The United States began to change drastically in the 50s. Many people began coming out to stand up to old ways of life. This started the wheel turning for the civil rights movement. Some people though were swept up in a hysteria of accusations caused by the tension of the Cold War. Many were accused of being traitors for their beliefs.
Americans also became swept up in social conformity causing a new American Dream to take shape. During the 50s, America experienced many new changes in its way of life. New problems arose like The Cold War and new social issues changed American conformist ideals and fortified civil rights.
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In the 50s, blacks began standing up for their civil rights. It started with blacks speaking out in literature like “I, Too” by Langston Hughes, but quickly evolved into the Civil Rights Movement. In 1954, the decisive ruling in Brown vs. Board led to the slow integration of southern schools. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white woman so she was arrested. This started the Montgomery Bus Boycott in which blacks successfully gained integration of the busses in Montgomery. Dr. King was elected to lead the Montgomery boycotts.
His motivational speaking style became very popular. Soon came the sit-ins at lunch counters that were not integrated like in Greensboro where students had sit-ins in Woolworths. Black students would sit in at non-integrated lunch counters and often be harassed by whites. Dr. King stressed to blacks that they should be non-violent, so they did not lower themselves to the level of the racist whites. New groups of black students formed to stand up for civil rights. The student nonviolent coordinating committee (SNCC) was one of these groups that motivated young blacks to speak out at the beginning of the 60s. By the end of the 50s, blacks began to see some equality but there was still a long road ahead.
After World War II, tensions grew between America and the Soviet Union. The two countries’ economical and political systems were incompatible. Problems during the war led to unrest between the nations. Stalin formed communist governments in Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Poland, which were later called the satellite nations. He later gave a speech about how the war was inevitable and stated the Soviet Union would concentrate on producing weapons instead of consumer goods.
The US responded by proposing a plan of “containment” to stop the spread of communism. In 1947, the United States tried to stop the spread of communism in Turkey and Greece by making the Truman Doctrine, which gave aid to those nations. Also in 1947, The Marshall Plan gave aid to all of Europe to help them have a stable economy.
After the Allies decided that Germany should be reunited, the Soviet Union retaliated by blocking off West Berlin from supplies. The United States responded with the Berlin Airlift in 1948, which provided food and supplies to West Berlin. In 1949 the United States formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with many other countries to make a peacetime alliance. The Soviet Union responded by creating the Warsaw Pact in 1955. The cold became a major problem.
More nations fell under a communist influence in the 50s. China was divided in half by communists and nationalists. The communists eventually took over the nationalism and China became a communist state in 1949. America was shocked that containment had failed in China. Korea was also divided like China, but when the communist north attacked South Korea in 1950 the United States intervened and pushed back the north starting the Korean War. When the war ended in 1953, Korea remained divided in half.
The United States and the Soviet Union raced to create the hydrogen bomb. The United States won the race in 1952, followed a year later by the Soviets developing their own. The policy of brinksmanship began. The policy said that if attacked the United States would have massive retaliation and go to the “brink.” For the Middle East, President Eisenhower created the Eisenhower Doctrine which said that the United States would defend the Middle East against attacks from communists. The Cold War remained a hot topic throughout the 50s and into the decades ahead.
On the home front, there was an obscure fear of communism. Committees were formed to find communists and people not loyal to the United States. The Loyalty Review Board was created in 1947 and designed to find government employees that were un-loyal. The board dismissed 212 employees. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was also created to find un-American activities and made headlines when it started to investigate alleged communist influence in the movie industry. The Hollywood Ten was a group of ten men who, because they would not cooperate with the HUAC were jailed.
Two spy cases shocked the nation. The first case in 1950, involved Alger Hiss, who was a State Department official. He was convicted of perjury after being accused of passing documents to the Soviets. The second case involved the Rosenbergs giving information on the atomic bomb to the Soviets. The Rosenbergs were found guilty and executed.
In the 50s Senator McCarthy began accusing people of being communist without proof. If someone challenged him he would respond with another accusation This pattern was later dubbed McCarthyism. He finally met his downfall when he tried to accuse the army of being communist in 1954. The communist hysteria slowly died down.
After WWII, the United States readjusted, economically, socially, and technologically. Businesses started to increase rapidly. Many new corporations started buying up smaller businesses that were unrelated to their industry, which changed business ideas. They became known as conglomerates. Franchises were also very popular. Franchises were companies that offered similar products or services in many locations. Social conformity started showing up in the workplace. White-collar job employees were not supposed to cause an upset in the company.
Families were supposed to live in the suburbs with a stay at home wife, three children, and a nice car. Many families wanted the newest things for their houses. This led to a new idea called planned obsolescence where a company would make its product only last a few years so people would have to buy a new one.
Mass media became a large part of the 50s as television, radio, and influenced the decisions people made. From conformity, a subculture emerged. One group called the Beatniks tried to live nonconformist lives. Another subculture was influenced by rock ’n’ roll music. Rock ’n’ roll music became very popular with younger people because it went against the conformist’s views. Many parents disliked this type of music and thought it to be evil. America changed dramatically from the beginning of the 50s to the end of the 50s.
Many new ideas were brought to the table in the 50s. The Cold War caused stress for Americans making some of them act out in unreasonable ways. The social and economic climate went through changes as well, as many people believed they had to conform to the values of the day. In the 50s ideas were challenged all under the stress of the Cold War.
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