Alexis Jade Ferguson
July 1776, a “Committee of Five” men signed the Declaration of Independence, asserting America’s dispassion with King George III’s many infractions against the 13 colonies and advocating that “all men were created equal.” However, the daybreak of freedom and equality was one that did not come without a cost. Since the 1960s, the emergence of social and political activism inspired many Americans to reconsider the definition of freedom itself and whom truly enjoyed the fruits of liberty. Contrary to many Enlightenment ideals that all men had the natural rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” many citizens felt that only a small class of racially-identical individuals were given those liberties in the twentieth century. The foundations upon which the nation was built upon—democracy and the white power structure—were being tested by new groups of racial as well as ethnic minority groups. Major civil rights movements, such as those of blacks, Mexican, Asian-Americans and the LGBTQ+ community, began to emerge on the political scene. Almost sixty years later, the Silent and Baby Boomer generations have come out and spoken about their experiences living during the civil rights era—a time of great tension between the United States government, its people and foreign nations. Many people with ties to Bonita Vista High School reflected on their struggles living in a time period during which the U.S. was on the brink of change as well as swamped by an ambience of fear and partisanship among its citizenry.
“I think the civil rights movements made people reflect inwardly and stop their own stances in this world and their stances on the issues within the United States in terms of equality. I think it had a profound effect on people at that time. Some changed for the better while some didn’t seem to care and held ever stronger onto their convictions of superiority,” Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher Don Dumas said.
However, many people were inspired to fight for their civil rights. Father of junior Samuel Saenz Samuel G. Saenz, was born in Alice, Texas in 1933. He was a migrant laborer at the age of 18 before he was first drafted into the Korean War (1950-1953). Saenz then married and began work in the defense industry as an electrical engineer. After being introduced to the African-American civil rights movement, he was eager to join but fearful of the ramifications his involvement would have on his employment status.
Nevertheless, Samuel G. Saenz faced much racism during the civil rights era. According to Samuel G. Saenz, the affirmative action programs created during the 1960s, which were designed to increase minority college admissions and employment rates, made many of his friends and coworkers resent him for the benefits he received as a Latin-American.
“When riots broke out, protesters burned the entire city. I became affected by racism. I had an anger inside me. Why would I be, someone who has already been in the engineering field, all of a sudden subjected to discrimination? The people in power, in authority, were the ones who were hard core. You had to get past them. And it took higher level people to [break down the power structure],” Samuel G. Saenz said. “As a Latino, I had some benefits that black people did not have. We both fought the Korean and Vietnam war and had equal rights. It was just that many blacks decided to take up welding and plumbing while I wanted to have a profession as an engineer.”
Saenz believes that the civil rights movements during this time period were all manifested to combat the American system of capitalism. Similarly, Special Education instructor and father of junior Cherie Abramovitz Steven Edward Abramovitz, believes that these social and political movements against the government were overall justified. S. Abramovitz was born in Los Angeles in 1947. He was raised in a tolerant household and attended elementary, middle, and high schools predominantly comprised of Caucasian and Mexican-American students. Since the educational system he was exposed to did not separate students on the basis of race, he did not partake in any demonstrations protesting segregative policies.
“Where I grew up, we had this land grant area where some of the kids would make fun of the Mexican [children]. They had these big pants that didn’t fit them. Their parents got their clothes second-hand. I didn’t discriminate, nor did I take offense—it was just part of life. They were my friends,” S. Abramovitz said. “We only had one television in 1952. After 1957, however, there were more television stations so we were more aware of what was going on in the world. Other than that, we weren’t exposed to too much racism, but we did know about it since we read the newspapers.”
According to S. Abramovitz, most of the television during the 1960s portrayed protesters and demonstrators as anti-democratic. During the Vietnam War, there was much pressure for him to enlist in the military and he participated in various demonstrations on college campus, taking over the university administration building at one point.
“We were not very happy with our country’s position in the war. I thought that the government was lying to us. The North Vietnamese were being portrayed as villains. I felt that there was an injustice in drafting young men to fight this war. It wasn’t justified like World War II,” S. Abramovitz said. “During protests, people were destroying things so police officers had to keep the peace, other than that, the [government] should just stand back and let individuals protest.”
Abramovitz was not the only one who witnessed division in U.S. society during the twentieth century. Grandfather of junior Victoria Esquivel Clarence Singleton was born in 1931 in Mississippi. In 1949, he moved to Kansas city, where he found his first job in a small bakery called “The Blue Willow.” At the time, businesses, homes and schools in the South were all segregated by race.
“It was rough and tough back in those days. The 1930s were very hard times, working all day. Everything was different, including the air,” Singleton said. “The people who raised me died when I was 16 and I have been working for myself since then. I feel the same way about the government like the way I felt then. I don’t go around hating people because they are a different color. I was only taught to judge someone on the basis of good or bad.”
Before integration, Singleton was forced to walk to school every day. His school was comprised of only one to two rooms. In the 1960s, he worked for three years in the South, nine hours a day washing dishes. He earned twenty-five dollars every six days a week. However, Singleton is only one of many people who have faced struggles to reassert their civil rights. Today, many protests are lead by contemporary civil rights activists.
“I think the Women’s March and other modern day protests have the same role as the black civil rights movement and others during the 1960s era. Sure, there are media outlets out there that talk bad about them and say that they are pointless or that ‘Black Lives Matter’ is violent. But, they are doing a good job at spreading their own message and trying to counterbalance all the negative reports about them,” Dumas said. “For every person that is willing to miss work and put themselves in harm’s way by taking to the streets and participating in a demonstration or a protest, there are dozens that feel the same way they do about certain issues but may be are not able to take to the streets. But, they do vote. They do pay taxes and in other ways, make politicians beholden to them. Ultimately, I believe that demonstrations, whether they are peaceful or resort to violence, are instrumental; they are all useful and all necessary.”