Post-suburban expansion in California was marked by a generation of Baby Boomers whose ideals, interests, and business acumen shaped the Golden State into the economic and entertainment powerhouse that it is today. In the 1980s, the state of California was named the eighth-largest economy in the entire world. However, this massive economic explosion did not come without its struggles. The 1960s brought a period of civil unrest and the 1970s was the first mention of California’s infamous air pollution problem. By 1989, California grew into a brand name. Television shows like Saved By the Bell and many others were set there and the public’s enchantment with the state grew.
Following World War II, America began consumerism and suburban expansion. Capitalism really started to take hold throughout America, from New York to California. However, as businesses were expanding, plastics were being produced, and everyday citizens felt the calm that followed such a turbulent era, a new turbulence was beginning. America was reforming itself, redefining its values, and coming to grips with its status as a world power and its growing diversity. Amid the controversial Vietnam War, civil rights movements hit California. In 1965 at the University of California, Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement ignited into protests and rallies. In 1966 in Oakland, California, the Black Panther Party formed. There are a number of civil rights issues that were centered in California during the 1960s, Cesar Chavez’s fight for farm worker’s rights for example, but the Free Speech at Berkeley and the Black Panther Party’s emergence really displayed how broad the civil rights movement was.

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The Berkeley protests “signified to many the end of the ‘silent generation,’ the years since World War II during which college and university students presumably viewed the American scene with little, if any, critical judgment.” (Meyerson 713) Today, this generation largely criticizes university protests. However, in the 1960s they were the primary and most vocal instigators. Protesters and activists in Berkeley were adamant about the Civil Rights Movement, the Free Speech Movement, protesting the Vietnam War. Berkeley protesters took to occupying school halls for nights and even consecutive days. The Sproul Hall demonstration resulted in 773 students being arrested for their participation. Activists also took to the streets to march. The Vietnam Day protest saw more that 10,000 people and student activists marching down the streets of nearby Oakland, California. The march was the brainchild of the Vietnam Day committee, a group formed on the Berkeley campus.

The California dream in this era was the desire for change. The new generation wanted to create its own version of the world and everyone wanted a voice. This idea of everyone, however, was a much-contested view in the 1960s. Enter: the Black Panther Party.

In 1966 in Oakland, California, the Black Panther Party formed with the intent to stop police brutality against African Americans and augment the voice that black people had in America at the time. (Seale 14) The party echoed efforts of the late Malcolm X and was often criticized for “disruptive” tactics and vocalization in its fight for black rights. In 1968, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was quoted as saying that the Black Panther Party was “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” In 1966 in California, however, the Black Panther Party’s efforts collided with the Berkeley protests and a fierce union was formed. Berkeley protesters drew strength from the aid of the Black Panther Party and the Party, in return, gained more media attention and legitimacy. Together, the groups protested for free speech and civil rights. In some instances this resulted in African Americans being hired for the first time at local businesses. The union between these two groups represented California’s booming voice during the myriad of citizen rights movements in the 1960s.

People were mobilizing, industry was growing, and as California began to develop its economy pollution began to take its toll on the air. In 1969 at a UNESCO conference in San Francisco, environmentalists proposed the first ever Earth Day. This event helped to trigger the modern environmental movement and created a sharper focus on the way Americans treat their plot of land and sky. In 1970 backyard burning was banned in many areas of California in an effort to reduce ozone concentration. At the time, ozone concentrations in California were being recorded at highs nearly five times greater than the healthy national standard. The 1970s and activity in California bolstered the modern environmental protection push and resulted in the Federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970.

Finally, there is Californian culture. Between 1964 and 1989, California established itself as a diverse brand. This included: music (activist rock, CBGB, bands like The Doors, the lore of the Sunset strip, and songs entitled “California Dreamin’” and “California Girls”), sports (the Los Angeles Lakers, skateboarding, and beach volleyball), and lifestyle (the Californian way of life as seen through media and music became iconic and desirable). All of these facets contributed to California’s culture, which became a Mecca for entertainment and tourism. One aspect of California culture that is particularly interesting in the rise of skateboarding as a sport. Formed out of true Californian beach culture and as a water-free alternative on low swell days, skateboarding grew from a punk rock niche to a global phenomenon in less than 20 decades. Today an entirely unique sport and industry exists because of Californian culture between 1964 and 1989.

All of these efforts contributed to the state’s development into one of the world’s largest isolated economies. Between 1964 and 1989, California defined itself as a state in the modern era of America. Through civil rights movements and the voicing of liberal opinions, its citizens established California as a “blue” state. Through culture, entertainment, and leisurely interests California established itself as a primary tourism destination in the United States. California, even in recent years, has a storied history that has shaped its future and the future of the world.

  • Meyerson, Martin. “The ethos of the American college student: beyond the protests.” Daedalus (1966): 713-739.
  • Matthews, Glenna. Silicon Valley, women, and the California dream: Gender, class, and opportunity in the twentieth century. Stanford University Press, 2003.
  • Seale, Bobby. Seize the time: The story of the black panther party and Huey P. Newton. Black Classic Press, 1991.