called to a meeting at the...

  7. Paul Krassner The Realist
    (pp. 64-80)

    Getting circumcised as an infant had a huge impact on my life. The person who performs the circumcision is called amoyel. That’s Hebrew for kosher butcher or surgeon without a license. He left a kind of flap on my foreskin, and it was uncomfortable.

    I would constantly have my hands in my pockets trying to separate the flap from my scrotum. My parents decided I was playing with myself, and they got me all kinds of toys. One of them was a violin, and I was OK at it. In fact, I was a child prodigy. I ended up...

  8. Lee Weiner The Revolutionary
    (pp. 81-99)

    For me, the 1950s were pizza places opening up and Elvis Presley on the jukebox and trying like mad to score with a girl. How did I get from that to sleeping with a shotgun at the side of my bed and thinking I was never going to live past thirty-five? The answer is one step at a time.

    I grew up on the South Side of Chicago in back of a coal yard, just barely on the correct side of the tracks. I learned to fire a gun when I worked for a tailor in a black neighborhood. He...

  9. Daniel Berriɠan Peace Preacher
    (pp. 100-117)

    My mother was born in Germany and came here as a child with her parents. They got what the government called a “land claim,” forty acres in Minnesota. She was a young, beautiful milliner when my father roared into town, literally; he was a railroad engineer. They met at a dance.

    We’re still trying to figure him out. He was so complex; it’s like unraveling an old sweater. He had a quick temper and could be very violent. I was the second youngest of six, and I think my mother realized that too much of him would really crush me,...

  10. David Cline The Vet
    (pp. 118-136)

    There were three brothers in my family during the Civil War who fought in Antietam. One of them died. Another lost his hand. My grandfather was in World War I. My father was in World War II. I was in Vietnam. The general attitude in my family was you were supposed to serve.

    My father was a machinist. He joined the Merchant Marine during World War II. He got torpedoed, but never sunk. It was a very risky job. They’d be running supplies through the North Atlantic on ships that were like steel tubs. They had the highest casualty rate...

  11. Peter Berg The Digger
    (pp. 137-151)

    My father was an alcoholic who kept getting fired from job after job, allegedly for drinking, but I don’t think that was the only reason. He was sort of a barroom socialist. He was a dropout from medical school who liked to hang out with working-class people. He had a photographic memory, and I’m told he could regale people by reeling off whole pages of H.G. Wells’sOutline of History.For a while he collected rents. He sold hot dogs. Before he died, he had finally gotten a job that was near his capability—as a lens grinder. Sometime before...

  12. Elsa Marley Skylark The Artist
    (pp. 152-166)

    Our commune started rock and roll in San Francisco. We were this group of crazy artists, just trying to make money to go to Europe. We were spending the summer with our babies and dogs in Virginia City with a rock group called the Charlatans that had a little gig in a bar up there. We smoked a lot of dope and talked about different ways of making money. One way was, somebody would get married. We’d invite all these CEOs from all over the country to come to the wedding. Of course, they wouldn’t come because they wouldn’t know...

  13. Marilyn Salzman Webb The Feminist
    (pp. 167-182)

    I was a very good athlete, and it never occurred to me that I couldn’t play in the Little League, but when I got there the coach said, “You can’t try out. You’re a girl.”

    My mouth dropped open. All I could say was, “Well, everybody knows I’m the best first baseman here.”

    When I told my mother, she thought it was time to enlighten me that this was the way of the world. “Well, that’s how it is. You’ll have your own games.”

    I was a little bit of a tomboy, which didn’t always sit well with them. I...

  14. Frank Kameny The Pioneer
    (pp. 183-193)

    I learned to read when I was about four. An uncle gave me a large book calledThe Knowledge Book. I read through that avidly, and I decided very quickly at the age of four or five that I wanted to become a scientist. A year or so later I narrowed that down to astronomy.

    I went to the Army in 1943, where I became an 81-millimeter mortar crewman. I went overseas in 1944 and fought in Holland. I saw some very intense combat in Germany until the end of the war.

    At that point, I was very much a...

  15. Barry Melton The Guitarist
    (pp. 194-209)

    I grew up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, New York. In those days, it seemed like half of Brighton’s population were remnants of the American Communist Party. Both my parents were members of the Party, so I was what they called a “red diaper baby.” I used to deliverDaily Workerswith my brother every day.

    My parents were very sincere, idealistic people. You couldn’t just label them as communists. To do that is to give a simple label to a whole constellation of beliefs about civil rights, human rights, fairness, the ability of labor to organize and have a voice....

  16. David Meɠɠyesy The Linebacker
    (pp. 210-224)

    I didn’t think I’d write a book when I was growing up. My father wasn’t encouraging in that direction. He came from Hungary around the turn of the century when he was nine. He was able to get an eighth-grade education. Then he went on the road as a hobo, riding the rails all around the country to look for work. Eventually he got to Cleveland, where he put himself through night school and became a tool and die maker. He got married. I have an older sister and an older brother. My mother died four months after I was...

  17. Verandah Porche The Queen of Poesie
    (pp. 225-243)

    My name was Linda Jacobs. “When I go to sleep, I never count sheep, I count all the charms about Linda,” that was the song every child got named by in 1945.

    I changed it in college. I was reading Doris Lessing and sitting on my front porch, thinking that I needed a whole new personality. Most eighteen-year-olds need a whole new personality. My friends and I were all giving each other names, because we were playful and kooky and full of ourselves. One friend was Ernest Conversation. Another was Luke Warm.

    I wanted to have a name that seemed...

  18. Doris Krause & Barry Levine Allison’s Story
    (pp. 244-266)

    In May 1970 college campuses across the country erupted in protest following President Richard Nixon’s announcement that America had unilaterally extended the Vietnam War by invading Cambodia, a neutral country.

    One of the smallest protests against the invasion of Cambodia occurred at Kent State University, a generally conservative campus in Kent, Ohio. However, Governor James A. Rhodes, who was locked in a tight primary battle for the U.S. Senate, called out the National Guard to occupy the campus on May 2. Two days later, Guardsmen let loose a sixty-one-volley fusillade that killed four unarmed students and injured twelve others. None...

  19. Thanks
    (pp. 267-270)

    It never ceases to amaze me how generous complete strangers can be, and once someone sets aside time to see me for no reason other than the fact that I’ve asked, I’m always troubled when I can’t return the favor by including their comments. This happened with a number of people on this project, and although their words don’t appear in these pages, their wisdom was a powerful force in the shaping of this book.

    Jim Fouratt, Bruce Barthol, Gary “Chicken” Hirsch, Susan and Marty Carey, Happy Traum, Jan Barry, Bill Walton, Jack Weinberg, Bernardine Dohrn, Wolfe Lowenthal, Ben Chaney,...

  20. For Further Reading, Viewing, and Listening
    (pp. 271-276)
  21. Index
    (pp. 277-284)