Beyond the Tie-Dye: Counterculture in Champaign-Urbana, 1965-1975 - January 24, 2012

When I have to restrain myself…

Have you ever been sitting in a class, listening to a teacher and just wishing everyone in the room could be making the same epic connection as you?

I had one of those experiences today in English. We are reading a book called <i>Ragtime</i> by E.L. Doctorow. It was written in 1974, so just at the end of the time our counterculture documentary wraps up. We were talking about this character Younger Brother, who puts on blackface and hangs out with this gang of black radicals who are threatening to blow up J.P. Morgan's art gallery in about 1913. Now, this didn't actually happen, but in our discussion we were talking about what Doctorow was trying to say about whites who were involved in black radical causes and whether they are real or posers. And that just took me into a land of counterculture thoughts.

In my seat I was jumping up and down, biting my tongue to keep from blathering on and on about how the dynamic between African Americans and whites in the counterculture era is one of the most interesting things that comes out in our script and in all the interviews we have.

The section about Project 500 has probably some of the most obvious examples of this. One of our Caucasian interviewees told a story that I think really sums it up in a unique way. She talks about how she was proud of her non-materialistic leanings, of not living in a fancy place, because she wanted to be outside the materialistic norm. And she talks about how confused she was by African Americans who were demanding better housing when she was so proud of the drafty conditions.

Clarence Shelley, one of our interviewees, summed it up the difference between the causes students were interested in really well:
<blockquote> "The Vietnam war, for example, was not a black issue at first. Black students’ concerns were much more personal. They wanted reactions and safeguards against violence, against police brutality, against students having demonstrations and sit-ins. If the issue didn't deal with a racial problem it didn't mean as much to them. Whereas the white kids were concerned about things like free speech. About, well, the war was a big one. The uses of recreational drugs, all that stuff. Whereas the black students’ concerns had much more to do with how they were treated, how they were accepted."</blockquote>

This is one of my favorite parts of being a producer for an oral history project. Everywhere you look things connect to what you are doing. It is in my English novel, my history class talking about the Vietnam war, a hymn in church that was written in 1970 and reflects some of the ideals of counterculture about peace; everywhere I go I see counterculture's influence!


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