From the Back of the Bus to the Great Society
In This Chapter
The African-American struggle for civil rights
Start of the “space race”
Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis
Idealism and social reform in the Kennedy and Johnson years
With the ruins of war-ravaged Europe still smoldering, much of the world’s population remained hungry, politically oppressed, or both. But Americans, having triumphed over evil incarnate in the form of Nazi and Japanese totalitarianism and enjoying the blessings of liberty, had much to be proud of. True, the postwar world was a scary place, with nuclear incineration just a push of a button away. Childhood, which Americans prized as a time of carefree innocence, was now marred by air raid drills that regularly punctuated the school day. In an increasingly confusing world, America’s children were also menaced by a much-discussed and debated wave of “juvenile delinquency.” Yet, all in all, 1950s America was a rather complacent place—prosperous, spawning a web of verdant (if rather dull) suburbs interconnected by new highways built under the Interstate Highway Act of 1956.
Postwar suburbia was an expression of the long-held American dream: a house of one’s own, a little plot of land, a clean and decent place to, live. But if suburban lawns were green, the suburbs themselves were white. As usual, African-Americans had been excluded from the dream—or, at least, relegated to the very back of it.