Symbols of Our Time

The Peace Sign
During the Viet Nam War era, the peace symbol became known as the anti-war symbol.

It was actually designed in 1958 for a march in London by the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War. The artist, Gerald Holtom, explained that he got his inspiration from Goya’s painting, El Tres de Mayo, showing a peasant before a firing squad. The outstretched downward hands represented deep despair.

In 1960, a University of Chicago student, Philip Altbach, went to England to meet with fellow members of the offshoot of the Young Peoples Socialist League, the Student Peace Union. Altbach saw the symbol on buttons and brought a bag of them back to Chicago. As the national chairman for the SPU, Altbach convinced SPU to adopt the symbol for it’s organization.

By the late 60’s the peace sign had become an international symbol used by the counter-culture at anti-war protests. Eventually, it became a symbol of pop culture. Today, the sign has made a comeback as a fashion statement. Even President Obama’s daughter, Malia, wears a t-shirt that displays the symbol.

Remember Edwin Starr singing ‘War’? It was originally recorded by the Temptations. It was buried in one of their albums and wasn’t released as a single because it was an in-your-face protest song. Motown didn’t want to take the chance of changing the image of the group too much, so they gave the song to Edwin Starr. Once again, as they say, the rest is history.

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