The best books on how we made change in the 1960's

Who am I?

Over the past 50 years, I've been one of those “tenured radicals” the right-wing loved to bash. But before that, during the 1960s, I worked, often full-time, in the social movements that did change America: civil rights, anti-war, feminism. I was older, so I became a “professor-activist.” As a teacher, I applied what I had learned in the movements to reconstruct ideas about which writers mattered—women as well as men, minorities as well as whites: Zora Neale Hurston, Frederick Douglass, Adrienne Rich as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway. Using that principle, I led a team that created a very successful collection, The Heath Anthology of American Literature.     


I wrote...

Our Sixties: An Activist's History

By Paul Lauter,

Book cover of Our Sixties: An Activist's History

What is my book about?

My memoir, Our Sixties, is a social history of the 1960s activities in which I was lucky enough to participate: for instance, Mississippi Summer in 1964, the Selma-Montgomery March, Students for a Democratic Society, draft counseling, demonstrating, and resistance to oppose the war on Vietnam, the founding of Resist in 1967 and of The Feminist Press in 1970, the GI anti-war movement. While I received my Ph.D. (in literature) in 1958, I got my political education working in the Movement I describe—with all its joys and warts—in Our Sixties. I came to these challenges ill-prepared, often scared and ignorant, but Movement people taught me unstintingly and well. My book is an effort to share their wisdom and hopes. 

The books I picked & why

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Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC

By Faith S. Holsaert (editor), Martha Prescod Norman Noonan (editor), Judy Richardson (editor), Betty Garman Robinson (editor), Jean Smith Young (editor), Dorothy M. Zellner (editor)

Book cover of Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC

Why this book?

Fifty-five stories of dedication, terror, rage, and faith make up Hands on the Freedom Plow. These narratives by women, black and white, describe their devotion to the activist Civil Rights work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC—“snick.” I found myself powerfully drawn to accounts with which I was familiar—door-to-door organizing, singing meetings in the hot Mississippi summer, police and Klan assaults, jail time, but above all the solidarity of women (and men) fervent about the cause of achieving “freedom now.” Brief historical overviews of legendary 60s campaigns knit these accounts, as do the short bios that trace the enduring work—as singers, lawyers, preachers, organizers—of these women over the past 50 years.   

Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC

By Faith S. Holsaert (editor), Martha Prescod Norman Noonan (editor), Judy Richardson (editor), Betty Garman Robinson (editor), Jean Smith Young (editor), Dorothy M. Zellner (editor)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Hands on the Freedom Plow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Hands on the Freedom Plow, fifty-two women--northern and southern, young and old, urban and rural, black, white, and Latina--share their courageous personal stories of working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement. The testimonies gathered here present a sweeping personal history of SNCC: early sit-ins, voter registration campaigns, and freedom rides; the 1963 March on Washington, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the movements in Alabama and Maryland; and Black Power and antiwar activism. Since the women spent time in the Deep South, many also describe risking their lives through beatings…

On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail

By Charles E. Cobb Jr.,

Book cover of On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail

Why this book?

In a clever move, Charlie Cobb uses the form of a travel guide—I love it better than a Lonely Planet—to introduce the events and people of the 1960s Civil Rights struggles. An active participant, Cobb takes us into, behind, and around the sit-ins, the formation of SNCC, campaigns for voting rights, Mississippi Summer of 1964, and other day-by-day battles for Civil Rights. We meet close up and learn about the work of the young people, many unknown and unsung, whose determination and daring carried the Movement forward. And, yes, the book also provides many pictures and documents, as well as a “guided tour” of the homes, churches, shops, and bars where the real action happened.   

On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail

By Charles E. Cobb Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On the Road to Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning journalist Charles E. Cobb Jr., a former organizer and field secretary for SNCC (Student Non violent Coordinating Committee), knows the journey intimately. He guides us through Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, back to the real grassroots of the movement. He pays tribute not only to the men and women etched into our national memory but to local people whose seemingly small contributions made an impact. We go inside the organizations that framed the movement, travel on the "Freedom Rides" of 1961, and hear first-person accounts about the events that inspired Brown…

Making History/Making Blintzes: How Two Red Diaper Babies Found Each Other and Discovered America

By Mickey Flacks, Dick Flacks,

Book cover of Making History/Making Blintzes: How Two Red Diaper Babies Found Each Other and Discovered America

Why this book?

Mickey and Dick Flacks enjoyed a 60-year marital and political partnership that featured blintzes along with activism. Their joint memoir traces a century of American left history as they and their families created and lived it. Raised in the rich but insulated culture of the communist “old left” in the Bronx and Brooklyn, these founding figures of the "new left,” helped construct a post-sixties progressive movement in a once-conservative region of California. They have been trailblazers in the struggles for affordable housing, and leaders and mentors—including mein the on-going efforts to democratize higher education. Their activist left perspective on American possibilityunimaginable for too many Americansbelongs on our bookshelves. 

Making History/Making Blintzes: How Two Red Diaper Babies Found Each Other and Discovered America

By Mickey Flacks, Dick Flacks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Making History/Making Blintzes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Making History/Making Blintzes is a chronicle of the political and personal lives of progressive activists Richard (Dick) and Miriam (Mickey) Flacks, two of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). As active members of the Civil Rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960s, and leaders in today's social movements, their stories are a first-hand account of progressive American activism from the 1960s to the present.

Throughout this memoir, the couple demonstrates that their lifelong commitment to making history through social activism cannot be understood without returning to the deeply personal context of their family history-of…

Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War

By Howard Bruce Franklin,

Book cover of Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War

Why this book?

Want to understand today’s America? Noam Chomsky, Dan Ellsberg, Jane Anne Phillips, Kim Stanley Robinson, John Dower all recommend Crash Course, Bruce Franklin’s 20th book. Bruce went from working on tugboats during the bloody war for control of New York Harbor to flying as Air Force intelligence officer and Arctic navigator. Then he became a major figure in "revolutionary" movements of the sixties and seventies, getting fired from his tenured job. FBI documents reveal efforts “neutralize” him, including framing him for various crimes. This book discloses some of his actual underground activities, including helping to set up a Vietnam deserter network in France. As exciting as a thriller novel, Crash Course rewards readers with its deep analysis of modern American history. 

Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War

By Howard Bruce Franklin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Crash Course as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Growing up during the Second World War, H. Bruce Franklin believed what he was told: that America’s victory would lead to a new era of world peace. Like most Americans, he was soon led to believe in a world-wide Communist conspiracy that menaced the United States, forcing the nation into a disastrous war in Korea. But once he joined the U.S. Air Force and began flying top-secret missions as a navigator and intelligence officer, what he learned was eye-opening. He saw that even as the U.S. preached about peace and freedom, it was engaging in an endless cycle of warfare,…

Voice Lessons

By Alice Embree,

Book cover of Voice Lessons

Why this book?

Alice Embree’s story features growth and change. From a home-town girl in a once-sleepy college town, Austin, she becomes an early Students for a Democratic Society activist, a participant in the best—and worst—of SDS campaigns, a central worker—first typist, then writer and printer—in influential underground papers like Rat and especially The Rag. Embree also supported Latin-American progressives, especially in Chile. Most powerfully, she becomes a fierce and energetic trailblazer in the women’s liberation movement and the many activities that movement continues to open for all of us, even in deep red states like her native Texas.  Important for Americans to read, especially those who cannot imagine that girl and mother next door is a Democrat, much less—gasp!—a still-active Socialist.  

Voice Lessons

By Alice Embree,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Voice Lessons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Voice Lessons explores the rich personal and political terrain of Alice Embree, a 1960s activist and convert to the women's liberation movement of the 1970s, bringing a woman's perspective to a transformational time in US history. This riveting memoir traces the author's roots in segregated Austin and her participation in efforts to integrate the University of Texas. It follows her antiwar activism from a vigil in front of President Lyndon Johnson's ranch in 1965 to a massive protest after the shootings at Kent State in 1970. Embree's activism brought her and the Students for a Democratic Society into conflict with…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in activists, SNCC, and Texas?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about activists, SNCC, and Texas.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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