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All You Need is Love (or “How I Started the Center for the Study of the 1960s.”)

By Stephen McKiernan ’70

Steve McKiernan and Fred Thompson

Photo: Steve McKiernan and Fred Thompson, Minority Counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee (right), at the Ohio University-Lancaster Campus, 1974

The initiative to create the Center for the Study of the 1960s did not happen overnight. I have been deeply connected my entire life with the decade I grew up in, and this connection includes trying to better understand my generation, the personalities that helped shape those times, who I am and why I need to know more about my growing-up years. These years were, and still are, the times I loved best in my life.

In 1996, I began conducting interviews with major and minor personalities with the hope that one day this effort would result in an oral history book on the Boomer Generation. As a college administrator at three different universities over 30 years, I had access to many national speakers who came to campus to lecture on topics with historic overtones. These interactions ultimately pushed me toward doing oral history interviews myself. I interviewed U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy, civil rights leaders John Lewis and Julian Bond, and Vietnam veterans/leaders Joe Galloway, Jan Scruggs, Bobby Muller, Diane Carlson Evans and Phil Caputo. One interview led to many more, and between 1996 and 2013, I interviewed 275 unique individuals who played major roles in the defining movements of the times. They were writers, scholars, college presidents, Vietnam vets, activists, politicians, students, religious leaders and intellectuals. They often belonged to the anti-war movement, student protests on college campuses and the non-violent civil rights movements of the early to late 1960s, following in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. These movements became the models for the women's movement, the Native-American movement, the gay and lesbian movement, the environmental movement and so many more that have shaped our history as a nation. I was fortunate to interview many of these leading characters who represented the 1960s in all its complexity.

My interview strategy ensured that both conservative and liberal points of view were part of the learning process. You cannot become truly educated about a period in American history unless you represent perspectives of individuals whose lives differ in context and opinion. Interviews with people on the left such as Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, Paul Krassner, David Harris, Peter Coyote and Pete Seeger were as important as those of people on the right like Dr. Lee Edwards, David Horowitz, U.S. Rep. Steve Gunderson, Ed Feulner, Phyllis Schlafly and M. Stanton Evans.

The things that divide us are the things that unite us

Everyone's voice matters. Every interview I conducted began with the premise that the overall integrity of the views on the watershed events of the 1960s were centered in truth and on the interviewee's personal experience. Listening, not judging, is the foundation for learning about any era and this is particularly true of the 1960s. Listening to all views, especially the ones I disagreed with, helped me become a better listener. I learned that the things that divide us are the things that unite us, for when we truly listen to others, we become more educated in our opinions. For instance, Bobby Muller, a distinguished Vietnam veteran who strongly opposed the war was at odds with Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and the Johnson presidencies, and the architect of the Vietnam War. Yet, later in life, both were willing to listen to each other while agreeing that our involvement in Vietnam was a mistake.

When my interviews ended in 2013, I realized that transcribing 275 interviews was beyond my means, but what became most important was to preserve these interviews for historic purposes. My desire to publish an oral history book waned in comparison. I made contact with my alma mater — Harpur College of Arts and Sciences at Binghamton University — and met with Donald Nieman, now provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Binghamton, about the possibility of finding a home for my oral history interviews as well as my entire collection of books, magazines, records, memorabilia, framed items and posters from the Boomer Generation and the era when Boomers were young (1946-64). We discussed the idea of creating a Center for the Study of the Boomer Generation built around my collection. It was not until Provost Nieman introduced me to the Curtis Kendrick, dean of libraries, that a new center began to take shape that would be called the Center for the Study of the 1960s. This entity would become a digital center for research and scholarship, shifting its focus from the period when Baby Boomers were born to their early adult years (1960-75), which more clearly define the 1960s. Dean Kendrick and his staff, like Provost Nieman before them, have been so supportive in creating this new center, along with its shift in direction.

The Center for the Study of the 1960s

Like me, Dean Kendrick loves the exchange of ideas and quickly recognized the importance of my gift to research and scholarship. During our meetings, we began to work out a plan with input from his dynamic staff. David Shuster, director of library technology and special collections, laid the groundwork for digitizing the collection. The library raised funds to digitize the collection and make it accessible on the Center for the Study of the 1960s website. The center will preserve these interviews for many generations to come. My hope is that it will unite factions that were often divided in the tumultuous 1960s. The center will allow everyone to have a voice and provide a space in which we can disagree strongly and still be united in our shared history.

The educational potential for the center at a great university like Binghamton is exciting. I still plan to write a book linked to a small portion of my interviews, but first I want to guarantee that the interviews will be made available to students, faculty, alumni and scholars all over America. It is my hope that we find students on campus who want to be part of this center, and most importantly, that its resources become a forum for the exchange of ideas where scholars teach courses on the period and where the study of the 1960s inspires others, as it did to me, for a lifetime. The 1960s shaped who I am as a person and the direction I took in my life's work as a college administrator. My belief in helping others is central to my very being. I do this in honor of my late parents Robert and Marjorie Brown McKiernan, my late and great graduate school advisor at The Ohio State University, Roosevelt Johnson, and my beloved alma mater, Harpur College.

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Last Updated: 9/3/19