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18-08 - XVIII The Second Reconstruction 1954-1980 Overview...

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XVIII. The “Second Reconstruction,” 1954-1980 Overview During the 1950s the United States was at the apex of its economic and geopolitical power. The nations of Western Europe were still struggling to recover from the Second World War, as was Japan, and the Middle Eastern oil producers had not begun to have much influence on the American economy. The only serious challenge to the international dominance of the United States and its allies was the Soviet Union and its allies. Although Communism appeared to pose a formidable military threat, few Americans doubted, at least publicly, the superiority of the American way of life over all others in the world. Prosperity and satisfaction with the status quo were the dominant moods of the early 1950s. During the early 50's, Whites knew little about Blacks, and Blacks had little appreciation for their own history and culture. Outside of a few students and professors on Black college campuses, African American history and culture did not interest the average Black person in the United States. Although they lived with the daily realities of racism, most Black people did not join protest movements. Except for some African American activists, very few Americans, White or Black, considered that American racism could be significantly reduced. But not only was segregation persisting in the South, in the North it was growing, as the inner cities filled up with Asian, Native American, Black and Latino migrants and the suburbs remained all-white. The Civil Rights Movement had been gathering momentum during the postwar period, as the antifascist ideology of World War II, the movement for independence in African and Asia, and the leadership of Black World War II veterans, all came together in a challenge to southern racism. Complacency about America’s social system was shaken by several developments in the 1950s. One was the Supreme Court’s desegregation decision of 1954. Another was the launching of a Soviet earth satellite, before any other nation in the world. Culturally, the advent of rock n’ roll as a mainstream music for America’s youth profoundly disturbed many people. Also, questions were increasingly raised about what the United States was really doing in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. By the late 1950s complacency gave way to serious questions about America’s national goals. The Civil Rights Movement which followed the Brown case gathered momentum in the South during the late 1950s, but during the 1960s became a national struggle.
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The election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 heralded a new era in which government efforts to promote social justice returned to the national agenda. As the Black movement for civic equality turned into a more fundamental challenge to Euro American civilization, the “winds of change” were sweeping Africa, as the nations of that continent won their independence.
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