Highlight text to annotate itX
By the spring of 1943, nearly
50,000 Americans had returned
home from the Korean War in coffins.
People at home continued to wonder
how much longer they would have to
endure this strange war being
fought in this strange land.
"I had two brothers that were serving in Korea
at the same time and I was scared to death
because I wanted my brothers to come home.
And um, when they came home,
it was like Thank you Lord,
greatest day in the world."
In that summer of 1953, the U.S.
finally reached a truce agreement with
the North Koreans and the Chinese.
And Americans tried to put another war
President Eisenhower kept his campaign
pledge to resolve the Korean conflict,
now he hoped to make America's domestic life
"I believe in the future of the United States
"He was really going to take care of the
United States, he was going to take
care of us personally and it was a good feeling."
"The time was right for Dwight Eisenhower."
"One of the things that Ike most wanted to do
when he became President was to lower the
rederick and lower the sense of crisis."
His countrymen were more than ready to relax.
With the war over and America bursting
with energy, it was time to focus on
a more promising future.
By 1953, the American people had been dealing
with one crisis or another since 1929.
The great depression, WWII, the Berlin
Blockade, and then Korea.
Eisenhower felt it was now time to
turn back the clock to the America
of his childhood.
A simpler country, where it turned out
white males had the last word,
and then women kept the home fires burning,
and the business of America was business.
At first, many Americans seemed happy to obliged
but as the decade wore on, Eisenhower
and "they" would discover, that not
everyone was ready to return to the old
way of doing things.
By late 1953, the economic boom that had arrived
after the second world war had already
transformed the country.
"We were self confident people for the first
time since 1929.
People putting money in the banks,
the real wages were going up 4.5% a year
it's just incredible to think of that now."
America in the 1950's was very rapidly
becoming the consumer society.
People were buying more and selling more than
ever in U.S. History.
For the first time, more Americans were
doing white collared work than manual labor.
Advertising, marketing, and public relations
were now the preferred professions.
"I could certainly do with 8 or 10,000.
But I don't know anything about public relations."
"Who does? You got a clean shirt,
you bathe everyday, that is all there is to it."
In the shadow of the cold war,
it seemed almost patriotic to
be part of the American economic miracle,
to be a member of the corporate team
and follow the rules.
"When I became a salesman,
like men in a grey flannel suit,
I was told where to buy my clothes.
It might not have been a grey flannel suit,
but it better be a blue one, and
there was a lot of choices of colored shirts
just as long as they were white."
"You called attention to yourself
if you deviated from the norm,
and nobody did, nobody did.
We all looked the same."
" I think people liked to be dressed alike
and follow the same sort of social
customs. You were expected to have at
least 2 drinks at lunch, preferably martinis.
If anyone said I'll have a Perrier,
they would have been laughed at."
And when they advertised for secretaries,
they specified good looking.
It was not a good time for women
in the work place.
"Ms. Lawrence, this is Mr.Ryan.
Ms. Lawrence will be your secretary. "
"How do you do Ms. Lawrence?"
"Very glad to meet you Mr.Ryan."
"We always give the new man the prettiest secretary."
"There were no female managers. None.
It wasn't even considered."
In the 1950's, the woman's place was in the home.
In the embrace of a loving husband.
By 1957, 97% of all marriageable men and women
were married and if they cared to have a social
life, they stayed that way.
"It was a couples society.
We did things in couples.
BBQ's and it is always couples.
If we knew that the person was divorced,
we might have a second thought about
asking them. The thing was to be married
and to keep the home together."
More and more, that home was on America's
crab grass frontier.
In an era that favored conformity,
it was perhaps no surprise that by the
end of the decade, a quarter of the population
lived in the track homes of the modern suburb.
"Moving in for us was the beginning
of a happy experience. Of a challenging
experience. Everything was similar.
One of my friends, Ruby, my phone rings and
he says to me 'Hal, I have a problem,'
I say 'What's the matter?'
He says ' I can't find my house.'
"It seemed kind of remote and bleak
if you looked at them from the air.
But in those cookie cutter houses on
those straight streets that met at right
angles, a lot of good things were happening."
"Children were being born at a very
They were 3 Obstetricians and the
Obstetricians were open til 2am in the morning.
This was the place to raise children
because it offered everything they could want."
"I was here at my old home,
I crossed the street at the neighbors
home, down the block at a friends home
without any restriction
without any feeling that I was violating
"The emotional core of the early 1950's
was all about stability.
Both my parents had experience the depression
both of my parents had experienced
I know that they looked upon their little
house in Lake Wood as a refuge from
many of the things that had troubled
their early lives."
"The activities were centered around the home.
We had a lot of parties."
"People were of the same age,
our interests were alike.
We came together that way.
We seemed to all be interested in what we were doing.
For the good of all of us."
"It was a fabulous life."
And life was getting better for a lot
of American families.
Propelled by the powerful economy
they were stepping into the middle class
at a rate of more than a million a year.
With extra money to spend and plenty
of shiny new merchandise to choose from,
people bought things whether they needed
them or not, sometimes just to match the
face of their neighbors.
"We had an eye on consumer goods all the time.
Keeping up with the Jones
when people would give us a call on the phone
that the television set was just delivered
it wouldn't be long before we be
down having soda watching the new television.
And as soon as we left there,
we would say, that's what we have to have next."
A new television would soon become the thing
that everyone had to have next.
It was in the early 1950's that one of
America's intense love affairs blossomed
"We would plug this thing in and
turn on this box and there were people there.
Well I will tell you, we would not move for days."
"We sat in front of that set even when
there was nothing on except the test pattern
you thought you can't tell the lab will put
on something right now."
Television sets were rapidly becoming affordable
for the average consumer and as they
did, the demand become for new programming
"That's right boys and girls......"
Most of television programming aired live
with all the flaws of a live performance,
but even with mistakes, most viewers loved
"The television business was a sandbox
where you could go in with almost any idea
and you have a chance to do it."
"It was an amazing period of time."
Radio, long the staple of family entertainment,
was virtually abandoned.
Nimble talents like Milton Burrow
and the famous newscaster Edward Armuro
made the transition to the new medium.
"It brought us news,
it brought us dramas.
It had become an intrical part of our life.
And it wouldn't be unusual for your
doctor to say I'll see you at 7 o'clock
on Tuesday and you would say I am very sorry,
I Love Lucy is on I have to see I Love Lucy."
By the mid 1950's only a few years after their
commercial introduction, television sets
were in 3/4 of American homes.
People now spent a 1/3 of their waking hours
in the glow of the box.
Lured by entertainment, they became a captive
audience for the salesmen.
"These 3 windows, ABC, CBS, and NBC were
window on a world that a family could
sit down and look out of.
And see what they didn't have."
"Ah I know you are going to show us, a
westing house refrigerator."
"No, a westing house refrigerator/freezer."
"Everything you did, was geared
at a family target audience."
"It was a very conservative and repressing
time but it was also a time that was
the beginning of change."
Underneath all the conformity, you could
see the beginning of the change."
Hugh Hefner was 27 when he started Playboy
magazine. At the time, a daring
challenge to the country's obscenity laws.
His first playmate of the month,
was a rising young starlet named
Marilyn Monroe, but after that,
the pin up was just as likely to be
the girl next door.
"The girl next door notion of pin up
photography was rooted in the notion that
nice girls like sex too, that sex was ok.
And that was a very sensational point of view.
And potentially a dangerous point of view.
It was risky enough that I didn't put my name
on the first issue."
Within a year, playboy
was selling 100,000 copies a month
and it was not the only thing threatening
this status quo.
Nothing worried traditionalist more than
the new kind of music being
performed by singers such as Lloyd Price.
"Well it was really race music
we had maybe 2 radio stations in New Orleans
that played that music.
It had no name to it.
It was just music."
By 1955, the music did have a name.
Rock and roll and young people everywhere
were listening to it.
Wisconsin native Marty Rosenbloom
was then 15 years old.
"I got my own portable radio and at
night, I could pick up all the southern
stations and I heard Little Richard for the first time.
And my whole world change, everything changed.
I would call WAPL in Wisconsin and ask
them to play Little Richard and they
would say the station manager wouldn't
allow Little Richard on the radio because
his was the devil's music.
So I knew he was good.""
"It was a much more infectious kind of music
that we ever heard before and it had an edge."
"There were suggested things in it
and you know it was kind of risqué and the
parents were saying this is going to ruin our kids."
"Their concern was that their daughters and
even their sons were falling in love with
Sam Phillips was the owner of Sun Records.
A southern music label.
"You know what my answer was from day one?
I truly can look you straight in the eye
and tell you they are not falling in love with
black or white or green or yellow
they are falling in love with the
vitality of the music."
And it wasn't long before white
musicians like Bill Hailey and the comets
were making the charts with rock hits
of their own.
But the music was still waiting for it's first
super star. And in 1956, he arrived.
"I was in this little soda shop
and on came this song, and this guy started singing
and there was like stillness, and then
everyone started dancing and
this like wave of energy came over the place
and I was like my God this is wonderful.
I turned to the girl next to me
and I said who was that?
And she looked at me as if I was from
another planet and she said just one word
she said, Elvis."
"The year I saw Elvis Presley, the electricity was so
high, had you put that much energy in work
you would have collapsed."
It wasn't just that Elvis was white and sounded black,
his haircut and his hips spoke to rebellious
feelings in young people all across America.
"And the funny thing is,
you screamed so much, you couldn't really
hear him. But you felt you had to scream
and it was just."
Kids were screaming with joy and
parents were screaming in protest.
Elvis may have been white, but his songs
and his moves still offended many.
In July 1956, Elvis Presley's act
was called vulgar and suggestive
by the tremendously popular columnist
and television show host Ed Sullivan
less than 2 months later, Sullivan
booked the singer on his show.
"Ready, set, go, man go."
I gotta girl that I love so....
"It's the minister of culture in America
surrendering to the youth culture.
And therefore that is a very big political moment
we cannot hold law, If I hold the line
and keep Elvis off, I'm gonna fail.
And that's a very important moment.
Him going on Ed Sullivan symbolized
that it had happened."
Rock and roll was here to stay.
It had become the soundtrack for a new
era of change.
"Here is Jerry Lee Lewis, Great Balls of Fire."
"You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain."
In 1957, the television program called
American Bandstand went national.
ON the ABC network. The shows
targeted audience quickly demonstrated
it's new found power.
By turning Bandstand and it's host
*** Clark into overnight icons.
Every kid watched.
"It was a story about once a police
chief was afraid a rumble was going to happen,
a street fight, because no kids
And they conducted a door to door
search, they found that all the kids were
I remember feeling this tremendous feeling
of confirmation that I belonged
to a group of people called teenager and
we have our own music."
"all of a sudden, you know, I felt
that I could express myself, I could be free,
I could dance and I could shake around
and I could have fun.
There was no stopping us.
The parents didn't have a chance."
Another way the young were breaking away
was through their use of language.
The beat movement thrived in the coffeehouses
of New York's Greenich Village.
"The Village has a life and a language all it's own
If you dig it, you're hip.
If you don't, man, you're square."
Beat necks were the fore fathers of the 1960's counter
culture. Challenging the conformity of the 50's
by ridiculing mainstream values.
"My mom wanted a new kitchen.
She wanted new appliances.
That was her self identity. And the beats
were saying Why are you identifying with
material things, there's more."
And even more significant challenge to the
complacent 50's came from America's black
community. Living in the consumer society,
but having few of it's advantages,
they chose this moment to make white America
live up to it's ideals.
Amazingly, 50's America had moved little
beyond the days of Jim Crowe.
Particularly in the South, life
among blacks and whites remained separate
"There was no way you could be black in this
country and not be effected by it.
Here I was selling millions of records around
the world, hero everywhere and I couldn't
get a hot dog in Baltimore unless I went to
the back door."
"It wasn't right, but that's just
how it was. That was just life."
On December the first, 1955, on a public bus
in Montgomery Alabama, life began to change.
By refusing to give up her seat to a white man,
tired seamstress named Rosa Parks, quietly
ignited a revolution.
"The day that Rosa Parks was arrested
a low murmur went through the whole city.
And overnight, this thing bloomed."
Led by a charismatic young preacher
named Martin Luther King, the city's black
community organized a peaceful boycott
of the buses. They walked instead.
"We will do it in a orderly fashion,
this is a nonviolent protest.
We are depending on moral and spiritual forces."
White policeman responded by arresting
black carpool drivers.
White extremists bombed King's home.
"Martin always said you know if you don't
have anything that you die for,
what do you have to live for?"
"Nobody thought we could stay off the buses.
None of those people wanted to lose their jobs
but Martin Luther had instilled in them
so rightly that we must all make a sacrifice.
That the buses continue to run empty."
They did. For 381 days.
On November 13th 1956, the supreme court
ordered the buses desegregated.
Martin Luther King was now the
undisputed leader of the civil rights movement.
"The colored population idolized Martin Luther."
"We are not going back to the buses
"People experienced his self esteem
that they had never experienced before.
And they had been given a light.
A beckon at the end of the tunnel."
That light reached Melva Beele, a 15
year old high school student in
Little Rock Akansas.
"I was very conscious of what was going on and
wanting it to wash over me and
wash over Little Rock."
It was about to.
In 1954, the supreme court had ordered the
integration of all public schools,
in it's famous decision Brown vs. the Board of Education.
3 years later that decision would be severely
tested at Little Rock's all white central
Despite the federal court order
Arkansas Governor, Orville Fabis,
had no intention of allowing black
students to attend central high.
And he ordered the Arkansas National Guard to
surround the school.
On September 3rd,
Melba Beeles and 8 other black students
walked towards Central High.
One Elizabeth Eckford became
separated from her friends
and was surrounded by a white mob
that included Ann Thompson.
"There was just a lot of electricity in the air.
It was almost a circus like atmosphere.
All these parents on the sideline.
Urging us on, telling us, don't let them get in."
"There are mobs on her heels, like dogs
nipping at her. Policeman are watching this.
Every time she tries to step between them,
they close ranks on her."
If central high was to be integrated, it would
have to be ordered by the President.
Eisenhower was at first reluctant
"His record on civil rights was not a
good one, until 1957 and the crisis at Little Rock.
And there a fundamental question was dealt with.
Do the states have the right to impose
their own social order, in defiance of
federal court orders.
Eisenhower answered no we have made a national
commitment. We are going to desegregate this society
and if it takes 101st airborne to do it, so be it."
"This is awful. I mean that is vivid still.
I could just see Little Rock being in a state
of siege by the troops. You know.
That was real fear. "
3 weeks after the Little Rock 9 were
turned away from central high,
they returned accompanied by troops of the 101st
"We were al in an Army station wagon
machine gun mounts.
It was pretty heavy day and it's not what
everyone gets to go to school."
"you got paratroopers, you got helicopters,
jeeps in front, jeeps in behind."
"And we stepped out of the Jeep into
this square of soldiers who were serious.
You know as I walked up the steps that day,
at central high school, I can remember
the click of the leather boots on those stairs.
And I remember being so impressed by who they were
there are America's. I am American.
And so the first time I get the feeling
that there is hope,
that there is a reson I salute the flag
that this is what America is about."
"I felt that Little Rock
would never be the same again.
We would never know life as we had known it
because 9 people walked into a school building."
"My teenage models had been the kids
who danced on American Bandstand.
And all of a sudden came the Little Rock 9.
And I could remember having the feeling
that they have been tied, and tested and
they survived. Someday in some way
I am going to be tested in this way too.
So I think when the movement comes along in the
1960's, I am ready for it."
By the late 1950's,
driven by the powerful economy,
the American people's long running
fascination with automobiles was changing
the very fabric of the county.
"The car came to be the dominant symbol
of American life and had an impact
on American life that is difficult to exaggerate.
Americans were now confronted with a
dazzling array of choices on the showroom floors,
so many that for the first time,
people began to view cars in the same way
that they had viewed clothes or hairdos
as an emblem of their personality.
"Ford Thunderbird. Even the name had a ring to it.
"A yellow station wagon. A station wagon
provides room in the back to carry the lawnmower
"my boyfriend drove a Chevrolet
and I thought that's the prettiest car
I have ever seen in my life.
I felt like a queen in that car."
General Motors had a budget the size of Polands.
Nationwide, every 7th job was
related to the automobile industry.
The term 'drive in' became a part of a language.
There was a national hotel chain
created entirely for road travelers.
And a restaurant that spoke exclusively to
a new mobile country.
But the most profound effect the car on
American life, the one and actually
altered the landscape, was the immense
new federal highway system began in 1956
The largest public works project in history
forever connected American motorist from city
to city. From coast to coast.
"We use to stop and study those maps.
That would show you proposed state highway
interstate highway under construction and then
the pay off completed and open, and we
would get on those interstates and run those
big cars, with the big fins on it."
It was just wonderful
it opened the whole world to us."
What most Americans did not realize
was that the freeway had been built with
an alternative motive.
The over passes freedom loving motorists
were driving under were
built 15 feet high in order to allow
the easy movement of missile systems.
President Eisenhower approved the project in part
because he wanted the military traffic
to be able to move easily in the event of
a national crisis.
In the frivolous 1950's
people lived under the ever darkening
shadow of the cold war.
The U.S. and the Soviet Union eac
now had massive arsenals at their
The cold war struggle seemed to be everywhere.
In Hungary, when people rebelled against
the Russian occupation in 1956,
they believed America would intervene
on their behalf.
"This was very difficult for the
United States, after all we had been saying
Liberation of Hungary is important to free
world and so forth, but what were we gonna do about it.?"
"But the Russians put in there was so much
in the way of tanks and troops,
that this would have been a major war.
"It's just heartbreaking. At the
height of the crisis with the Russian
tanks on the street below, the kids
had control of the radio station
they were broadcasting S.O.S
The tanks are here we need help.
You promised to help us, where is our help
and there was no answer."
Maybe 10,000 Hungarians died at the alter of the
super power competition,
a competition that was taking on apocalyptic
It had taken the Soviets 4 years to
duplicate American success with the atomic bomb.
It took only 8 months for them to do the same
with the hydrogen bomb.
"Well, there wasn't any doubt that peple
were building them as fast as they could.
We've got to build them , we've got to
improve them, and keep at it, keep at it,
keep at it."
The need to test the new weapons was seen as
so urgent that the U.S. government
even put it's own troops in harms way.
Within a few months of the successful
Soviet hydrogen test in 1953,
several thousand American troops were
ordered into trenches in the Arizona desert.
One of them was Korean veteran,
"The purpose of it was to test the reaction
of the troops.
To an atomic bomb.
They shot one off, you see this real bright
light. With your hands over your eyes
you can see the bones in your hands.
There is this god awful noise,
it feels like it compressing your head.
It's so loud, it's a feeling you
are in a vacuum cleaner that your whole
body has been vacuumed.
That house that was in front of us,
was no longer in front of us,
it was gone.
Of the 2,584 men that were there,
there's only 3 of us still alive."
How many Americans were effected all together
could never be fully determined.
The fallout from this explosion
known as Shot Simon, reached as far as
New Jersey, among the dirtiest of the 200
above ground nuclear tests that took place
between 1954 and 1958.
The same frenzied place was applied
to the rocket program.
Both super powers saw them as crucial
for the delivery of powerful nuclear halos.
American scientists were not always having much luck.
"I saw the rockets that were pointed north
go south and those that were pointed south
I saw one go straight up in the air
I saw one go straight up and come straight
back down again.
But never during those 100 launches did
I see anything go right."
On October 4th, 1957, someone did get it right.
"They say attention all radio stations
of the Soviet Union are broadcasting."
"this beep beep beep what is it?
Sputnik. Sputnik is around the globe.
Who did it? We did.
The Soviet Union. First into space."
"And I can remember going out to my
backyard at night looking up at this
bright streak going across the sky
and I felt a sudden sinking feeling
one of almost terror."
"Now suddenly, you have Soviet missiles
that can reach into the Dakotas,
it can reach Chicago."
With a surprise attack possible for the first time
American's started to look at the sky
differently. Now as the place from which
terror might reign.
And to learn some new terms like duck and cover.
"I felt that the threat to America and
been increased. That the Soviet Union
had up the anti.
While we were playing cops and robbers
hide and seek in our backyards and our
frontyards, there was the gnawing anxiety
that it could all end instantaneously."
at a U.S. exhibition in Moscow
Soviet prime and American Vice President
Nixon discussed the relevant merits
of communism and capitalism.
"there are some instances where you
may be ahead of us, for instance in the
development of your rockets."
"Most of them was built from the same material
they were tough and they wanted to show each other
which society is better."
What became known as the kitchen debate,
seemed to demonstrate America's new insecurity
in the world.
Sputnik had been a technological Pearl Harbor.
"It began a tremendous sense of
self appraisal are we falling behind
the Russians? What are we teaching our children?
I remember Life magazine doing a whole spread
on contrasting a Soviet and an American
high school and little Navona and Ivan
were studying rocket science and
Jim and Sue were boppin' in the high school gym.
And the clear message of this was
that in 10-15 years we would be
a declining state of the Soviet Union
because we were wasting our lives
dancing away and dating while these
people were working 20 hour days."
Suddenly an American embrace
of intellectualism was being seen
and on new television quiz shows,
Charles Vanduran was a contestant
he was the son of a celebrated professor.
He performed so brilliantly that he
became a national celebrity.
Everyday he received 100s of letters telling
him he was America's hope for a more
It was a false hope.
In November 1959, Vanduran testified that
he had been given answers to the questions
he had been asked. The shows producers
had stage managed the contest in an
effort to win ratings.
"It was another let down."
"Back then, you believed people.
You believed people when they told you something
you accepted it as face value.
And here on television,
they would lie to you."
The media had exposed it's ugly side
for all to witness.
In the decade to come, Americans would
discover that television was not the only
beloved institution that was not quite as it seemed.
As the 50's gave way to the 60's,
a new generation became a force in
popular culture and in politics.
That's all on the next episode of the
Century, America's time.
I'm Peter Jennings. We hope you'll join us.