what happened in the 70's?

You remember that I have suggested that there are three periods of modern UU history:  1961-69 (Liberalism Ascendent), 1969-2008 (also known as the Wilderness Years) and 2009-Present (Now).

I have been reading some about the period of 1969 to 1980.  In US history, it is the period of Nixon, Ford and Carter.  In UU history, it is the Presidencies of Robert West, Paul Carnes, who died in office and Gene Pickett, who filled out his term and was then re-elected in 1981.  

As I read about the Robert West period (in Warren Ross's The Promise and the Premise) and in Tom Owen-Towle's biography of Eugene Pickett (Borne on a Wintry Wind), there is a palpable sense of horror and shame.  It seems that the aftermath of the Black Empowerment Controversy had released into our collective body a toxic brew of poisons.  We went into a financial crisis; the free spending days of Dana Greeley and Liberalism Ascendent) caught up with us.  Relationships between UUA entities like the Board and the Staff and the Ministers soured and became confrontative.  There was a lot of bad behavior in a lot of places.

I have been arguing for a long time now that we have to see the Black Empowerment Controversy as our own drama of participation in a much larger social and political "counter-revolution" exemplified by the election of Richard Nixon.  Part of that counter-revolution was the crackup of the Integrationist coalition on the Left, splitting between radicals and liberals.

In the aftermath, I sense a lot of anger in the history, as UU's absorbed the shock of defeat, some of which was self-inflicted.  It was a grieving process and anger and recrimination are parts of grief.  Who was to blame?  Those who were too radical?  Those who were too moderate?  Those who were prophetic?  Those who were protective of the institutions?  

Early in the 70's, there was the confrontation between the UUA and the Nixon administration over the publication by Beacon Press of the Pentagon Papers.  This was the second great intervention by the UUA in national events.  And what a difference!  We had gone to Selma in a bold move to advance a great cause, which turned out to be successful, as the Voting Rights Act passed.  Now, we were on the defensive, threatened by prosecution, visited by the FBI, feeling the weight of the US government against us.  

Who has good memory of this era?  What did it feel like?  What were the conflicts, and who was on what side?  What were the camps?  What are good sources of information?  

I was not active in Unitarian Universalism at this point, myself, and am curious.

Help me out here. 


  1. I was in junior high and high school in the 70's, seeing things on a more local level. I felt so at home in our UU church, we felt like we owned the building. Rev. Sommerfeld was the perfect combination of intellectually stimulating and warmly human. LRY conferences around the state opened up horizons in a few different ways, some a bit of a stretch, but I was blissfully unaware of all the sorts of things you've written about here. I would guess a lot of adults were active and aware more on the local level, too.


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