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The People of This Generation: The Rise and Fall of the New Left in Philadelphia

Paul Lyons
288 pages, 22 illustrations, $39.95 cloth

At the heart of the tumult that marked the 1960s was the unprecedented scale of student protest on university campuses around the world. Identifying themselves as the New Left, as distinguished from the Old Left socialists who engineered the labor protests of the 1930s, these young idealists quickly became the voice and conscience of their generation.

“The People of This Generation” is the first comprehensive case study of the history of the New Left in a Northeast city. Paul Lyons, a historian at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey, examines how campus and community activists in Philadelphia interacted with the urban political environment, especially the pacifist Quaker tradition and the rising ethnic populism of police chief and later mayor Frank Rizzo.

Moving away from the memoirs and overviews that have dominated histories of the period, Lyons uses this detailed metropolitan study as a prism for revealing the New Left’s successes and failures and for gauging how the energy generated by local activism attracted citizens to its causes.

The diversity of colleges in this unique metropolitan area allow for rich comparisons of distinctly different campus cultures, and Lyons shows how both student demographics and institutional philosophies determined the pace and trajectory of radicalization. Turning his attention off campus, Lyons highlights the significance of the antiwar Philadelphia Resistance and the antiracist People for Human Rights—Philadelphia’s most significant New Left organizations.

Combining in-depth archival research, rich personal anecdote, and insightful treatment of the ideals that propelled student radicalism, “The People of This Generation” offers a moving history of urban America during this turbulent decade.

Originally published on June 12, 2003