Putting the 1950s in Perspective

Lately I’ve been reading about the civil rights movement and it’s incredible.

Everyone knows that, but reading the details is something else.

I could probably write a lengthy post going into all kinds of details, but there’s just too much to say and that’s too hard to swallow. Instead I think it’ll be easier (for you and me) to just throw out random thoughts as they come.

Tonight I was struck by how a nostalgic view of 1950s America has to be completely blind to issues of race.

I imagine 1950s nostalgia is blind to a great many things. But race seems like the most offensive.

Viewing the 1950s as the golden age of America forgets that Jim Crow was in full force in the South. Even though court rulings had dismantled segregation, it still existed as a practical matter. Much of the civil rights movement was about claiming what had already been won in court and was being illegally denied.

It’s a shocking thing to consider. Comparisons don’t do it justice, but they help put it in perspective. The Supreme Court recently struck down California’s Prop 8, making gay marriage legal in the state of California. Imagine if gay people went to California to get married and were not only turned away, they were arrested, beaten and jailed?

It’s inconceivable today. Yet that’s what happened with the Freedom Riders in Mississippi.

The 1950s were hardly a rosy time of peace, prosperity and good morals. Especially for blacks in the South.

One thought on “Putting the 1950s in Perspective”

  1. You’re right about the pervasiveness of racism in the 1950s, Kevin. However, I’d also like to point out that nostalgia seems to be by its very nature ahistorical. On a personal level, for example, I look back with fondness on the time when my children were infants and think about what a joy it was just to sit and hold them. But I’m filtering out the diapers, and that for at least part of the time we had horrible health insurance, and that neither my wife nor I had a full time job, and the struggle we faced some months just paying utility bills. I doubt the nostalgia anyone feels toward any particular era involves the desire to return to political and material conditions within which that era existed.

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