‘Rabble’ Rouses Interest in 1960s Language

English professor combs archives across the country to document 1960s social movements.

(This article by Caroline Collier ’98 originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of “TCU Magazine.”)

Brad Lucas was born right after the Days of Rage, a 1969 spectacle in Chicago where frustrated protesters from the hippie counterculture staged a violent confrontation with police. Even though the associate professor of English was too young to understand then, the protest signaled a turning point in tone for the social change movement.

Photo of protest buttons from 1960s

Courtesy of SDS Online Archives

Around the same time, scholars were conceiving a new field, the rhetoric of social protest. Pre-1960s rhetorical analysis focused on traditional forms of public communication, such as formal speeches, said Lucas, who specializes in the academic field. “The rabble with their signs … wasn’t considered worthy.”

Television coverage in the 1960s changed the ways protesters conveyed their ideals. Scholars in rhetoric have since used the decade as a case study to expand understanding of how nontraditional political groups acquire influence over societal evolution.

Ideologies of the decade’s political groups ran the gamut from women’s liberation and racial justice to anti-imperialism and communist economics. But as wider society abandoned the groups’ causes, internal dissension flared over several points, including whether any measure of violence would be tolerated and, if so, what its limits would be.

Lucas is mapping library archives across the country to find relics of the 1960s New Left, a social movement led by college students that promoted ideals of peace and equality across races, nationalities and genders.

By working through a growing but haphazard collection of public speeches, rally flyers, crumbs of meeting notes and forgotten newspaper coverage, Lucas hopes to contextualize the New Left’s shift in messaging from nonviolent idealism to calling for physical destruction, mostly of state-owned property.

Most of the professor’s research focuses on the communication strategies of two protest movements. One is the Students for a Democratic Society, a group dominated by white college students that took part in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. The other is the Black Panther Party, the mostly black group that electrified the 1960s with its anti-capitalist, anti-racist platform, social service offerings and armed protection of black communities from perceived police violence.

Read more in “TCU Magazine.”