Following a meeting with African American representatives, Truman appoints a
Committee on Civil Rights to investigate violence against African Americans in the US
and to offer means to end it (1946). In 1948 Truman ended all racial discrimination in the
hiring of federal employees and, by executive order, ended racial segregation in the
armed forces. The Air Force and Navy quickly followed the order, however the Army
was slower in complying with the order. This move has increased importance when you
remember this is the era of the draft, so many Americans from all over the country were
being confronted by a federal government opposed to racial segregation.
In the civilian world, a move was made to integrate baseball. The Brooklyn Dodgers
hired Jackie Robinson, the first African American to break into the previously all-white
National League. Robinson was chosen by Branch Rickey (president of the team), as
much for his self-discipline as his talent. Rickey knew there would be enormous pressure
placed on the first African American player, and if he could not remain calm the cause to
integrate African American players into the major leagues would be set back for years, if
In 1948, Truman was running for reelection to the presidency. The Democratic Party was
fragmented, with the South resenting his efforts on behalf of African Americans, and
liberals angered by the Cold War. Strom Thurmond, governor of South Carolina, was the
candidate of the southern delegates who walked out of the convention (Dixiecrats). Henry
Wallace, former Secretary of Commerce (fired by Truman for criticizing his cold war
policies), led the liberals who also separated themselves from the party.
In the face of this fracturing of the party, Truman launched a campaign for what he called
the Fair Deal. Major elements were: civil rights, support of unions, federal aid to
education, national health insurance program, and extensions of New Deal programs
(unemployment insurance, Social Security, minimum wage, housing). In the election,
Truman went on the attack, with an aggressive stand against his opponents, whether they
be the Republicans or former Democrats. He went on a 31,000 mile trek across the
country by rail. The Republican candidate, Governor Dewey of NY, ran a restrained
campaign. Wallace and Thurmond were increasingly reduced to holding together their
base. On election day, Truman won a spectacular comeback victory
Candidate Popular Vote Electoral Vote
Truman 49.5% 303
Dewey 45.1% 189
Thurmond held four southern states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and
Louisiana) and won 39 electoral votes to come in a distant third.
When Truman went before Congress the next year, he called upon the members (a
majority of which were members of his own party) to enact the Fair Deal. While his call
to extend existing New Deal programs, his proposals for new initiatives, such as national
health insurance, were ignored.
The division between the US and the USSR came in Germany, where growing distrust
between the two countries led to a breakdown in cooperation between the occupying
powers. This distrust came from a number of factors: growing Soviet domination of
Eastern Europe, George Kennan’s containment policy (Mr. X article), the Truman
Doctrine (based on Kennan’s work) of support of governments opposing communist
threats, and the Marshall Plan (economic recovery of Europe paid for by the US).
The three western powers (US, Britain and France) merged their separate zones and
allowed the Germans to write a constitution and form their own government. The
Soviet’s retaliated by cutting off the western zones of Berlin. In a show of will, the US
and Britain kept what was now called West Berlin alive through a constant airlift of
essential resources (1948-49). In May 1949, the Soviet’s gave up, ended the blockade of
West Berlin and declared their zone a separate state (German Democratic Republic).
While this division was occurring, there was a growing concern about defending West
Germany and the rest of Western Europe from and aggressive USSR. In 1949, the US,
Canada and a number of western European countries formed NATO (North Atlantic
Treaty Organization). In 1955, the USSR and its allies in Eastern Europe formed the
Warsaw Pact, a rival military alliance.
In 1949, the civil war in China ended in a communist victory (People’s Republic of
China). Korea, bordering both China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was
divided into two states, a communist North and a US-leaning South. When Secretary of
State Acheson did not include Korea in a discussion of vital US interests in Asia, the
North invaded South Korea in June 1950.
The North was rolling to a quick victory until Truman took two actions: introduction of
US forces from the occupation force in Japan and gaining support from the UN for
resistance to North Korean aggression (made possible by a Soviet boycott of the Security
Council at the time). With UN forces (mostly US and South Korean at this time) holding
in the southeast in the Pusan Perimeter, General MacArthur (UN commander) led an
amphibious landing at Inchon on the west coast. This put the North Koreans between two
UN forces and as the two forces moved toward each other the invasion forces retreated
across the 38th parallel (the border between the two states). Therefore, by September
1950 the UN objective was met and war could have ended.
Instead, Truman (influenced by MacArthur and other advisers) redefined the mission
from liberation to reunification of Korea under the government of South Korea. The UN
now became the invader and the North Koreans began the defense of their country, which
was incapable of halting the American-led advance. This rapid American approach
frightened the PRC, and in November 1950, when the Americans were virtually in
control of the entire country, the Chinese crossed the border and pushed the Americans
back across the 38th parallel. MacArthur advocated an aggressive response against
China, and when he publicly criticized Truman’s policy of limiting the war to Korea and
threatened China he was fired.
Peace talks between the UN and the North Korean-Chinese alliance went on from 1951-
53 before an armistice was agreed to by the parties.
The growing the stress from Europe and Asia led to a reaction in the US. Truman
instituted a requirement for federal employees to submit to background checks and to
take a loyalty oath. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) also
investigated potential disloyalty, with a great deal of attention being placed on the
entertainment industry, with many people being blacklisted.
There were also a number of spy scares. Whitaker Chambers, a former Soviet agent and
an editor of Time magazine, accused Alger Hiss, a former member of the State
Department, of being a Soviet agent. Chambers successfully defended himself against a
libel charge from Hiss, who was later convicted of perjury. In Congress, Nixon made his
reputation as an anti-communist in part by leading the effort to convict Hiss.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of giving nuclear secrets to the USSR, and as
a result were executed.
Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin sought to use the fear of communism as a cause to
reelect him to the Senate. He made continual charges of communist spies in the State
Department, but provided no evidence. His popularity made him untouchable by his
opponents as long as the war continued in Korea. McCarthy would only fall with the end
of the war (which led to a lessening of fear by Americans) and his poor performance
against the US Army (made worse by the fact the hearings were televised).
Both parties sought to recruit Eisenhower to run for the presidency, but he chose the
Republican Party. He was a moderate, which meant slowing down the growth of the
federal government while keeping many of the reforms of the New and Fair Deals.
President Eisenhower want to see a flow of power back to the state and local
governments and wanted to see an end of “social engineering” and a renewal of
Election of 1952
Eisenhower defeated Senator Taft of Ohio (favorite of conservatives) for the Republican
nomination. The new slogan that swept the country was “I like Ike”. Eisenhower sought
to reach out to the conservatives by selecting Richard Nixon as his Vice President
nominee. This balanced the ticket (moderate-conservative, elderly-youth). The
Democrats nominated Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, with virtually no national
reputation, to oppose the famous war hero. The Republicans accused Stevenson of being
an “egghead”, an intellectual who could not operate in the real world like the man of
action nominated by their own party.
Eisenhower 33.9 million 442
Stevenson 27.3 89
Stevenson carried only the states of GA, LA, MS, AL, SC, NC, AR, KY, WV
In 1956 Eisenhower would be reelected by a wider margin over Stevenson
Eisenhower 35 million 457
Stevenson 26 73
Eisenhower filled his cabinet with businessmen, marking a return to influence of this
groups that ended with the election of FDR. The Secretary of Defense was the former
president of GM and two others were auto distributors. Stevenson said the New Dealers
“have all left Washington to make way for the car dealers.”
Eisenhower called his vision “dynamic conservatism”, which he stated meant being
“conservative when it comes to money and liberal when it comes to human beings.” This
worry over money led to continual efforts to cut the budget for both domestic programs
and national security and warnings about the growth of the federal government and
budget deficits. In addition, his administration also passed through Congress tax cuts for
corporations and the upper income brackets.
While some remnants of the Depression era were abolished (Reconstruction Finance
Corporation, wage and price controls) or reduced (farm subsidies), his refusal to take on
the essence of the New Deal (Social Security, labor legislation) meant the New Deal was
now considered a legitimate change in the structure of the government by the
Eisenhower was limited in his ability to affect change as three of the four congresses of
his time in office were controlled by the Democratic Party.
In 1954, the Supreme Court handed down one of the most important decisions in the
history of the country—Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Segregation in
public schools was declared unconstitutional as it violated the 14th Amendment
guarantee of equal protection of the law. Schools were ordered to be desegregated “with
all deliberate speed.” Earl Warren, appointed by Eisenhower, was the Chief Justice and
author of the decision. The NAACP, a party in the case, was represented by Thurgood
Marshall, who would be appointed the first African American justice of the Supreme
Court by President Johnson.
In the South, reaction to the decision was swift. Groups, known as Citizens’ Councils,
were formed all over the region. These local groups, mostly middle and upper class
whites were members, dominated local politics and used economic power to intimidate
African Americans (loss of jobs, insurance policies, loans, mortgages) rather than
violence. In 1956, 101 southern members of Congress signed the Southern Manifesto, a
condemnation of the decision.
December 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama Rosa Parks did not surrender her seat on the
bus to a white person as the law required (African Americans were to sit in the back of
the bus and surrender their seat to a white person upon demand). Her arrest sparked a
boycott of the bus company (owned by the city). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a young
minister in the city at the time and rose to leadership of the boycott. This action hurt the
city financially and only ended with a federal court order ending segregation of
To keep this momentum, King and others formed the SCLC (Southern Christian
Leadership Conference) in 1957 to continue civil rights activities. King was inspired by
the movement led by Gandhi in India of non-violence. He called on Africans to suffer,
and through that suffering, he believed, white Americans would be confronted with their
hypocrisies and immoral actions with regard to segregation.
Eisenhower supported the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (first since Civil War era), but
southern Democrats in Congress weakened it greatly before passage. The same would be
true of the Civil Rights Act of 1960.
In 1957 a federal court to desegregate Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas (nine
students) led the governor of the state to intervene to prevent it. President Eisenhower,
who did not support the Brown decision, was not going to allow a federal order to be
ignored. In response to Governor Faubus’ action Eisenhower sent in 1000 paratroopers to
prevent violence and to maintain order in the school. The governor closed the schools of
the city in 1958, leading to a court battle that lasted into the next year.
Eisenhower maintained the loyalty oath requirements of the Truman administration
The Eisenhower administration, in cutting military spending which reduced the size of
the conventional force, made the country more dependent on its nuclear arsenal. This led
to the policy of “brinksmanship”, which called for the US to take major issues to the
brink of war with the belief the Soviets would back down under the threat of nuclear
holocaust. This policy led to an increased use of covert action by the CIA.
There are two major examples of such covert action by Eisenhower, namely Iran and
Guatemala. In 1953 the US arranged for the coup that deposed the prime minister of Iran,
Mossadegh, due to his desire to take over the American and British oil companies and
nationalize them. In Guatemala, the President Guzman was overthrown by an army
recruited by the CIA to prevent his land redistribution plan which would have threatened
the property of the United Fruit Company, an American company.
In addition, the administration’s rhetoric called for a “rollback” of communist control in
Eastern Europe. This rhetoric was not turned into reality when the Hungarian revolution
deposed Soviet control. When Soviet tanks restored Soviet power Hungarian pleas for
help were ignored because the US was willing to risk war over Hungary.
Another example of the limit of American desire to directly confront the Soviets came in
Egypt. President Nasser seized the Suez Canal (owned by the British and French) to
allow him to pay for internal improvements. Israel joined Britain and France to take the
canal back, but the Egyptians appealed to the Soviets for support. The Americans
informed its allies (all three were) they would have no American support, which forced
With the start of the Korean War the struggle in Indochina became part of the cold war.
In a struggle that went on for decades, Ho Chi Minh (a communist and nationalist) led an
effort against French rule. American support for the French increased with the beginning
of the war, and when the French were forced out following their defeat at Dien Bien Phu,
they signed the Geneva Accords which set up a temporary status for Vietnam. Ho would
rule in the north, the emperor of Vietnam in the south (divided by the 17th parallel) with
a future election to decide who would lead the entire country in the near future. Premier
Diem deposed the emperor, declared a republic and sought American support, which
came quickly. While the US supported the side that violated the Geneva Accords,
remember the US was not a party to the agreement.
In 1959 a communist-led revolution deposed the dictator of Cuba. The new leader of
Cuba, Fidel Castro, led his country into an alliance with the USSR. The US was opposed
immediately to his government due to the national security threat posed by his island 90
miles off the coast of the US. Eisenhower directed the CIA to seek a way to depose
Castro, leading to the plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion of the Kennedy administration.
Berlin was becoming a problem for both sides of the cold war, with people seeking to
escape East Germany by escaping to West Berlin. Khrushchev, the Soviet leader after
Stalin, and Eisenhower were to have a conference in Geneva to address international
issues, including Berlin, in 1960, but the shooting down of a U2 (American spy plane)
ended any effort to reduce tensions and Khrushchev walked out.
Culture of the 1950s
Americans believed the US would never again suffer through a depression due to an
acceptance of New Deal protections. The country entered a period of great prosperity that
continued through the early 1970s. Six percent of the world’s population made and
consumed two-thirds of the world’s goods at the beginning of that decade.
There were a number of reasons for this: consistently high federal spending, destruction
to economic competitors from World War II would require decades to repair, new
technologies and consumer demand.
Examples of this demand:
Percentage of homeowners increased 50% from 1945 to 1960
1946 7000 poor quality TV sets in the country, 1960 50 million high quality sets
By 1970 90% American homes had a TV, 38% had new color TV set
Fastest growing magazine in terms of costumers in the 1950s was TV Guide
Invention of frozen dinner, called TV dinner at first
Increasing percentages of American homes owned more than one car
Increasing purchases of appliances (refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners,
Introduction of the credit card
Saving rate for industrialized countries 10-20%, US 5%
Shopping centers in US in 1945—8, in 1960—3,840
Businesses began to practice planned obsolescence, which meant products were designed
to last for a limited period, to be replaced by the “new and improved” version of the
product. Advertising was even more important than ever, and became one of the most
Due to the baby boom, a growing youth culture was developing in the US, with
distinctive music (Rock ‘n’ Roll, term coined in 1951), literature and attitudes. This was
reinforced by this generation having more money and free time than earlier generations.
Parents were becoming more permissive and allowed their children more freedom in
decision-making. Unfortunately, there was also a wave of juvenile delinquency sweeping
the country at the same time, with over one million arrests a year of minors.
During these years the growing mobility and prosperity in the country led to the
movement to the suburbs. By 1970 more people lived in suburbs than in cities. In the
1950s, 3000 acres a day were cleared for suburb housing developments. The first
important development was Levittown, NY. In 1947, the Levitt brothers built 10,600
houses on 1200 acres of farm land on Long Island. These houses went quickly and soon
more than 40,000 people were living there. This movement reinforced the growing auto
industry and the building of the highway system. It also increased the racial segregation
in the US, for while official segregation was being struck down, whites were leaving
cities and moving to the suburbs, which were 95% white by 1970.
Just as World War I triggered a migration of African Americans northward, World War II
led to a far larger movement to northern cities. To this day, the African American
community of Chicago is the largest concentration of African Americans in the US. This
movement caught cities off-guard, and there will be a great number of urban problems
that will be born out of this migration as cities struggle, and many times fail, to adjust to
In the 1950s conformity was a major value in American society. The growing
dependence of Americans on working for a company rather than for themselves is a
major reason for this. Companies had dress and behavior codes, for example, that would
influence general society.
American society also was called women to return to traditional roles (wife, mother)
during the decade.
Growing conformity and mobility leads many Americans to find community through
joining social and professional organizations.
This desire for community was partially responsible for the growth in membership in
religious congregations. In 1940, less than half of the adult population was a member of a
church or synagogue; by 1960 it was 65%. This new emphasis on religion led to the
changes to the pledge and the currency (it also indicated we were on God’s side, which
the atheistic Soviets could not be). Religion is also presented in ways that reach out to a
society that is more mobile and dependent on TV—evangelists move from place to place
to “market” their message, and some like Billy Graham would have their efforts
Criticisms of the Age
John Kenneth Galbraith (1958) The Affluent Society: growing prosperity cannot solve
John Keats (1956) The Crack in the Picture Window: suburban movement wrong, leads
to family divisions (father work, mother home, children a burden), mediocrity through
mass production of the same houses, financial insecurity paying for the houses
David Riesman (1950) The Lonely Crowd: shift from independent personality in US to
the desire to be well-liked and fit in caused by rise of industrial capitalism and
C. Wright Mills (1956) White Collar Society: corporate employees are forced to give
employer time, energy and individuality, and causes need to repress resentment and
leading to build up of anger in American society
William A. Whyte, Jr. (1956) The Organization Man: group superior to individual
The arts express growing sense of alienation in American society, as in Death of a
Salesman by Miller, which examines the destructiveness of the desire to be popular at
work, which leads to material prosperity.
The plight of the sensitive individual being suppressed by a mass culture is a popular
theme in the arts. Examples: Joseph Heller (Catch 22), J. D. Salinger (The Catcher in the
Rye), Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man), John Updike (Rabbit, Run)
Edward Hopper: isolated individuals as subjects (environments silent, alienating,
Jackson Pollack (abstract expressionism): new forms to express a new age, act of painting
as important as result, spontaneous subjective expression
A number of artists reject age and seek to embrace life and individuality. Examples: Jack
Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs. These artists tend to be nomadic, use
drugs, love jazz, Buddhism and promiscuity. The term beatnik becomes generalized to
any person rejecting norms of the age.
Election of 1960
The election did not seem to be the beginning of significant change in US politics or
government. Both candidates were symbols of the old, unadventurous politics of the
1950s. The Democrats ran Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts, the first Catholic to
run for president since Al Smith in 1928. The Republicans picked the better-known
Richard Nixon, Eisenhower’s vice president.
Kennedy: rich, politically and economically powerful family in Boston, naval officer
during WWII, rescued crew from collision with Japanese naval vessel, driven by his
father’s desire to have one of his sons elected president, meager record in Congress,
Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage (1956) thought to have been ghostwritten by
Theodore Sorenson, significant health issues hidden from American people (spine from
war injury, Addison’s Disease (adrenal gland disorder), blood disorders, venereal disease
and fevers) requiring constant medication
Nixon: working-class Quaker family from California, ambitious, able to redefine himself
and his beliefs almost at will, naval officer during WWII, lawyer, effective member of
Congress, used anti-communist movement to his advantage in politics, elected vice
president twice (1952, 1956), desire to reverse New Deal
Issues: religion, experience, Cold War—Kennedy claiming Eisenhower and Nixon had
allowed the USSR to gain a superiority in missiles and were therefore “soft” on
communism, civil rights (Kennedy’s campaign recruited African American voters and
sought to assist Dr. King following his arrest in Atlanta for attempting to eat in a whites
only restaurant, while Nixon remained silent), television (Kennedy was at ease with
TV—makeup, lights, whereas Nixon refused makeup appearing pale and wearing a wool
suit perspired heavily under the lights)
Results: Kennedy won closest race since 1888 (118,574 vote majority out of 68 million
cast), Nixon won more states but lost the electoral vote 303-219, many of Kennedy’s
victories were very thin and there were some accusations of fraud, such as the Chicago
political machine under Mayor Daley, one estimate states that if one vote in every
precinct of the US shifted from Kennedy to Nixon the outcome would have been different
Kennedy, the youngest elected president, called his administration the New Frontier,
symbolizing the need to do as the pioneers did—take the best of what you have inherited
from the past and move to the frontier and build a new society. His style (young, rich,
glamorous) led some to call his time in office “Camelot” (Mrs. Kennedy coined the use
of the term. He surrounded himself with the so-called “best and brightest” drawn from
the academic and business worlds, and was know for his soaring rhetoric. An example
from his inaugural speech:
Let the word go forth from this time and place. Let every nation know, whether it wishes
us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support
any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty. And so, my
fellow Americans: ask not what your country do for you—ask what you can do for your
Kennedy had limited success in the real world of politics, with many members of
Congress, especially southern senators, using their influence to block many piece of
legislation. His failures include: increasing support for education, health insurance for
elderly, tax cut, while his successes include: Peace Corps, tariff reductions, more money
for federal housing and the Moon initiative. In general, he was more successful in those
areas that he could tie to the Cold War and less successful in terms of domestic reform.
President Eisenhower recommended Kennedy proceed with the CIA plan to topple Castro
using Cuban refugees armed and trained in the US. He did so in April 1961 with the
landing at the Bay of Pigs, but most of the force was killed or captured. It was a fiasco,
and Kennedy appeared to be inexperienced and weak.
Two months later Kennedy holds a conference with Premier Khrushchev, and is verbally
bullied and manipulated by the Soviet leader. Following this second show of weakness
the Soviets build the Berlin Wall, creating a symbol of renewed tensions in Europe.
In 1962, with Khrushchev still believing he can manipulate Kennedy, the Soviets begin
building missile sites in Cuba. This threatens the US with faster strikes, but also with a
decline in prestige in the eyes of the world. If the US allows this to happen, it increases
the image of weakness held by many.
When these missiles were discovered by US spy planes in October, President Kennedy
places a quarantine around Cuba. The term was specifically used so as to avoid the term
blockade (which it really was) as a blockade is an act of war. Soviet ships halted just
short of the quarantine line, avoiding a crisis. Eventually, the missiles were removed in
exchange for a pledge the US would not invade Cuba.
This near-miss with war resulted in the so-called “hot line” a dedicated communication
system linking the US and Soviet leaders, the removal of obsolete American missiles
from Europe (especially Turkey which sits on the Soviet border—the Soviets did not see
a difference between Turkey and Cuba) and a treaty to abolish above-ground nuclear
testing. While other testing continued it was a symbolic start to an effort to reduce
nuclear tensions between the superpowers.
One area of significant area in which Kennedy increased American involvement was
Vietnam. The Diem regime was repressive and unpopular, with attacks not only on
communist guerrillas but also the Buddhist majority causing continued unrest. Americans
were shocked to see Buddhist monks set themselves on fire to protest the regime. This
regime had significant American support, in terms of money and military advisors (going
from 2,000 to 16,000 during the Kennedy years). In an effort to prevent South Vietnam
from “falling” to the communists, Kennedy agreed to not prevent a military coup, though
he was shocked when Diem and many of his family were murdered. The generals who
ruled were not more popular, and the country would enter a cycle of one military
government after another. During these years, it is important to note, Americans were
restricted to training and did not have permission to engage in fighting. Eventually he
realized the Vietnamese would have to win the war, and announced he planned to
withdraw American troops in 1965.
We will never know if he would have done so, as Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas,
Texas on November 22, 1963.
Johnson came to the presidency with years of experience in Washington, nearly half of
his life by 1963, and was known as the greatest compromiser since Clay. He was a great
admirer of FDR and had real concern for those on the “outside” of society—the poor,
minorities. A brilliant politician, Johnson was known for his intimidation (verbal,
physical) of those who disagreed with him. This treatment, called the “Johnson
treatment”, usually resulted in whatever he desired.
Upon becoming president, Johnson used his skills and the tragedy of a fallen president to
push through legislation stalled in Congress and launched what he called the Great
Society. This program included an ambitious “war on poverty” and a desire for an end to
Election of 1964
Johnson was the Democratic nominee, and used lingering affection for Kennedy to his
advantage. He chose Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota as his vice presidential running
mate. Humphrey’s liberal record secured the left in the party, and this allowed Johnson to
moderate his positions and move to the center (where most American voters are).
The Republicans nominated Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a very conservative
member of Congress. He advocated an end to the New Deal (sell off TVA, end or
radically reduce Social Security) and even advocated an end to the income tax. His anti-
communism was evident, moving him to call for a change in Vietnam, which he saw as
another Korea in the making. He calls for widening the war prompted Johnson to promise
no American soldiers would be sent to fight in Vietnam!
Johnson won 61 percent of the popular vote (Vermont voted Democratic for president for
the first time ever) and won 44 states. Goldwater won his home state of Arizona and five
southern states that responded to his opposition to civil rights legislation. In the Electoral
College, the vote was 486-52. The Democrats increased their control over both houses of
Great Society Legislation in the Second Term
Civil Rights Act of 1964
Department of Housing and Urban Development (Secretary Weaver, first African
American member of a cabinet)
Immigration Act of 1965 (ends quotas, replace with caps on hemispheres—120,000
West, 170,000 East) shifts immigration from European to Latin American and Asian
New standards for highway and automobile construction and safety
Higher Education Act—monetary aid to college students
The great spending on these and other programs (health, nutrition, education spending on
poor Americans) caused resentment in middle and upper classes and would eventually
result in the renewed conservative movement.
In foreign policy, the Johnson administration will be associated with Vietnam. The
expansion of the war began in August 1964 (election year!) with the president
announcing North Vietnam had attacked two American naval vessels in the Gulf of
Tonkin. While the president said the attacks were “unprovoked” the ships were
monitoring South Vietnamese attacks on two islands held by the North, attacked planned
by their American advisors. Be that as it may, there is no physical evidence an attack ever
happened. Congress, however, wanted to react to this attack on American ships, and
passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized the president to “take all
necessary measures to repel any attack against the forces of the United States and to
prevent further aggression”. Johnson saw this as an declaration of war and acted
In 1963 there were 16,000 American military personnel in South Vietnam. By 1965 it
was 184,000; by 1966 it was 385,000; and by 1969 it was 542,000. By the end of the
conflict around 58,000 Americans were dead and over 300,000 wounded. The monetary
costs of the war damaged or ended many Great Society programs, resulted in around
570,000 violations of the draft and over 563,000 less-than-honorable discharges from the
military. The conflict would destroy the Johnson administration and force him out of the
In 1965 the US launched Rolling Thunder, the continual bombardment of North Vietnam
designed to end the movement of troop and supplies to the communist guerrillas in South
Vietnam (the Viet Cong). This it does not do, and the North uses the Ho Chi Minh Trail
through neutral Laos as a way of escaping American pressure.
Also in 1965 the US begins combat operations in South Vietnam, so-called “search and
destroy” missions designed to break up the fighting capacity of the Viet Cong. The
Americanization of the war was another example of the containment policy, and was
consistent with recent practice—the Korean War. Some spoke of the “domino theory”
which said that if one country (South Vietnam) fell, then communism would spread
across the border into another country, and so on until the entire region fell to
communism just as the tipping over of one domino results in the fall of a whole string of
The war had to be limited so as not to provoke Soviet or Chinese intervention, the
memory of the Chinese intervention in Korea was fresh in the minds of many. There was
no plan to win the war, only to continue fighting as long as the enemy was willing to
fight. While the weapons were different—helicopter gunships, chemical defoliants,
napalm—it was a war of attrition like WWI.
Support for the war was weakened by the continual broadcasting of the fighting on
television news programs. The scenes of the action and continual counts of killed,
wounded and missing took their toll on the American civilian population. When
influential members of the media (Walter Cronkite of CBS for example) called for an end
to the war, it had real impact.
Anti-war politicians (Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy) were challenging Johnson for
the 1968 nomination. With continual loss of support in the polls and the primaries,
Johnson withdrew from the race and ended bombing of North Vietnam. The fighting
would go on, but the question had changed from how can we win to how can we get out.
Civil Rights Movement
Sit-in movement in whites only lunch counters in stores and restaurants began in
Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960 and spread throughout the South.
College students participating in these sit-ins formed the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960, and at first worked with King’s SCLC.
It is estimated that over 3600 students (black and white) who joined the protest
movement spent time in jail (1960-1). At this point in time the civil rights movement had
a small but significant number of white participation. This will decline as more radical
measures are taken in the future.
In 1961 the Freedom Rider movement began. Black and white Americans joined to force
an end to illegally segregated interstate bus terminals. A mob in Alabama attacked one of
the buses on which the freedom riders were travelling, injuring many and burning the
In 1962, it took the use of troops and the occupation of the campus to end the attempts by
the governor of Mississippi to prevent James Meredith to enroll in the University of
Mississippi. Two people died in the struggle to control the campus. With less violence, a
similar attempt to prevent the enrolling of African American students at the University of
Alabama would occur in 1963.
To keep the pressure up, King launched a series of nonviolent protests in Birmingham,
Alabama knowing they were being covered by the media. Peaceful demonstrations were
met with attack dogs, fire hoses, cattle prods and tear gas. Television coverage of the
confrontation causes millions to grow angry with the police and the whole policy of
King, who had focused on educating southern whites about the injustice of segregation
shifted in 1963 to seeking federal protection and legislation.
In August 1963 King delivered his “I Have A Dream Speech” to a crowd of over 200,000
at the Lincoln Memorial. Two weeks later four African American girls were killed in
Birmingham when their church was bombed.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination in public accommodations
(restaurants, hotels), limited literacy tests and declared anyone who finished the 6th grade
literate, allowed the Justice Department to sue to integrate schools, and required
companies and states receiving money from the federal government to end
In 1965 King announced a drive to register three million new African American voters.
The use of force by the police to prevent King’s march on Montgomery, Alabama Selma
provoked a federal response to protect the marchers.
Also in 1965 Congress passed the Voting Rights Act proposed by President Johnson.
This act allowed the Justice Department to intervene to register voters and severely
limited the application of literacy tests.
White liberals were shocked that the passage of these laws did not prevent the riots in the
cities of American in the summers of 1965 and 1966, with the violence requiring the use
of the National Guard to restore order. Something had been missed to this point. The civil
rights movement focused on the South and its injustices, but 70% of African Americans
lived in the major cities of America in the North. There segregation was less based on
law than housing patterns. The frustration in the cities resulted in African American
provoked violence (before in our history the vast majority of racial incidents were caused
by whites attacking blacks).
In 1966 Stokely Carmichael became the head of the SNCC and split with King. The
movement became more radical, with Carmichael leaving in 1967 to form the Black
Panther movement in Oakland, California. H. Rap Brown, the new leader openly
advocated the acquisition of weapons and the murder of white Americans. The civil
rights movement was fracturing, with men and women following King wanting full and
equal rights as American citizens and others who wanted what they called “Black
The most powerful advocate of Black Power was Malcolm X (X for his lost African
name). Born Malcolm Little rose from poverty and life in the ghetto to being a leader of
the Nation of Islam, a black Islamic movement led by Elijah Muhammad. Following a
break with Muhammad, Malcolm X formed his own movement aimed at African
Americans and other non-whites working together for social change. Following a
pilgrimage to Mecca, he began to move away from his more extreme rhetoric against
white America and began to advocate a multiracial approach to achieving change. He was
murdered in 1965 following the publication of his Autobiography. It was Malcolm X who
first advocated the term African American.
The Black Power movement was visible and covered by the media, but studies indicated
only around 15% of African Americans identified themselves with this separatist
approach. However, this visibility changed the nature of the non-violent movement of
King, who shifted from the South to the poor African American communities of the
Northern ghettos and he became an advocate of poor blacks. This new focus also led
King to condemn the war in Vietnam as it was taking money away from programs for the
poor and too many young African American men were dying in the jungles of southeast
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren continued an expansion of civil and
legal rights in a series of decisions:
Gideon v. Wainwright (1963): representation by lawyer constitutional right, provide one
if not able to pay
Escobedo v. Illinois (1964): a person accused of a crime has the right to consult with a
lawyer during police questioning
Miranda v. Arizona (1966): accused persons must be informed of their right to remain
silent, to know anything they say can be used against them in court, to have a lawyer
Election of 1968
The Democratic Party was fractured by the following: withdrawal of Johnson, the
assassination of Robert Kennedy in California, the violence of the convention in Chicago
which turned the delegates against each other and alienated many in the television
audience who thought the party was going too far to the left (the convention appeared
chaotic and at the mercy of protestors and minorities, the defection of Governor Wallace
of Alabama and his independent presidential campaign.
Vice President Humphrey won the nomination, but could not escape the negative image
of Johnson, the war and his own liberal record.
The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon, who ran with Governor Agnew of Maryland.
He represented a desire for an end to social experimentation and an honorable exit from
Issues: the war, social chaos, Black Power, high taxes and high levels of federal spending
Nixon 31,700,000 301
Humphrey 31,200,000 191
Wallace 10,000,000 46 (LA, AR, MS, AL, GA)