Summers of Hate

The class looks at what's changed in civil rights. And what hasn't.

When our class left Harvard," Suzanne R. Garment '67 says, "the country was in a state of urban crisis."

"Today," Garment says, the state of civil rights is "both better and worse."

Better, perhaps, because of the post-Voting Rights Act entry of many Blacks into the electorate, the growth of the Black middle and professional classes and the end of state-sanctioned discrimination in the South.

Worse, perhaps, because of what hasn't changed in 25 years. The class of'67 watched Watts burn the summer after its sophomore year, only to watch South Central burn just a month before its return to Cambridge this week. The Black underclass--like all people living in poverty in America--is now poorer, less educated and more likely to commit crime than 25 years ago.

As Garment, an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Resident Scholar, says, in some areas, "our problems are much deeper and more resistant than almost any of us imagined."


Garment's attitude was echoed last week by many of her classmates.

"Poverty, the absence of opportunity--the problems are vast," says Linda C. Dalton '67, now a professor of urban planning in California. "Now, even the ethnic mix itself is more complicated. It's a multiracial and more class-based problem."

And two questions--whom to blame and what to do next--now seem to be retaking the national stage they once dominated in the days of the Kerner Commission, the War on Poverty and the voter registration movement in the South.

Twenty-five years ago, the class of'67 did not answer these specific questions with one voice. But class members indicate that, on the broader issues of civil rights, they were in agreement.

"The class was extremely civil rights-minded and activist," says Richard Blumenthal '67, currently the Attorney General of Connecticut. "I re- call that for a number of marches in the South,busloads of Harvard students went down."

"The country was in the middle of a very broadand deep evil," Boston Globe columnist Thomas N.Oliphant '67 says. "Public opinion...had swungtotally against segregation."

Today, however, the evil that focused the classand the nation on civil rights has been confused.In the '60s, Southern white violence againstBlacks brought to public attention what GunnarMyrdal called the "American dilemma"--the conflictbetween America's democratic values and itstreatment of Blacks.

Several '67 alumni specifically remembered the1963 Birmingham, Ala. march in which Eugene "Bull"Connor unleashed dogs on Black children. Classmembers say this event, which happened duringtheir first year at the College, illustrated thatdilemma in a startling way.

But now, the clear-cut nature of the civilrights struggle has been muddled by thedifficulties of fighting poverty anddiscrimination in a tight economy.

Many in the class say Americans feel ambivalentabout affirmative action, which is seen asunfairly favoring one group in a supposedlymeritocratic society. Political rhetoric about"special interests" has only exacerbated theconfusion.

"We had the exhilaration of doing somethingright," says Harold A. McDougall '67, formerpresident of the campus Civil Rights CoordinatingCommittee, and author of the forthcoming BeyondCivil Rights. "That's not the paradigm fortoday."