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227 During the Cold War many aspersions were cast upon young, leftleaning activists of the 1930s, often made by former young radicals themselves. That should not eclipse what they believed, the policies they pursued, and the goals they sought at the time.Looking at the 1930s through the perspective of activist youth allows for a greater understanding of the decade as a time of uncertainty when anything seemed possible : the end of capitalism in America, the rejuvenation of free enterprise ; the spread of fascism, true political freedom; world peace, world war. During the decade, no one knew how it would all play out. Youth wanted to make sure they had a voice in the ultimate outcome because they believed their perspective was valid and because they wanted to make America live up to its promises.The 1930s, they therefore believed, was the opportune time to remake America politically, economically, and socially. It was activist, left-leaning youth who first recognized the potential for drastic change in America, seizing upon the desperation of Harlan County, Kentucky,coalminers in 1932 as the personification of economic deprivation. Rallying to the coalminers’ cause, young idealistic college students set out from New York City only to be met by the cruel reality of coal country’s brand of law and order. Regrouping, the organizers of the trek used the experience to establish youth-led organizations on the college campus, the most notable of which was the National Student League (NSL). The NSL and other student groups, like the Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID), found fertile ground on Conclusion 228 Conclusion academic quadrangles, especially those located in New York City, where they hoped to plant their roots for radical change. Their concern for Reed Harris’s academic freedom at Columbia University, emerging just one week after the Harlan County trip, found a ready audience among students chafing against the authoritarianism of college administrators. Their demands for more economic opportunity were thus coupled with demands for more freedom and democracy. Extrapolating from their personal experiences, supporters of the leftleaning groups began to expand their vision of what America should be from the college campus to the larger society and from New York City to the nation, all the while catalyzing a confluence between the local and national situations. The plight of the Scottsboro Boys highlighted the discrepancy between professed loyalty to freedom and equality and the reality of racism in America, unmasking the kind of hypocrisy they would not tolerate. In agitating for the Scottsboro Boys’ acquittal, they were fighting once again against the larger issues of discrimination and prejudice.This case allowed them a national platform upon which to base their calls for freedom, democracy, and equality. Yet the tenor of those calls was also determined by more immediate cases of prejudice, like those suffered by CCNY track star Welford Wilson. This constant pull between local and national events kept young activists’ ideology grounded upon pragmatic solutions at the same time they would brook no compromise with what they believed to be not only morally righteous positions, but those founded upon quintessential American ideals. In order to bring about the changes they desired, youth activists realized they would have to become political players and the only way to do that was to create larger, inclusive youth organizations to act as political lobbying groups. Such a conclusion coincided with the rising menace of fascism abroad, prompting youth to come together in forming popular front organizations where liberals, socialists, and communists worked together to promote peace as a way to ensure political, economic, and social freedom and equality.The resulting American Youth Congress, created in 1934, and American Student Union, established in 1935, were youth-led organizations that immediately began pressuring the New Deal Administration to do more for young people, basing their argument upon the premise that doing so would allow America to live up to its promise. It is true that membership in youth organizations represented only a small fraction of young people in the United States, but, as Joseph Lash argued, this is not a fair gauge of their influence because they became a motivating force in a wider coalition that recognized the great dangers con- Conclusion 229 fronting the country and the world.1 The synergistic outcome for activist youth was a fully formed worldview that sought to safeguard freedom, equality, democracy, and peace. Pressuring Congress for more appropriations for the National Youth Administration, making sure that agency provided equal opportunity for all...


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