The “Second Reconstruction,”
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.
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
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
gathered momentum in the South during the late 1950s, but during
the 1960s became a national struggle.