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Page history last edited by Mr. Hengsterman 12 years, 2 months ago

Society and Culture of the 1950s

The 1950’s are looked upon as an idyllic time when everyone was in a happy daze. America was prospering, babies were being born, and people were moving into new homes in the suburbs. Beneath the surface discontent about conformity, economic inequality, political alienation, and segregation simmered and would boil over in the next decade.

The G.I. Bill gave returning soldiers loans to get homes, businesses and go to college. Many of them moved to the newly built suburban homes. The first of these planned communities was called Levittown. The soldiers and their wives began the baby boom, perhaps the most prolific explosion of child births ever (in 1957 a baby was born every seven seconds!).

A new wave of consumerism swept society. Just as in the 1920’s, advertisers enticed people into buying things that they didn’t need. Manufacturers used planned obsolesce, purposely made a new style of an item every year, to encourage people to buy the latest version of their product. Automobiles, new appliances, and clothes were purchased on a brand new invention, the plastic credit card. People ran themselves into debt, especially to purchase the most coveted item, the television.


By 1960, 90% of homes had at least one television. Children were pampered by adoring parents and the term teenager came to describe adolescents. Teens had money to spend on music, movies and food. The music they spent it on was rock-n-roll. The term rock n roll was a euphemism for dancing and sex. Rock music was originally called race music because it was created by African Americans, and most radio stations refused to play it. Eventually, rock gained acceptance in mainstream music through the likes of Elvis Presley and others. The same pattern would be followed in the 1980’s with rap music. The fast food franchise McDonalds got its start in 1955, filling the need for teen’s appetites.


Not everyone was happy in the 1950’s. A group of social critics called the Beatniks protested in literature. They didn’t like the social conformity and consumerism that was rampant in America, much like it was in the 1920’s.


Another group not satisfied was African Americans. They had fought in World War II and Korea, but failed to achieve racial equality. The court case Brown v. Board (1954) stated that schools must integrate “with all deliberate speed”. This decision overturned the Plessey v. Ferguson case of 1896 and its separate but equal ruling.


In Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 African Americans boycotted the bus system, due to segregation. The leader of the boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., would become a visionary leader of the emerging Civil Rights Movement. Eventually the buses were desegregated. In 1957, at Little Rock Arkansas nine African American students integrated the all white Little Rock High. It took the United States 101st Airborne Army to allow the Little Rock nine to safely attend school. It was the first time since Reconstruction (1865-1877) that federal troops occupied a city.


With the power of nuclear weapons, the United States policy in the 1950’s was massive retaliation. If the Soviets did something, we would respond with nuclear weapons. This would ratchet up tensions and increase fears of a nuclear war. The Soviets launched the first satellite in 1957 named Sputnik. This beeping satellite terrified Americans. They feared that the Soviets were capable of launching nuclear weapons from outer space. This gave rise to an entire genre of bad movies about aliens. Congress passed the National Defense Education Act of 1958 (NDEA) to increase student’s knowledge in science and math and prevent the Soviets form remaining ahead in the space race. They also passed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to oversee our new space program, which was stationed in Titusville, Florida (the Space Coast).


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