In October 1969, Atlanta held
mayoral elections for candidates Rodney Cook, a moderate
Republican, and Sam
Massell. Horace Tate, the only African American who entered
the race, did not stand for election during the
primaries. When electors tallied the votes, Massell triumphed
as Atlanta’s first Jewish mayor with Maynard
Jackson, who in 1973 would become the city’s first
African American mayor, as vice mayor.
this WSB clip, filmed on the eve of the 1969 election, members
of the organization Students
for a Democratic Society (SDS) hold a press conference
to denounce candidates for what they viewed as unfair participation
in the democratic process. The commentator targeted his criticism
towards Cook, whom they accuse of catering to the needs of the
white business owners that provided the financial backing for
his campaign. Although Cook is named specificially, the spokesperson
makes clear that he feels Atlanta's business elite influenced
both candidates. Rather than being chosen by the people, the SDS
member argues that "the only choices you have are the people the
fat cats put up."
Wearing a button depicting a raised fist, and speaking with
confidence, the SDS representative evokes the militant rhetoric
of such organizations as the Black
Panther Party. SDS held its first meeting in 1960, and
expanded across the nation’s colleges and universities to include
over one thousand members by its last convention in 1969. Like
many other protest organizations of the 1960s, SDS members operated
under the philosophy
of nonviolence, but soon became jaded about this
strategy and frustrated with the slow pace of change. Like Civil
Rights Movement activists, SDS protested
the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam
War, the influence of the wealthy on national politics, racism,
disparities among all types of Americans.
Unlike civil rights demonstrators, however, SDS members were
largely products of the Establishment they claimed to protest. They
were mostly white, middle-to-upper-class college students. Bernadine
Dohrn, who worked as a lawyer, and her husband Bill
Ayers, were both leaders of SDS who broke
off from the organization in the 1970s to form a militant
faction called the Weather
Underground. Although the two
had been featured on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for bombing
the Pentagon and the Capitol building, authorities dropped
all charges against them when they turned themselves in
1979. By the 1990s, the two had established successful careers.
The ultimate collapse of SDS and the nation’s subsequent forgetfulness
of the organization may represent the commoditization of
dissent in recent American history: how American liberalism, while
seeming to act against capitalism, ultimately perpetuates capitalism.
Integration has, since 1969, been labeled by many people as a
success in Atlanta. While SDS did not survive, its spirit, arguably,
has been successful to the extent that the project of integration
continues in America. Its influence can also be seen today in
Atlanta’s racial and ethnic diversity.
Resources (click here)
Printable Version (click here)
1. What is Marxism? How did this theory influence the SDS members?
2. Why do you think SDS collapsed in the late 1970s? Do you think
that student organizations still play influential roles in American
society? Can you provide examples from outside the United States
of the prominence or impact of student organizations?
3. How did the image and rhetoric of the Black Panthers influence
the white student members of the SDS? Do you think that the white
students were justified in their imitation of Panther style?
Take it to the Streets!
In American popular music, white artists such as the rapper Eminem
(Marshall Mathers) and the singer Elvis Presley have been
criticized for copying the lyrical and gestural styles of African
American artists. However, both of these singers grew up in
multicultural environments (Detroit, Michigan, and Tupelo, Mississippi)
alongside African Americans, Native Americans, and/or Latinos. So,
how do we determine who has a legitimate claim to forms of American
music? Is the question of legitimacy or authenticity even
relevant? Choose one of the musical forms in the
list below, and research its history, including its appearance in
literature, film, and other popular media. Then write a brief
essay about whether the form you have selected is multicultural
Filmi Music (Bollywood Films)
Rythm and Blues (R&B)
Writers: Mark Anderson, Lee Fletchall, Sarah
Hong, Chris Houck, and Erik Smallwood
in Professor Barbara McCaskill's AFAM/ENGL 3230 class (Survey
of African American Literature) at The University of Georgia,
and Researchers: Lauren Chambers, Christina L. Davis, Aggie
Ebrahimi, Courtney Thomas, and Professor Barbara McCaskill
Site Designer: William Weems
Freedom on Film is not responsible
for the content of external web sites.