To what extent did the decade of the 1950s deserve its reputation as an age of political, social and cultural conformity?




“We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ''separate but equal'' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Source:  Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, 1954.




“I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work—a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

            Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”

Source:  William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Speech, 1950. University of Virginia Library, Special Collections.




“Resolved, That the Senator from Wisconsin, Mr. McCarthy, failed to cooperate with the Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration in clearing up matters referred to that subcommittee which concerned his conduct as a Senator and affected the honor of the Senate and, instead, repeatedly abused the subcommittee and its members who were trying to carry out assigned duties, thereby obstructing the constitutional processes of the Senate, and that this conduct of the Senator from Wisconsin, Mr. McCarthy…. acted contrary to senatorial ethics and tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute, to obstruct, the constitutional processes of the Senate, and to impair its dignity; and such conduct is hereby condemned.”

Source:  Senate Censure of Joseph McCarthy, 1954. Congressional Record, Vol. 100-Part 12, p. 16392. 




“How far have we come in man's long pilgrimage from darkness toward light? Are we nearing the light—a day of freedom and of peace for all mankind? Or are the shadows of another night closing in upon us?….

Yet the promise of this life is imperiled by the very genius that has made it possible. Nations amass wealth. Labor sweats to create, and turns out devices to level not only mountains but also cities. Science seems ready to confer upon us, as its final gift, the power to erase human life from this planet….

 “We must be willing, individually and as a Nation, to accept whatever sacrifices may be required of us. A people that values in privileges above its principles soon loses both.

These basic precepts are not lofty abstractions, far removed from matters of daily living. They are laws of spiritual strength that generate and define our material strength. Patriotism means equipped forces and a prepared citizenry. Moral stamina means more energy and more productivity, on the farm and in the factory. Love of liberty means the guarding of every resource that makes freedom possible, from the sanctity of our families and the wealth of our soil to the genius of our scientists.

           And so each citizen plays an indispensable role. The productivity of our heads, our hands, and our hearts is the source of all the strength we can command, for both the enrichment of our lives and the winning of the peace.”

Source:  President Eisenhower's First Inaugural Address, 1953. Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, 1789-1965.




“To strengthen the national defense and to encourage and assist in the expansion and improvement of educational programs to meet critical national needs; and for other purposes. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act, divided into titles and sections according to the following table of contents, may be cited as the ''National Defense Education Act of 1958''.

Sec. 101. …. We must increase our efforts to identify and educate more of the talent of our Nation. This requires programs that will give assurance that no student of ability will be denied an opportunity for higher education because of financial need; will correct as rapidly as possible the existing imbalances in our educational programs which have led to an insufficient proportion of our population educated in science, mathematics, and modern foreign languages and trained in technology.

            The Congress reaffirms the principle and declares that the States and local communities have and must retain control over and primary responsibility for public education. The national interest requires, however, that the Federal Government give assistance to education for programs which are important to our defense…. It is therefore the purpose of this Act to provide substantial assistance in various forms to individuals, and to States and their subdivisions, in order to insure trained manpower of sufficient quality and quantity to meet the national defense needs of the United States."

Source:  National Defense Education Act of 1958. U.S. Statutes at Large, Public Law 85-864, p. 1580-1605.




“AN ACT To provide for the reporting and disclosure of certain financial transactions and administrative practices of labor organizations and employers, to prevent abuses in the administration of trusteeships by labor organizations, to provide standards with respect to the election of officers of labor organizations, and for other purposes….

Sec. 2. (a) The Congress finds that, in the public interest, it continues to be the responsibility of the Federal Government to protect employees' rights to organize, choose their own representatives, bargain collectively, and otherwise engage in concerted activities for their mutual aid or protection; that the relations between employers and labor organizations and the millions of workers they represent have a substantial impact on the commerce of the Nation; and that in order to accomplish to objective of a free flow of commerce it is essential that labor organizations, employers, and their officials adhere to the highest standards of responsibility and ethical conduct in administering the affairs of their organizations, particularly as they affect labor-management relations.”

Source:  ''Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959.'' Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959. U.S. Statutes at Large, Public Law 86-257, p. 579-546.







“All history can show no more portentous economic phenomenon than today's American market. It is colossal, soaking up half the world's steel and oil, and three-fourths of its cars and appliances. The whole world fears it and is baffled by it. Let U.S. industry slip 5 per cent, and waves of apprehension sweep through foreign chancelleries. Let U.S. consumer spending lag even half as much, and the most eminent economists anxiously read the omens. The whole world also marvels at and envies this market. It is enabling Americans to raise their standard of living every year while other countries have trouble in maintaining theirs. And of course the whole world wants to get in on it. For it still can punish the incompetent and inefficient, and still reward handsomely the skillful, efficient, and daring….

The most important change of the past few years, by all odds, is the rise of the great mass into a new moneyed middle class, a rapidly growing market that seems bound, sooner or later, to become the American market. It is like no other middle class in history, either abroad or at home.”

Source:  From the editors of Fortune, "The Changing American Market" (Garden City, NY: Hanover House, 1955), pp. 13-18, 73-74, 249-250. (c) 1955 Time, Inc.




“Your industry possesses the most powerful voice in America. It has an inescapable duty to make that voice ring with intelligence and with leadership…. It should be making ready for the kind of leadership that newspapers and magazines assumed years ago, to make our people aware of their world…. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set…. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.

            You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western badmen, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And, endlessly, commercials, many screaming, cajoling, and offending….

            If parents, teachers, and ministers conducted their responsibilities by following the ratings, children would have a steady diet of ice cream, school holidays, and no Sunday School. What about your responsibilities? Is there no room on television to teach, to inform, to uplift, to stretch, to enlarge the capacities of our children?  Is there no room for programs deepening their understanding of children in other lands? Is there no room for a children's news show explaining something about the world to them at their level of understanding? Is there no room for reading the great literature of the past, teaching them the great traditions of freedom? There are some fine children's shows, but they are drowned out in the massive doses of cartoons, violence, and more violence. Must these be your trademarks? Search your consciences and see if you cannot offer more to your young beneficiaries whose future you guide so many hours each and every day....”

Source:  Newton N. Minow, "Program Control: The Broadcasters are Public Trustees," Vital Speeches of the Day 27, no. 17 (June 15, 1961), pp. 533-535.




“….What is more, Suburbia is the exemplification of the new and growing moneyed middle class, which Fortune described as a market that seems bound, sooner or later, to become the American market. The average family-unit income of Suburbia is $6,500, which is 70 per cent higher than that of the rest of the nation. Since 1940, real, spendable income of U.S. customers, in 1953 dollars, has increased by nearly two-thirds, and most of this increase has gone to expand the numbers and incomes of family units with more than $4,000 a year. Not only are about a third of these families concentrated in the suburbs, the $4,000-and-over group makes up two-thirds of the suburbs. Suburbia is already the cream of the market.

The middle-class Suburbia, rapidly growing larger and more affluent, is developing a way of life that seems eventually bound to become dominant in America. It has been a major force in the phenomenal rise in the nation's birth rate. It has centered its customs and conventions on the needs of children and geared its buying habits to them. It has made the "ranch house" nationally popular. It has kept whole industries busy making equipment for outdoor living. It has helped double the sale of raiment woven of once lowly denim, and caused the sales of sports shirts to overtake the sales of "dress     shirts….”

Source:  From the editors of Fortune, "The Changing American Market" (Garden City, NY: Hanover House, 1955), pp. 13-18, 73-74, 249-250. (c) 1955 Time, Inc.







Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky,
            Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same.
            There's a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one,
            And they're all made out of ticky tack and they all look just the same....

Source:  Words and music by Malvina Reynolds, 1962 Schroder Music, renewed 1990 Nancy Schimmel. Used by permission, all rights reserved.




“The suburban housewife, she was the dream image of the young American women and the envy, it was said, of women all over the world. The American housewife, freed by science and laborsaving appliances from the drudgery, the dangers of childbirth and the illnesses of her grandmother. She was healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned only about her husband, her children, her home. She had found true feminine fulfillment. As a housewife and mother, she was respected as a full and equal partner to man in his world. She was free to choose automobiles, clothes, appliances, supermarkets; she had everything that women ever dreamed of. 

In the fifteen years after World War 11, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture. Millions of women lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife…. Their only dream was to be perfect wives and mothers; their highest ambition to have five children and a beautiful house, their only fight to get and keep their husbands. They had no thought for the unfeminine problem.”

Source:  “The Problem That Has No Name”, 1963 Reprinted from The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, by permission of W. W. Norton & Co., Inc. Copyright (1963) by Betty Friedan.




“This book is about the organization man. If the term is vague, it is because I can think of no other way to describe the people I am talking about. They are not the workers, nor are they the white-collar people in the usual, clerk sense of the word. These people only work for The Organization. The ones I am talking about belong to it as well. They are the ones of our middle class who have left home, spiritually as well as physically, to take the vows of organization life, and it is they who are the mind and soul of our great self-perpetuating institutions. Only a few are top managers or ever will be. In a system that makes such hazy terminology as "junior executive" psychologically necessary, they are of the staff as much as the line, and most are destined to live poised in a middle area that still awaits a satisfactory euphemism. But they are the dominant members of our society nonetheless. They have not joined together into a recognizable elite, our country does not stand still long enough for that, but it is from their ranks that are coming most of the first and second echelons of our leadership, and it is their values which will set the American temper.”

Source:  William Allen Whyte Jr., The Organization Man (New York: Simon and Schuster, 19560, p3.




          “.... A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvision of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.... This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in American experience. The total influence, economic, political, even spiritual, is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications....

              In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together....”

Source:  Public Papers of the President: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960-1961 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Service, 1961), pp. 1036-1039.




Source:  Washington Post, Herb Block cartoon, 1954.


DBQ Question created by:

Mr. Jim Tomlin
Corona del Mar High School
Newport Beach, CA  92660
created in: March, 2001