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American History 2--HIST 2112 (OER): Chapter 28: The Unraveling

American Yawp Chapter Summary

On December 6, 1969, an estimated 300,000 people converged on the Altamont Motor Speedway in Northern California for a massive free concert headlined by the Rolling Stones and featuring some of the era’s other great rock acts.1 Only four months earlier, Woodstock had shown the world the power of peace and love and American youth. Altamont was supposed to be “Woodstock West.”2

But Altamont was a disorganized disaster. Inadequate sanitation, a horrid sound system, and tainted drugs strained concertgoers. To save money, the Hell’s Angels biker gang was paid $500 in beer to be the the show’s “security team.” The crowd grew progressively angrier throughout the day. Fights broke out. Tensions rose. The Angels, drunk and high, armed themselves with sawed-off pool cues and indiscriminately beat concert-goers who tried to come on the stage. The Grateful Dead refused to play. Finally, the Stones came on stage.3

The crowd’s anger was palpable. Fights continued near the stage. Mick Jagger stopped in the middle of playing “Sympathy for the Devil” to try and calm the crowd: “Everybody be cool now, c’mon,” he plead. Then, a few songs later, in the middle of “Under my Thumb,” eighteen-year-old Meredith Hunter approached the stage and was beaten back. Pissed off and high on methamphetamines, Hunter brandished a pistol, charged again, and was stabbed and killed by an Angel. His lifeless body was stomped into the ground. The Stones just kept playing.4

If the more famous Woodstock music festival captured the idyll of the sixties youth culture, Altamont revealed its dark side. There, drugs and music and youth were associated not with peace and love but with anger, violence, and death. Likewise, while many Americans in the 1970s continued to celebrate the political and cultural achievements of the previous decade, a more anxious, conservative mood grew across the nation. For some, the United States had not gone nearly far enough to promote greater social equality; for others, the nation had gone too far, unfairly trampling the rights of one group to promote the selfish needs of another. Onto these brewing dissatisfactions the 1970s dumped the divisive remnants of a failed war, the country’s greatest political scandal, and an intractable economic crisis. It seemed as if the nation was ready to unravel. Read more about Chapter 28 in the American Yawp.

Things to Consider

Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. What factors turned Americans against the Vietnam War?
  2. Why did President Nixon resign?
  3. American culture fragmented during this time; what subcultures emerged?
  4. How was the sexual revolution manifested in court cases?
  5. What fundamental changes occurred to the U. S. economy during this era?

Learning Objectives and Assessment

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Identify key events that define change over time in a particular place or region, and identify how change occurs over time
  • Recognize a range of viewpoints in historical narratives
  • Understand the dynamics of change over time
  • Distinguish between historical facts and historical interpretations
  • Seek a variety of sources that provide evidence to support an argument about the past
  • Evaluate a variety of historical sources for their credibility, position, significance, and perspective

Course Objectives

  • The student will understand the impact of the Cold War on U.S. society and U.S. international politics.
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