Tag: ’60s

The ’60s, Our ’60s, Began Fifty Years Ago Yesterday

Nothing to do with rock & roll. Nothing to do with JFK.

It has to do with what happened in Greensboro, NC, the day before, February 1, 1960. Four young men–Ezell A. Blair Jr., David Richmond, Joseph McNeil and Franklin McCain–went to the lunch counter at the Woolworth’s department store near the school where they were underclassmen, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

The four sat down and awaited service. They ignored Woolworth’s policy of serving food only to African-Americans who remained standing or took it elsewhere. They defied North Carolina law and the Jim Crow culture which pervaded, indeed defined, the South of the United States. The four sat, unserved, from 4:30 in the afternoon until management closed the store, early, at 5:00.

You can find much written that dates the decade of upsurge, promise and change we call the Sixties from that day.

I’ll argue for the next day, February 2, 1960, 50 years ago yesterday.

That’s the day that really counts, because that morning David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, Ezell A. Blair Jr., and Franklin McCain went back to the lunch counter at the Greensboro Woolworth’s and sat down again. So did 21 other young men and four young women from traditionally Black schools in the area.

The next day, February 3, 63 of the 65 seats at the Woolworth’s counter were occupied and on February 4 a sit-in began at S.H. Kress, another department store, and the protesters had been joined by three white students from Woman’s College. At the same time racist whites in increasing numbers gathered to heckle and harass the disciplined and determined protesters.

On February 7, Black students in Winston-Salem and Durham, NC held sit-ins at lunch counters. On February 8, Charlotte, NC. On February 9, Raleigh, NC.

It took five long months before the Greensboro establishment caved in and ended segregation in dining facilities. Once the original burst of enthusiasm and defiance passed, it was a long hard slog for the ones who started it and the small core that had formed in the struggle. McCain recalls:

McNeil and I can’t count the nights and evenings that we literally cried because we couldn’t get people to help us staff a picket line.

But even as they undertook the long painful battle to bring the victory home, their example had spread the tactic of sit-ins to hundreds of localities, including solidarity protests at chain stores in the North and West. Even more important, their action in sitting down at that counter, and returning the next day had spread the determination to smash Jim Crow and fight for justice to the hearts of millions.

And the Sixties, our Sixties, were underway.

A version of this was posted here last year, and it is crossposted from Fire on the Mountain.


There’s been a lot of ink spilled on the death of Farrah Fawcett–even the august New York Times has more than half a page today. Like the rest of the mainstream media, it gingerly avoids the n-word: nipple. But nipples are why Farrah Fawcett signifies; she embodied quite an important cultural shift in US society.

I kinda stopped watching teevee before Charlie’s Angels came out, but I’ve never heard anyone argue that it was one of the great masterpieces of the medium or that, with better politics, the then FFM would have rivaled Vanessa Redgrave or Jane Fonda.

Cultural achievement was not why the red swimsuit poster became ubiquitous in the late ’70s. It was because you could see her nipples right through the damn fabric.

Observers have long noted that American males, the straight ones anyhow, tend to have deep-seated breast fixations, and psychiatrists and anthropologists and creative people in diverse artistic fields have responded in their own ways to this fact. But there have been changes within that general pattern.

In the decades before Farrah Fawcett arrived on the scene, the sexualization of breasts in film and photography was centered on the size of breasts and particularly on cleavage. Think Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield. Cleavage is fairly artificial, the product of confining clothing designed to produce it (or fake it). And it has nothing to with the actual erotic zones on the breasts. It emphasizes the preparation of the female as passive object for consumption by the male gaze.

But the claiming of sexual agency by women was a part of the ’60s upsurge and of the modern women’s movement born during it. The red swimsuit poster marked the mainstreaming of the nipple (and underscored the then-shocking symbolic dumping of painfully restrictive women’s undergarb enacted at the Miss America pageant less than a decade earlier).

This was, I’ll argue, a historic advance for materialism and for democracy. Nipples are, among other things, full of actual nerves which can carry actual sexual sensations. Even in guys. And pretty much everybody is born with them. Even guys.

I make no giant claims that Farah Fawcett ended the sexual objectification of women, nor even that the real advances in sexual enjoyment and equality she symbolized are solid-look what happened to Janet Jackson. But she deserves credit for the role she played, not the pussyfooting around we’ve been treated to since her death.

Crossposted from Fire on the Mountain.