I am in the US, and as I move around places to stay, I read whatever previous holidaymakers have left behind in our apartment. It makes for variety and unexpected choices. In our current accommodation, there is a book called Boom! by Tom Brokaw, which is described as ‘Voices of the Sixties, Personal Reflections on the ‘60s and Today’. Tom Brokaw is a famous US TV journalist - I saw him commenting on aspects of the Olympics on NBC - who is best known for writing about ‘The Greatest Generation’, the one that fought the Second World War. I find him sentimental and prone to cliché, and the same qualities spoil Boom! for me, which is a shame, given that he interviews many of the best-known names from the ‘60s.
He defines the period as beginning with the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and ending with the resignation of President Nixon in 1974. Within that definition, even I - such a youth, as you will see from my Gazette photo - qualify as a child of the era, since I was at university during Watergate. I am certainly its cultural child, and defend its advances. In the US - and this is largely the theme of the book - the ‘60s are still hotly contested, with the right blaming those years for much that is wrong today (entitlement culture, political correctness, moral relativism, drug addiction, general moral decline, and so on).
I will use two examples from the book about the advances made then, one in race relations and the other in gender equality - two clear improvements which came out of the unrest. As always, I am interested in the impact on lawyers and the law, and choose two symbolic stories. (There has been much talk in the press recently about plagiarism, and a high-profile Times and CNN journalist has been suspended for copying out someone else’s material for an article. I hereby loudly declare that these stories come from Tom Brokaw’s Boom!)
First 1960s story: The father of Stan Sanders, a black man growing up in Watts, a black working-class area of Los Angeles, worked in garbage disposal for the city. Stan went to school at Jordan, the large public high school in the middle of the community, which had a reputation for toughness. Not unnaturally, he was interested in the civil rights movement beginning to take root in the South. He heard Martin Luther King speak and told his teachers he didn’t want to be a doctor - the route his parents preferred - but rather a lawyer, since he wanted to do something in the community.
He went to Whittier College (Richard Nixon’s old university), won a Rhodes scholarship (the first black Rhodes scholar in 55 years), and then went to Yale Law School. The big law firms in Los Angeles were keen to take him on graduation, but he went to work for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, and then ran the Los Angeles offices of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights.
Second 1960s story: Muriel Kraszewski is a white woman from rural Minnesota who followed the 1950s’ rules for women - she took shorthand and typing, hoping to become a secretary, and then expected to get married and stay home with a family. She did just those things, but when her son went to school, she re-entered the job market. She found a job with a State Farm insurance office, and her efficiency and skills meant that she could more or less run the office in the agents’ absence. But when she applied to become an agent herself, she was turned down for the usual reasons women faced in those days - a woman can’t do this job, we can’t protect you when you are out, you don’t have the qualifications, whatever.
She went elsewhere, became a successful agent, and eventually went to the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, created in 1964, to file a claim. It wasn’t until 1988 that Kraszewski et al v State Farm was decided in her favour, and she won substantial compensation.
These are two symbolic stories about the advances of the 1960s and the use of law. They happen to be about the US because I am here at the moment, but they find their echo in the UK. We also have our law centre movement - always threatened with funding cuts - and our equal opportunities legislation, both with roots in 1960s ideology. They reflect the benefits which emerged from the upheavals of the time. That is why I defend it. Peace and love, man - they served us well (including in the field of the law).
Jonathan Goldsmith is secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents around a million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs