Over the past two years, students have increasingly taken to the streets to protest a range of issues, including Donald Trump as president, tolerance of gun violence, and now climate change inaction. This themed post on podcasts covering post-World War II student protest has been inspired by the Backstory podcast’s recent episode (#236) “Teen Activists: A History of Youth Politics and Protest.” Here we briefly outline a few podcast episodes and additional sources you can integrate into your US history classrooms on post-World War II student protesters in high school and college.
Tags: Civil Rights Movement, Student Protest, Activism, 1960s, 1970s, Campus Unrest, Teenage Activism, Vietnam War, Anti-Racism, Women, Civil Rights, Equality, Leesburg, Georgia, Protest, Women’s History, Victim, American History, Oral History, Youth Activism, Free Speech, Columbia University, Tinker v. Des Moines, Free Speech, Mary Beth Tinker
Episode #0236: Teen Activists: A History of Youth Politics and Protest
Release Date: 3/29/2019
Hosts: Ed Ayers, Nathan Connolly, Joanne Freeman, Brian Balogh
Episode Link & Transcript: https://www.backstoryradio.org/shows/teen-activists/
Narrative/Conversational/Academic The episode includes five different segments on student protests, including: “The Legend of Barbara Johns and the Moton High Strike” (1951), two segments on student protests before the 20th century, the “Froebel School Strikes of 1945” in Gary, Indiana with white students striking to remove students of color, and “Standing Up” featuring an interview with a recent Lakota pipeline protester.
Notes: Kera Lovell: What is great about this series is that is intended to be timely, making it the antidote to accusations that the field of history is not relevant to contemporary political issues. The show also capitalizes on a range of spectacular historians to give insight into these issues. This also means that it brings the episode topics from the past up to the present day which might not be of interest to you. The style of the show is more conversational between historians reflecting on their own experiences participating in or seeing protests on campus, so having students listen with a set of guiding questions will help keep them in track.
Episode: Revolution Starts on Campus
Series: Heat and Light
Release Date: 8/27/2018
Host: Phillip Martin
Episode Link (No Transcript): https://heatandlightpod.com/revolution-starts-on-campus/
The episode focuses on the racial tensions surrounding the construction of a segregated gym that sparked the student takeover of Columbia University in 1968. Host Phillip Martin speaks with scholars Stefan Bradley and Michael Kazin about how the takeover took place and inspired other major protests that year such as the Democratic National Convention. More from Heat and Light on the guests:
“Both scholars were student organizers: Kazin orchestrated a takeover of Harvard University in the ‘60s, and Bradley combatted racial discrimination at Gonzaga University. Bradley was also on the ground in Ferguson, Missouri, among the young people protesting the killing of Michael Brown. He reflects on what current movements can learn from the protests of 1968.”
See our post on assigning this specific episode HERE.
Episode: Leesburg Stockade Girls
Series: Story Corps
Release Date: 1/8/2019
Host: Jasmyn Morris
Narrative/Oral History Interview/Reflection This podcast focuses on the stories of some members of the Leesburg Stockade Girls – a group of young teenage girls jailed in 1963 for challenging segregation. Held in an old Civil War prison with little food and no contact with their parents, the women reflect back on their traumatic experiences.
Episode: The Schoolhouse Gates
Series: Make No Law
Release Date: 1/31/2018
Host: Ken White
Narrative/Oral History Interview/Reflection In late 1965, a 13-year-old student named Mary Beth Tinker wore a black armband to school to protest the Vietnam War. Tinker was suspended, her family sued, and her case was ultimately taken to the Supreme Court which ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines that the school had violated her rights to freedom of expression. The episode includes both interviews with Tinker as well as information on the broader historical context and legacy of this important legal case.
Notes: Kera Lovell: This is my favorite pick in this line up for assigning in a US history classroom because it has the most extensive discussion of the greater significance of this protest on American law and society. The podcast episode brings the topic up to date through a lens of constitutional law, while opening up interesting questions about how the internet shapes the spatial/legal context of student protest.
Possible Discussion Questions:
Why were students protesting?
Were student protesters treated differently than adults? Use evidence to support your argument.
Describe the experience of protest. Was it organized or chaotic, did it require fashion or body movement, etc. How and why?
How are the issues of free speech, the Vietnam War, and anti-racism linked in these protests?
Any of these episodes could spark an excellent discussion/reflection paper on how future historians will analyze student protest today. What primary sources will they look for? How will these sources be different than sources we currently use today to analyze student protests?
Debate: In the majority opinion of Tinker v. Des Moines, Justice Abe Fortas stated that “[neither] students nor teachers should shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Should students today leave their rights to free speech at the schoolhouse gates?
Other Relevant Sources:
Black Perspectives: Online Forum, “A History of Student Activism” (articles by historians Dara Walker, Tess Bundy, Aaron Fountain, Jon Hale, and Kera Lovell: https://www.aaihs.org/online-forum-a-history-of-student-activism/
Books to Read: A bibliography on the history of postwar student protest in the US, including Gael Graham’s Young Activists (2006): https://libguides.wustl.edu/c.php?g=844829&p=6072351
Civil Rights Movement Digital Archive: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Digital Archive: https://snccdigital.org/
1960s/1970s Digital Archive: Berkeley Revolution Digital Archive with small collections of information/sources on a variety of student:
Article on Leesburg, GA Teenage Girl Civil Rights Movement Activists: Donna Owens, “Stolen Girls,” Essence Magazine: https://www.slideshare.net/keruhluval/stolen-girls
Documentary: PBS, Freedom Riders: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomriders/
Activist History Syllabus: The #CharlottesvilleSyllabus created by UVA graduate students: https://medium.com/@UVAGSC/the-charlottesville-syllabus-9e01573419d0
Articles on recent student protests: The Conversation:
Primary Source: Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/393/503
Article on Mary Beth Tinker (Tinker v. Des Moines): Bianca Sanchez, “The Young Anti-War Activists Who Fought for Free Speech at School”: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/students-black-armbands-and-supreme-court-case-paved-way-parkland-kids-180971322/#EekxZmeSxBcicXaJ.99
Black Past‘s collection of sources on the Greensboro Sit-Ins (with links to articles/sources on other protest movements):
Film: Walkout (2006) on how a teacher mentors a group of Chicano high school students protesting racism in Los Angeles public schools in 1968: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0452703/