Analysis of the ’60s Rambler

When I took out the first yellowed Rambler from the ‘60s, I was beyond excited. No other decade in American history is so famous for youth movements around social justice, equality, and peace. Just as I had hoped, in the ’60s-era Rambler you’ll find students grappling with thorny subjects like the Vietnam War, civil rights, and their own class privilege. Surprisingly few articles mention the counterculture, although several from the ‘70s did (see “Books!” and “Can a pyramid be powerful?”). 

In a short article from 1964, “From the Principal’s Desk: That Was The Year That Was,” the Bush principal expresses skepticism that the student body is socially conscious: “Social revolutions; the assassination of our president; a major earthquake in our newest state; the war on poverty…have any of these events of the 1963-64 school year touched us deeply or personally?” Nonetheless, as you’ll see below, at least some of The Rambler’s writers were passionate about social and political issues, and their work provides a frontline view of the sixties’ multiple revolutions. 

Civil rights:

The ‘60s Rambler marks the first time the paper grappled with race and racism in America. Before, the topic seemed nearly invisible in the paper, but with the heating up of the civil rights movement, the paper at last began to pay attention to the problem of white supremacy. The 1966 article “African School Headmaster Stimulates Integration Discussion” centers on Samuel Green, a headmaster of a school in Sierra-Leone. During his visit to Bush, he spoke passionately about the civil rights cause to two classes (Contemporary Thought and U.S. History), as well as at Chapel. Despite Green’s progressivism, parts of the article seem to put the burden of ending white supremacy on Black people. As the writer tells us, “The success of the movement is inevitable in Green’s estimation, but he expects both the whites and the Negroes to share the responsibility. The whites must want to educate the Negro so that he is able to assume a useful place in society and the Negro must respond.” The article ends with Green’s insight that America is a “fountain flowing deep and wide,” with different possibilities for justice, before cutting to the testimonies of two Bush students. One, a French exchange student, declares that Europe doesn’t have a problem with civil rights—but, strangely, also seems to condone some amount of bigotry. According to the student, “If the Parisians saw ten thousand or more members of any foreign race flooding into the city, they would be frightened and might feel helpless.”

Another article, this one from 1967, also centers on civil rights education. “CAMP: Exercise in Learning” is about the discussion session at Garfield that twelve Bush students attended. There, they were “‘indoctrinated’ in the feelings of the Negro, in particular, and the position he holds in this society.” The program, which included tutoring Harrison Elementary students, was a part of CAMP, or the Central Area Motivation Project. The first session was led by Randy Garrett, who was interested in countering stereotypes about Black people. The author sums up his perspective like this: “People, he said, often erroneously associate ALL Negroes with slavery, dope addiction and various other undesirable things. Thus, the Negro may have nothing to feel proud of, so he rejects his “black” heritage. He may fail, as well, in becoming a part of the “white” society.” Again, the article, while undoubtedly progressive for its time, has an undercurrent of victim-blaming.

The 1969 article “Clean As Dirt” centers on the first African-American studies course that was offered at Bush. The course covered “the treatment of the slaves, the economics of the Black race versus the White, segregation by the Jim Crow laws, Civil Rights, welfare for the Blacks, and the small antics of prejudice which arrive in everyday life,” and debunked myths about African-Americans. It’s evident that the class’s teacher made an indelible impression on her students. Still, there are a few offputting, or at least strange, digressions in the class profile. In what feels like a tangent, the author recounts how, throughout pop culture and history, the color black has been associated with evil, while the color white has been associated with purity. In a line that still confuses me, they explain where they got the title for this piece: “[Y]ou have heard about the white tornado or the white knight who makes everything “cleaner than dirt!” This may be a bit off, but think about it.” Whatever the author’s intentions, it’s uncomfortable that they perpetuate the white savior trope. 

It’s important to remember that The Rambler wasn’t immune from ordinary prejudice, even when it wasn’t talking about race. In fact, on the same page as “CAMP: Exercise in Learning” is a seemingly anodyne article containing an aside shocking to a modern audience. The piece, “Carnival Promises Excitement,” is about the planned Upper School carnival to raise money for the Social Service Committee. Among the attractions, it tells us, is a “slave auction where the services of some upper-classmen and faculty members are sold.” Several years later, in 1968, another article about the carnival again mentions the “slave auction,” which raised $89 that year. 

Politics and the Vietnam War:

The article that most directly touches on the Vietnam War, one of the flashpoints of the ‘60s, is “Vocal Viewpoint.” Although the 1964 article presents different students’ opinions on the war, it’s disappointingly one-note—all five students supported U.S. involvement in the region in some fashion. Overall, these students stress the importance of establishing democracy in the region, the rightful autonomy of the South Vietnamese people, the need to prevent the “domino effect,” and the moral imperative to honor and respect American troops. All these students, it must be said, have drunk the Kool-Aid of American jingoism—above all, they espouse faith in the U.S. military and political leadership (President Johnson). In response to criticism of the draft, one student writes, “But this is not the first time in history that loved ones have been parted by the horrors of war: the defense of freedom often requires bloodshed. The only course we can take is to support our boys, and to realize that they are in Viet Nam for a reason.”

Still, there’s another article from this period that arguably opposes communism even more forcefully. In the piece “Moral Re-Armament” from a 1965 Rambler, a student writes about the necessity of actively combating communism with a new, inspiring ideology. They write, “To face Communism, there must be an idea as big or bigger than it. Moral Re-Armament is an answer to the basic problems which exist in America and the world today: divorce, alcoholism, rioting, political corruption. It seeks to change the world.” Reflecting the social concerns of the time, they write that if young people adopted this “moral re-armament,” they wouldn’t need to drink or “turn to dope.”

There are other articles from this period that do more than just show us one student’s opinion on a particular topic—they strive to capture the sentiments of a broad cross-section of the student body. The 1967 article “Sad Showing in Current Events” tells us that the results of a survey taken by “most students of grades 7 through 12” were clear and disheartening. The survey asked students to identify 37 public figures, and the school average was 40%. The best known figures included the Vice President Hubert Humprehy and Illya Kuryakin, an actor on “The Man from UNCLE,” while Signor Montini—otherwise known as Pope Paul VI—was the least well-known. At the end of the humorous piece, the author reflects, “It is vital for everyone to have some knowledge of the people and organizations influencing our lives, making history and working throughout the world today. How can teenagers expect to accept the responsibilities of their country if they fail to recognize people running for government, foreign rulers and vital organizations?” Overall, this article reflects the newly socially conscious student body of the era. 

Another piece, “Political Shadings Brought to Light,” also highlights the result of a survey of the school. The 1968 poll of Bush students and faculty found that “The majority responding were against lowering the voting age. Rockefeller was the most popular “non-candidate” [in the 1968 presidential election] while opinions were about evenly split on whether to continue in Vietnam or withdraw.” Still, the article gets even more interesting when it delves into people’s written responses to the questions. Many students and teachers worried that 18 year olds were too immature or ignorant to have the right to vote. As one student succinctly put it, “The voting age should not be lowered to 18 because some one might not vote for the right one” (although when is that not a problem?) Still, to quote the article, “Other students felt that if an 18 year old can be sent to fight in Viet Nam, he should be able to vote.”

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