American Radicals


3:10 PM – 4:50 PM

3/12, 3/19, 3/26, 4/2, 4/9, 4/16, 4/23, 4/30

The radical tradition in American politics is as old as the Revolution. Since then, a long line of activists, agitators, dissenters and dreamers – as well as countless ordinary Americans – have risked their security and more to realize our founding promise of freedom and equality. Their efforts provoked controversy and sometimes even violence, but these idealists and their calls for justice reflected the mainstream democratic ethos of our nation. Their legacy lives in reforms we now take for granted, from universal suffrage and women’s rights, to the minimum wage, civil rights, environmental and workplace protections and much more. We look at some of the movements that made this part of the American story possible and at the women and men who inspired and led them.

Students wishing to engage more fully with the themes we will be discussing might consider purchasing The Radical Reader: A Documentary History of the American Radical Tradition, Timothy McCarthy and John McMillian, eds., The New Press, New York. Available in print and electronically from Amazon and other sellers.

Week 1: The Revolution and the Roots of American Radicalism

Week 2: Abolition and the Crisis of Reconstruction

Week 3: The Populist Revolt and the Progressive Movement

Week 4: The Rise of Labor and the Origins of Feminism

Week 5: The Old Left and the New Deal

Week 6: The Struggle for Civil Rights

Week 7: The New Left, the 1960s, and After

Week 8: “Rebels without a Movement”: Looking Ahead


Facilitator: Steven Phillips

Steven Phillips earned an MA in literature from the University of Chicago and an MFA in filmmaking from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He spent the bulk of his career as creative director and partner of a production company for film, video, media installations and live events. Since retiring, he has worked with community-service, public humanities and higher-education nonprofits, as well as earning an MA in American Studies from Columbia University.