(The following talk was delivered at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City on March 7, 2011, as a lecture in a series on "The 1960s: the Struggle for Justice Intensifies.")
Fifty years separate us, now, from the 1960s. For many who are college-age students, today, it all must seem like ancient history. And even for those of us who are old enough to have lived a part of our young lives in that decade, it seems a long time ago, also – and yet, at the same time, it seems like only yesterday.
Our memories fill up most frequently, I suppose, with two recollections of that time: the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. The first involved the abolition of the last remnants of that "peculiar" institution that had, at first, kept enslaved a portion of the population of the United States; and, then, even when slavery had ended, still used legal barriers, restrictions, and sometimes-brutal force to prevent a distinguishable minority of that population from having impartially secured equal rights before the law.