THE FIGHT for civil rights in the US had been sparked off in 1955 with the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery in the Southern US. There was increasing discontent amongst many black workers in the North who were living in the same cities as white workers yet were denied the same rights. Throughout the 1960s many cities like Detroit exploded in angry riots.
The murder of civil rights leader Martin Luther King in 1968 intensified that struggle. Many concluded that the fight for civil rights had to be escalated. The more militant ideas of groups like the Black Panther Party began to gain mass influence.
At the same time the US war against Vietnam was provoking opposition. In 1965 the US government had launched the biggest bombing campaign in history. In ten years more bombs were dropped on Vietnam than were used by all sides in the Second World War. Three million Vietnamese and Cambodians lost their lives. Many US soldiers became so sick of the war they killed, or 'fragged', their officers. The most powerful nation in the world was being beaten by a peasant guerrilla army.
The huge anti-war movement that saw tens of thousands surround the Pentagon inspired other movements, like the demand for women's liberation and gay rights. US society had been characterised in the 1950s by senator Joseph McCarthy's attacks on trade unionists and socialists through the House Un-American Activities Committee. But in the 1960s and early 1970s the tables had turned with people on the streets fighting back against the system.