Mainstream American Life in The 1950s
MainstreamAmerican Life in The 1950s
MainstreamAmerican Life in The 1950s
The 1950s wasfilled with global tensions as a result of the Cold War (Hero,2016). Several countries were undergoing dynamic changespolitically during this period including the United States ofAmerica. In 1952 there was a presidential election after a decadewith no election, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in as president.There was also the passing of the 22nd Amendment in 1951, whichrestricted a president to two terms in office. The McCarran-WalterAct was formed in 1952 and was the first proper Immigration Act(Hero, 2016). The period wasalso characterized by massive desegregation in the country. Chapter24 from the book talks about Richard M. Nixon’s What Freedom Meantto Us, Daniel L. Schorr’s Reconverting Mexican Americans, AllenGinsberg’s Howl, C. Wright Mills’ Cheerful Robots, the 1955Montgomery Bus Boycott, Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom in1962, and the Southern Manifesto in 1965. All these documentsdemonstrate ideologies that were characteristic of the mainstreamAmerican life in the 1950s. This paper focuses on the Montgomery BusBoycott, Capitalism and Freedom, and the Southern Manifestodocuments.
The1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott
In 1955, there wasa year-long bus boycott that was sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parksan assistant to a tailor in a Montgomery department store who hadresisted vacating her bus seat for a white passenger. At the age oftwenty six, Martin Luther King, a Church pastor, was at the forefrontof the nonviolent Montgomery bus boycott. The boycott was primarilyestablished in the black churches of the South. During his firstmeeting, Mr. King gave a speech that intensely excited his audience(Foner, 2008).
Mr. Kingincorporated his Christian values into their political mission sincehe was a pastor. He believed that as American citizens, the boycottwas a movement with the sole aim of applying their rights as citizensof a democratic country ("Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Meetingat Holt Street Church."", 1991). Specifically, he told thecrowd that the mission of the movement was to stop the humiliationand oppression of the black people on buses in the community justbecause they were black. Mr. King expressed his happiness that Mrs.Parks was an excellent Christian person with a lot of integrity sincethat eliminated any chance that anyone would question her character.
There aremany sections of his speech that gave the audience enthusiasm. One ofthe highlights was the part where he talks of the “there comes atime” ("Dr. MartinLuther King Jr.: "Meeting at Holt Street Church."",1991). In summary, Mr. King said that there comes a time to be tiredof oppression and humiliation which resonated with the audience. Hespoke of the Christian religion and told the crowd that they woulduse the only weapon they had which was the weapon of protest withoutviolence. His approach was meant to avoid any labeling or comparisonto the Ku Klux Klan or the White Citizens Council which used violenceas a strategy. He encouraged the audience to fight with grim andfearless determination for the justice on the buses in Montgomery,Alabama ("Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Meeting at HoltStreet Church."", 1991).
The1962 Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom
The libertariansthought that freedom implied individual liberty, bounded government,and capitalism without regulation. Milton Friedman, a youngeconomist, strongly supported the libertarians’ beliefs andexpressed this in his book Capitalism and Freedom (Foner,2008). Mr. Friedman proposed that government functions shouldbe handled by the private sector. He also advocated for theabrogation of the minimal wage laws, the calibrated income tax, andthe Social Security scheme. Mr. Friedman applied the libertarians’stand on all facets of life. He stated that the Government is notsupposed to regulate the economic system or people’s conduct(Friedman, 2009).
Mr. Friedmananalyses President Kennedy’s statement where the President told theAmerican citizens to ask what they can do for their nation instead ofwhat the country can do for them. Mr. Friedman believed thisstatement described the relationship between a citizen and hisgovernment in a manner that did not align with the apotheoses of afree man in a free society. He further explained that the statementimplied that the government is the god while the citizens are thedisciples. A free man views the country as a collection ofindividuals who make up the country and the government as aninstrument or means to an end. Consequently, Mr. Friedman encouragescitizens to ask what they can do through the government and preventit from destroying freedom.
Mr. Friedmanhighlights two principles in the constitution that have beenviolated. First, the scope of the government (Friedman,2009). Other than the primary functions of the government, itdoes allow a citizen to achieve tasks that would otherwise bedifficult or expensive. He advises that the use of such avenuesshould have a correct balance of advantages. Additionally, theprivate sector could serve as a check on the government thusprotecting the freedom of speech, religion, and thought. Second, thegovernment’s power ought to be dispersed (Friedman,2009). The distribution of power will enable an individual tomove from one state to another if they do not like how the governmentexercises its power which will act as a check on the government. Mr.Friedman believes that the power to do good also gives the ability todo harm. Additionally, our definitions of harm are different.Therefore, centralization or the extension of the scope of thegovernment will have dire consequences.
The1965 Southern Manifesto
In 1965, theSouthern Manifesto illegalized segregation based on race in publicschools in the Brown v. Board of Education (Foner,2008). This event led to the hope that racial equality wasimminent and intensified the movement of monolithic resistance in thewhite South. The Manifesto refused to acknowledge the Supreme Court’sdecision and supported the resistance movement. The Supreme Court hadmade a groundless decision in the public school cases. They hadabused their judicial power. The 14th amendment protected theAmerican citizens from being denied their rights if the States gaveseparate but equal facilities. Therefore, parents were not supposedto be abnegated by the Government of the right to propagate the livesand education of their children (Badger,2015). Despite the existence of this law, the Supreme Court ofthe United States used their judicial power to incorporate theirpolitical and social beliefs into the law. The Southern Manifestocommended the states that declared their intention to resist theunlawful decision. The Southern Manifesto said that they believed thedecision was an open threat to the constitutional government and theywould dedicate themselves to the drive to reverse the decision(Badger, 2015).
The three eventsrepresent two ideologies that defined the life of mainstream Americaduring the 1950s. The Manifesto and the Montgomery Boycott representthe beginning of the widespread desegregation drive. Capitalism andFreedom encouraged citizens to question their government rather thanjust following albeit using controversial libertarians’ ideologies.Although the paper focuses on three documents there are otherdocuments in the chapter which represent the rest of therevolutionary events in the 1950s.
Badger, T. (2015). John Kyle Day.The Southern Manifesto: Massive Resistance and the Fight to PreserveSegregation. TheAmerican Historical Review, 120(5),1928-1929.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Meeting at Holt Street Church.".(1991). New York, NY.
Foner, E. (Ed.). (2008). Voicesof Freedom: A Documentary History (Vol.2, pp. 248-271). WW Norton & Company Incorporated.
Friedman, M. (2009). Capitalismand freedom. Universityof Chicago press.
Hero, R. E. (2016). AmericanPolitics and Political Science in an Era of Growing Racial Diversityand Economic Disparity. Perspectiveson Politics, 14(01),7-20.
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