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After World War II, many beliefs and ideals were called into question in the United States. In particular, the span of years between 1954 and 1974 were years of doubt and turmoil. The conditions were ripe for a revolution. Socially, a counterculture was developed in opposition to a conformist mentality. Judicially, the Civil Rights Movement brought about changes in outdated laws that promoted racism and violence. Politically, however, things largely remained sung to the tune of containment—keep communism on the defensive. All four presidents during these years worked on preserving the free democracy of countries in danger of losing it. In some ways, there was a revolution—against the status quo.
Socially, many revolutionary ideals and groups formed. In the 50’s, when everyone was conforming to a nuclear family, there was a small group who refused to do the same: The Beats. The Beats were a group of writers, disillusioned with the standard. Jack Kerouac was their leader, and he had a small but vocal minority behind him. They were “beat”, tired of conformity. The 60’s were even more of a revolution, in terms of speaking out. This was the decade of experimentation—a concept frowned upon by elders. 60’s youth began using drugs heavily and initiated a sexual revolution. Before this, drugs and sex were taboo, things that were not mentioned in proper company. Women were seen as homemakers. With Betty Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique, that began to change. Women realized their own sexual potential and began to bring it to the mainstream. Premarital sex rose. Drug use rose. And youth was united by a feeling of rebellion. This was most evident in the demonstrations of the late 60’s and early 70’s against the Vietnam War. Students in particular began staging sit-ins to protest U.S. involvement in what they called an “un-winnable” war. SDS was the almost militant organization formed to protest the war. Youth was responsible for turning American public sentiment around in 1968, and bringing about a new way of thinking through 1954 to 1974.
Judicially, the black minority rose up to challenge laws that it perceived to be unfair. This was part of a grand scale plan called the Civil Rights Movement. Blacks, tired of 200 years of oppression, began mobilizing to lessen racism. A group called the NAACP, started by a young black lawyer named Charles Houston, was determined to get the Jim Crow segregation laws repealed. This group was made up of interracial young lawyers, who challenged the law, one case at a time. They brought down the Plessy vs. Ferguson case (separate yet equal) with Brown vs. Board of Education. This deemed segregation to be unfair and traumatizing to black children, and ordered desegregation in schools. There was much resistance to this, but other groups like the SCLC and SNCC staged protests and sit-ins to uphold it. After the March on Washington in 1963 (a coalition of black civil rights movement groups to pressure Congress), Lyndon B Johnson agreed to swing with the tide and introduce the Civil Rights Act. This was a major step forward for the Movement as it outlawed discrimination in housing, employment, forced the desegregation of schools, and outlawed bias in Federal programs. Another revolutionary event was the campaign to get black voting up. Although blacks could vote, many did not because they had pass unfair literacy tests. Even the ones that passed were afraid that they would get beaten if they voted. SCLC rose a protest in Selma, Alabama, then in Montgomery. Members were beaten by local law enforcement. These events prompted President Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act in 1965. This outlawed discriminatory literacy tests. Black voting noticeably rose. Because this minority had decided to start a revolutionary movement against unfair legislature, it got a whole new world of opportunity opened up.
Politically, much remained the same. 1954-1974 was the Cold War and the fear of communism pervaded much of America. The presidents during that time (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon) all responded about the same way to communism—with the policy of containment. They sought to prevent the spread of communism, and the possible collapse of the U.S. government to that philosophy. Eisenhower built up an extensive arms race against the U.S.S.R. Kennedy took a severe offensive strategy on pushing
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Counterculture of the 1960s, African-American Civil Rights Movement, Richard Nixon, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Vietnam War, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Sit-in, South Vietnam, Lyndon B. Johnson, Poor Peoples Campaign, Martin Luther King, Jr.
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