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Social, Economic Or Political Events Of The 1950s

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Social, Economic or Political Events of the 1950s to the 1990s

Kelly Postl

AXIA College-University of Phoenix

The American Experience Since 1945 - HIS135

Jill Le Gare

February 24, 2008

Social, Economic or Political Events of the 1950s to the 1990s

The 1950s - Racial Challenges

Challenging racial prejudice in the United States in the 1950s was a daunting undertaking. While African-Americans, in the main, again bore the brunt of the backlash, no single person, group, or institution put civil rights on the national agenda, and no one person, group, or institution saw to it that it stayed on the national agenda. Stay it did. The changes in attitude and law that did occur came about as the result of a shared commitment from many, many people to take risks, highlight injustice, and press the cause for change. That commitment was not an easy one to make. It is easy to forget, in today's era of more cautious and covert discrimination, that the choice to add one's voice to the chorus for change was a choice that could--and not infrequently did--result in death. But those were the stakes between the years 1954 and 1968 in the United States of America.

Tens of thousands of people of all races risked not just their standing in the community, but also their lives, in the hope of building a coalition for racial equality that could not possibly be ignored. They succeeded in building that coalition--even if the highest ideals of the cause they promoted remain, in some cases, unfulfilled. During this time, African-Americans were subject to racial segregation despite the belief put forward in The Declaration of Independence 1776 that, 'all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' However, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was brewing. Key figures like Martin Luther Kin, Malcom X and Rosa Parks highlighted and challenged those who were against African-American rights and freedom. The Little Rock Nine integrated Central High School ending segregation in schools.

In the early 1950's, racial segregation in public schools was the norm across America. Although all the schools in a given district were supposed to be equal, most black schools were far inferior to their white counterparts. Brown and the NAACP appealed to the Supreme Court on October 1, 1951 and their case was combined with other cases that challenged school segregation in South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. The Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision did not abolish segregation in other public areas, such as restaurants and restrooms, nor did it require desegregation of public schools by a specific time. It did, however, declare the permissive or mandatory segregation that existed in 21 states unconstitutional. It was a giant step towards complete desegregation of public schools. Even partial desegregation of these schools, however, was still very far away, as would soon become apparent.

1960s - New Economics

The beginning of the Kennedy presidency in 1961 was widely perceived to bring to Washington a New Economics. John F. Kennedy, as senator and presidential candidate, had sought the advice of academic economists. But what was truly new about the New Economics was that it became a strong intellectual force in government. As president, he appeared to be more interested in economic analysis and in the ideas of economists and their policy implications than had been his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower. Their work was at the forefront of current research, and their views were informed by Keynesian ideas, as modified and integrated with traditional theory after World War II. This interest was reflected in the appointment to his administration of a number of academic economists.

Some observers today credit the New Economics and its influence on the policies of the Kennedy-Johnson years for the sustained prosperity of the 1960s, and thus regard them as an example worth emulating. The natural rate of unemployment, rational expectations, the new classical economics, and real business cycle theory offered powerful theoretical arguments against the economics of the 1960s, which charged with over stimulating demand under the mistaken expectation that lower unemployment could be sustained at an acceptable increase in inflation. Others see the legacy of those policies in the 6 percent inflation rate at the end of the decade, when unemployment fell to 3.5 percent - too low for stability. In the economics profession, the idea that activist discretionary policies could produce and preserve stability came under attack.

The attempt to stabilize the economy at high levels of employment was not the only hallmark of 1960s economics. Thus while stabilization issues most clearly defined the decade for economists and are the subject of some papers in this volume, other papers examine developments in these other spheres -- international, fiscal, and social as viewed through the lens of economics. Policymakers had to contend with the dollar's evolving role in the world and its eventual overvaluation, which marked the beginning of the end of the Bretton Woods system of international financial arrangements. Tax changes were aimed at encouraging investment for long-run economic growth. And significant initiatives were taken to strengthen the nation's social safety net, including the introduction of Medicare.

1970s - Women's Rights

During the 1970's the United States underwent some profound changes. First a Vice President and then a President resigned under threat of impeachment. The Vietnam War continued to divide the country even after the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973 put an end to U.S. military participation in the war. Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. Crime increased despite Nixon's pledge to make law and order a top priority of his presidency. Increased immigration followed passage of the Immigration Act of 1965, which reformed an earlier policy that favored western Europeans. People from Third World countries came to this country in search of economic betterment or to escape political repression. Women, minorities, and gay increasingly demanded full legal equality and privileges


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