Politics in the 1950’s were very much centered on Communism and the fight against it.
Dwight Eisenhower was the 34 th president and was in office from 1952-1961. He was considered a moderate Republican and he liked teamwork so he tried very hard to bring both Democrats and Republicans together. He fit the time period very well and was considered a grandfatherly figure.
Although the excitement of TV was at an all-time high, literature was bursting with talented writers and people were reading more than ever. Writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were emerging as beat poets and writers which was a huge part of the literature world in the 50’s.
Art was a big deal in the fifties. One of the most well known artist from this time was Jackson Pollock. There were also some African American writers such as Henry Clay Anderson and John Biggers who brought a different perspective on American life.
Immigrants effected society in the 1950's substantially. Immigrants were able to find jobs fairly easily during the 1950's due to the huge economic boom. Because of the World Wars and the Korean war there was a lot of new industry born from the wars, so there was a big need of workers. Immigrants, African Americans and women made up the majority of the work force during this time. The biggest immigration law change in the 1950's that had a direct impact on people trying to immigrate into the United States was the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 which is also known as the McCarran-Walter Act. "The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 upheld the national origins quota system established in 1924, reinforcing this controversial system of immigration selection. It also ended Asian exclusion from immigrating to the United States and introduced a system of preference based on skill sets and family reunification" (U.S. Department of State 1-2). The act allowed one sixth of one percent of each countries population to enter the U.S. It also gave each Asian country a minimum of one hundred visa's per year. The act was set into place for two reasons. One; it was supposed to help American counsels prioritize the visa applications. Secondly; it was set into place because Senators Pat McCarran and Francis Walter "expressed concerns that the United States could face communist infiltration through immigration and that unassimilated aliens could threaten the foundations of American life. To these individuals, limited and selective immigration was the best way to ensure the preservation of national security and national interest" (1-2). The act also created a labor certification that helped control competition between immigrant and American labor. President Truman actually vetoed the act because he thought that it was discriminatory, but there was enough votes in Congress to pass his veto. The act really effected incoming immigrants, especially those from countries like eastern Europe. It made it harder to get visa's and it set even tighter limitations on the amount of immigrants from each country. I think that this act and many other political decisions made during the 1950's were due to the ever present threat of communism and political leaders were able to make changes they wanted by saying that their law of bill or whatever would help protect American citizens from Communist and they were able to feed of people's fear to get what they wanted. This law change undoubtedly effected immigrants and immigration into the United States during the 1950's.
African American participation in the wars changed drastically in the 1950's. The biggest and most significant change for African Americans was the desegregation of the federal civil service. A report called "To Secure These Rights" was enacted by Harry Truman when he heard about black veterans being lynched. "...My stomach turned over when I learned that Negro soldiers, just back from overseas, were being dumped out of Army trucks in Mississippi and beaten. Whatever my Inclination as a native of Missouri might have been as President I know this is bad. I shall fight to end evils like this" (To Secure These Rights 1). This quote shows President Truman's feelings towards what was happening to African American soldiers. Truman truly believed in equality for all and it was reflected in his politics. This desegregation was also extremely important during the Korean war because the shortage of men caused integration in combat units.
Dwight Eisenhower played a huge role in the integration of Little Rock Central High School. The integration came out of the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 which said that segregation of schools was unconstitutional. In 1957 the State Department of Education decided that Little Rock Central High needed to have integration in their school (granted that this was three years after the federal ruling.) The Governor of Arkansas Orval Fabus, didn't agree that there should be integration and on he sent in the National Guard to keep the nine African American students out. President Eisenhower saw this as a breech into Federal law and on September 25, 1957 he sent the 101st Airborne Infantry also known as the Screaming Eagles. The troops were sent to make sure that the students got into school safely. Eisenhower's role was really huge in this integration because if he hadn't stepped in and sent troops, the nine students and their families could have easily been killed. In his speech on September 24, 1957 Eisenhower addressed the nation and explained the situation at Little Rock and the steps he was taking to help carry out the Supreme Courts decision. "It was my hope that this localized situation would be brought under control by city and State authorities. If the use of local police powers had been sufficient, our traditional method of leaving the problems in those hands would have been pursued. But when large gatherings of obstructionists made it impossible for the decrees of the Court to be carried out, both the law and the national interest demanded that the President take action....Now, let me make it very clear that Federal troops are not being used to relieve local and state authorities of their primary duty to preserve the peace and order of the community. Nor are the troops there for the purpose of taking over the responsibility of the School Board and the other responsible local officials in running Central High School. The running of our school system and the maintenance of peace and order in each of our States are strictly local affairs and the Federal Government does not interfere except in a very few special cases and when requested by one of the several States. In the present case the troops are there, pursuant to law, solely for the purpose of preventing interference with the orders of the Court" (Dwight D. Eisenhower's Response to Little Rock). The sending in of Federal troops was not the only issue that came out of the integration. The State of Arkansas believed that the Federal government should not be interfering in a State issue. The problem of State decision over Federal government decisions has been a long issue in America, and it came up again during the Little Rock integration. If Eisenhower had not decided to step in and send troops to Arkansas, there could have been many more problems with the integration then there was. His decision was crucial for integration all over America.
The lower class might have been hit the hardest because there were more people to take their low paying jobs away. The new people coming in might work for less money and work for more hours. The lower class will just keep getting larger and the people that were already in the lower class will see their financial supply decrease at a steady rate.
Family was affected because people were being crowded into the big cities. The cities originally were built to hold a normal amount of people. In the beginning of the 1950's black families were treated as lower class citizens even the ones that were smart enough to be doctors, lawyers and teachers. But by the end of the '50s they were starting to get rid of the segregation that had caused them to flee the south in the first place.
By the late 1950s African Americans mostly lived in urban parts of the cities, more densely concentrated in inner cities than other groups such as Harlem and Chicago. Since African-American migrants sustained many Southern cultural and linguistic traits, such cultural differences created a sense of "otherness" in terms of their reception by others who were living in the cities before them. Stereotypes ascribed to "black" people during this period often were derived from the migrants' rural cultural. Migration ebbed and flowed for six decades, accelerating rapidly in the 1940s and 1950s. The expansion of industry during world War II again provided the stimulus. This time, however, the invention of the mechanical cotton picker toward the end of the 1940s provided a push from the South that outlasted the expansion of Chicago's job market
There were many new jobs available to women during the 1950's. Up until the 1950's women were not only housekeepers and mothers, but they also worked on the farm to bring in money. These roles changed greatly during the two World Wars. With all of the men off fighting, women were forced to got to work to provide for their families. For much of the early part of the fifties, women returned to a more "conventional" role. They were the housekeepers and stay at home moms, who cleaned the house, made dinner and raised the kids. Many show's like Leave it to Beaver and Ozzie and Herriot depicted women in these conventional roles, and made them more accepted in society. But during the late fifties the number of women workers started to increase. The three decades following the fifties gave way to about 40 million new jobs and about 30 million of them were clerical and service work, which women most often did. Women were often prepped for these jobs taking classes such as typewriting.
The shift from an agrarian to an industrial society in the 1950's had a huge impact on the African American's living in America. Up until the 1940's most African Americans still lived in or around the states of the old confederacy, working in cotton and tobacco fields. Many families were living as tenants or sharecroppers and it was nearly impossible for them to make ends meet. The Great Depression only worsened many families lives. when the wars started, new industry was sprung forth, but the shipyards and plants in the south refused to hire African Americans, instead they shipped in whites from all over the U.S. Due to this obvious racism and favoritism, many African Americans moved to the North and West where they were able to find lots of work in industries, plants, shipyards, factories, etc.. Along with this massive migration, many black leaders were able to convince FDR to issue an executive order saying "there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin" (American Pageant 893). With the support of the Democratic party, African Americans were able to win labor rights for themselves.
The photo to the right is called Migration of the Negro by Jason Lawrence.
The technological advances that were made in the 1950's helped move America forward as an industrial society. There were a lot of medical advancements made in the 50's. One was Jonas Salks discovery of the polio vaccine, the first artificial heart is used, the oral contraceptive pill is created and the first kidney transplant is performed. Science was taking huge leaps to help America become more industrial. The discovery of the hydrogen bomb lead to the nuclear arms race with the rest of the world. The space race was another big industrial move for America. NASA was created as well as many more investments in space technology. The building of new roadways helped America's infrastructure, which increased America's infatuation with cars. The biggest technology advancement was TV. About seventy percent of American families were watching six plus hours of TV everyday. TV built a new advertising market, which lent to the new consumerism era. TV also brought the various political issues of the 50's into American's homes. People were able to see war footage, political speeches, civil rights movement broadcasts, and political campaign adds began to show up more and more. The 50's were the starting point for the political campaign adds that we see on TV today. All of these technology advances in the 1950's furthered America in a more industrial direction.
There were problems with housing in the big cities because of the migration of blacks going there for their work. But this only happened after the government allowed blacks to legally be able to compete for jobs and most of these jobs that they were competing for were inside the bigger cities. African Americans were also propelled by war to make their way into the bigger cities in the north and west. America had around 15 million black citizens in the 1950's. Southern blacks dealt with a bizarre array of separate social arrangement that kept them insulated from whites, economically inferior and political powerless. Blacks not only attended segregated schools but were forced into using separate public toilets, drinking fountains ,restaurants and waiting rooms. Trains and buses had white and colored sections of seating.
Housekeeping and raising a family were considered ideal female roles during the 1950s, although that standard was less rigid than in previous decades. With marriage and birthrates booming, women were becoming wives and mothers at unprecedented levels. But more women were entering the work-place as well. During World War II women by the millions took factory jobs to make up for the domestic manpower shortage. Female workers and career-women were viewed with suspicion by most of the men who worked with them. In the 1950's as well as the 60's women too advantage of the African American civil rights movement era and started their own civil rights movement.
McCarthy preached patriotism but he also menaced American traditions of civil liberties. McCarthy flourished in the seething Cold war atmosphere of suspicion and fear. He wasn't the most effective red-hunter, but he was surely the most ruthless, and he did the most damage to American traditions of fair play and free speech. He ruined the careers of countless officials, writers and actors after he named them as communists or communist sympathizers.
The growth of capitalism was for the better because Capitalism is the social system which now exists in all countries of the world. Under this system, the means for producing and other things such as land, factories, technology and transport system are owned by a small minority of people. We refer to this group of people as the capitalist class. This was a much better dominant economic model in the us because its easier to understand and to use and it just makes more sense for Americans to use because we think about money more than we think about anything else.
Lower class families were already on the bottom of everyones scale of the important people and they would now be even more low on any scale because they were now being judged by how much land and other things they owned and because they were poor they weren't able to afford any of these things and if they did the objects they owned wouldn't have been in the greatest quality or in the greatest quantity.
For the first time in years people in America in the 1950's had their hands on a bunch of money to spend. A car was no longer just a way to transport your self around town it was a freedom and luxury on wheels. People no longer had to stay in the towns they were born in. they could now see different cities and towns with ease. People didn’t need to live in the city to be able to work in the city. Teenagers spent less and less time with family now that they could just drive themselves to go see a drive in movie with a bunch of friends so easily. America's love affair was a rocky one because by the year 1955 there had been a record of 6.5 million cars sold already. they began to think about the pollution and safety hazard that buying and using all this gas was causing but that didn't stop them from using and buying more and more cars. This was also the start of strip malls because they were just dying to find places to drive their cars around and everyone always had a bunch of cash just lying around.
How has the United States emerged as a world power influencing global events, conflicts and trends?
How did the mass media influence American’s during the McCarthyism era?
How did America’s involvement in the “space race” secure it’s position as a world super power?
How did America’s involvement in the Korean war effect American families?
“ While I cannot take the time to name all of the men in the State Department who have been named as members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring. I have here in my hand a list of 205…a list of names that were known to the Secretary of State… and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department” (The Misuse of Political Power Joseph McCarthy 55).
The mass media in the 1950's played a huge and essential role in the McCarthy era. McCarthyism was essentially a witch hunt to find communist in America's government. It was lead by Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy's first attack on government workers was on February 9, 1950 in Wheeling West Virginia, where he claimed to have a list of 205 names of state employees who were suspected communists. In reality the list was over three years old and had "damaging" information about state employees. The damaging information was most likely things such as alcohol abuse and information about people's sex lives. There were many more wild accusation throughout McCarthy's reign. The Hollywood Ten list, General George Cattett Marshall being accused of communism are just a few examples of McCarthy's accusations.
The defining moment of Joseph McCarthy reign had to be the Army vs. McCarthy trials, which exposed McCarthy as the lying, manipulative, vindictive man that he was. The catalyst that started the trials was when David Schine, one of McCarthy's right hand mans, was drafted. McCarthy and his staff started a full fledged investigation of Communists influence in the U.S. Army, which included interrogating officers. When Robert Stevens, Secretary of Arms heard about the treatment of his officers he declared that "This is the end of the line" (The Misuse of Power 98). The trials began on April 22, 1954 and ran until June 9, 1954 although there was no final verdict. The Army Counsel was headed by Joseph Welch who's tactic was to keep McCarthy on TV as long as possible, to show the American public the real Senator McCarthy. The trials came to their final conclusion when Senator McCarthy accused one of Welch's lawyers, Fred Fisher, of being a Communist. This was a huge misstep on McCarthy's part and Welch fired back with his own response. "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness...I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for so. I like to think I'm a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me" (11-12). Welch's speech crushed McCarthy and brought an end to his reign. McCarthy was censored by the Senate on December 2, 1954 and died on May 2, 1957.
The mass media played the biggest role in the McCarthyism era. Tv brought his accusations into the homes of millions of American's. McCarthy started "a series of televised hearings into the activities of the Voices of America (VOA)...VOA had long been a target of ultraconservatives, who claimed that it was 'full of Communist;" (88). McCarthy used TV to help exploited groups in America's government. Nothing cam of the hearings but McCarthy received a lot of publicity. The media not only helped with McCarthy's publicity, but also helped spread the fear of communism in America. Newspapers Radio shows and TV were all very influential in planting fear into Americans. Movies also played a big role in spreading the fear of communism. Films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers helped reinforce the message that American's should be scared of communist. With all of the negative messages the media was sending about communism, it's easy to see why so many American's believed what McCarthy was saying.
The media also helped fight McCarthyism as well. On March 9, 1954 Edward R. Murrow aired a show on See It Now , bashing Senator McCarthy. "This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent...We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom-what's left of it-but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst out allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And who's fault is that? Not really his: he didn't create this situation of fear. He merely exploited it, and rather successfully. Cassius was right: 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars but in ourselves.' Good night-and good luck" (99-101). Murrow used the media to help people see how badly the communist scare was effecting America. Arthur Miller was another McCarthy objector and wrote the play The Crucible was a satiric play on the 1950's communist witch hunt. The media played an important role in both helping McCarthy and allowing people to voice their objection to his communist witch hunt.
America's involvement in the space race definitely helped establish it as a world super power. During the Cold War America felt very threatened by the eastern part of the world, especially the Soviets. In 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first satellite into space. The satellite was called Sputnik I and it successfully launched in October of 57' but exploded at five hundred and sixty feet. In the same year the Soviets launched another satellite, Sputnik II, which carried a dog and stayed in space for six months, orbiting the earth. America, feeling threatened, launched Explorer I in February of 1958. This satellite reached 1,600 miles which was almost twice that of either Sputniks. NASA was also organized this same year and made more headway in the space race, by sending up Vanguard which was a weather satellite in 1959. This satellite brought back important information about earth and it's atmosphere. The space race continued well into the 1960's where America finally won it's victory by having the first man on the moon. Along with the advancements in science, the space race also helped reform education. The government realized that more money needed to be spent on education and numerous scholarships were made to help finance kids who wanted a career in science. The technology advancements made by the U.S. in the space race helped secure our position as a world super power, because it showed the world that we would not be done up by any country and that we could come back with bigger and better technology. It also proved to the world that we took education seriously and we would be able to turn out the best scientist because of our investments in education.
The Korean war effected both American and Korean families in a negative way. After World War II Russia and the United States split Korea into two parts (North and South) and divided on a line known as the 35th parallel. The northern section was under communist control and the southern half was under the U.S.'s control. The real issue arose when both governments claimed to have control over the entire country. On June 23, 1950 Northern Korean troops marched into the South. The fighting continued for three years with General Douglas MacArthur leading the U.S. and international troops. There were many advances and setbacks made by both sides, but General MacArthur 's troops attacked Inchon on September 15, 1950, which helped to trap communist troops. Unfortunately this victory was small and insignificant. In October of the same year the UN voted to unify Korea under one government. While this was happening President Truman told MacArthur to keep pushing his troops North. The U.S. was warned that China would become involved in the war if the U.S. didn't stop pushing towards the Chinese border. The U.S. was told that it was a bluff, but China did attack and the U.S. was sent back the 35th parallel.
Change came for America in the coming years. In 1952 Dwight Eisenhower became president and promised to end the war. He even said that he would personally go to Korea and talk with them and China, which he did. The other change was Joseph Stalin dying in 1953. After his death tensions seized and a cease fire was signed on July 27, 1953.
The loss on American families was substantial. More than tens of billions of American money had been spent on the war. 54,000 American's died in Korea and many of the soldiers who were fighting also fought in World War II, and weren't even able to come home for very long before they were deployed again. Korean families were effected just as badly or possibly worse. 58,000 South Korean soldiers died and 500,000 North Korean soldiers died. As well as fathers, sons, grandfathers, fiancés, and loves being killed, "As many as one million Korean civilians died during the war" (Our Century 1950-1960 17). Homes and families were destroyed by the constant fighting. Many families had to move to keep out of harms way and the constant movement tore apart families. The Korean war not only effected American families, but also seriously effected Korean families.
To sum it up the fifties were a very intense decade filled with political ups and downs, technology advances, the beginning of civil rights , new pop culture and a new sense of America. There were many new patterns and changes that effected many groups in America during the fifties, making it a very unique time period.