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U.S. History Curriculum

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George Burson
Aspen School District
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Understand the United States under the presidency of Harry S. Truman.

The overshadowing domestic fear of the immediate post-war world was the dread of a catastrophic post-war depression that might end in national bankruptcy and world chaos. The Marshall Plan was one answer to that fear; domestically the GI Bill of Rights assisted veterans in finding employment. It also helped pay for college education and medical care--$13.5 billion was pumped into the economy for veteran education and training alone. Recently discharged veterans were paid $20 a week for up to fifty-two weeks or until such time as they found a job (the average length was three months). Yet because of the pent-up demand for consumer goods, inflation, not depression was the result. After wartime controls were lifted off the economy in July 1946, wholesale prices shot up an average of 25 percent.

Truman became president with death of FDR in April, 1945. Cast in the shadow of Roosevelt, Truman seemed a second-rate figure. In the off-year elections of 1946 the Republicans capitalized on American anxieties about the post-war world, and Truman's ability to handle them, and won majorities in both houses of Congress for the first time since 1930. Unfortunately for the Republicans, their program involved little more than trying to reverse the reforms of the New Deal and voting down Truman's "Fair Deal" programs. Truman vetoed eighty Republican bills that attacked the New Deal and sent to Capitol Hill proposal after proposal that expanded social services. While most of his proposals were defeated by Congress (he increased the minimum wage and brought 10 million more people under social security), his advocacy of them insured that the Democratic coalition would hold firm during the 1948 election.

One of the results of World War II was the increase in stature and influence of business and a corresponding decrease in popular support for labor unions. The idea of being the "arsenal of democracy" made it hard for politicians to attack business as they had during the New Deal. Also, thousands of businessmen became dollar a year men in government. It was during World War II that the military-industrial complex began to form.

Truman was the first president to actively advocate the end of discrimination against American blacks. When Congress refused to take action on civil rights, Truman responded with an executive order that banned racial discrimination in the armed forces, in the civil service, and in companies that did business with the federal government. The government did little to actually enforce these orders. For example, it was the Korean War, not Truman's order, that integrated the armed forces. The first troops sent to Korea in 1950 from Japan suffered large numbers of casualties trying to stop the North Korean advance. Combat replacements were not yet available from the United States. The only troops available were the rear echelon troops already in Korea and Japan. Many of these soldiers were black. Thrown into battle out of desperation, the black soldiers, on the whole, fought well and bravely in integrated units. It was their performance that finally convinced the armed forces to integrate. Nevertheless, Truman's program was politically shrewd. Hundreds of thousands of blacks had moved out of the South, where they were disfranchised, into big cities in Northern and Western states with large numbers of electoral votes. Truman's civil rights policies insured that the Democratic party would continue to receive the black vote.


Understand the election of 1948.

By 1948 Truman seemed to have lost control of the economic and political situation. Republicans asked, "had enough?" "To err is Truman" became a popular joke. The Republicans nominated their 1944 candidate, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York. The Democrats nominated Truman. Because of his civil rights program the Southern branch of the Democratic party bolted and nominated Strom Thurmond for President on the States Rights or Dixiecrat party ticket. On the left, Henry A. Wallace led a group that disapproved of Truman's get tough with the Soviets approach. They left the Democratic party to form the Progressive party. These splits, far from hurting Truman, strengthened him. The Southern walkout insured Truman the black urban vote which more than made up for the four Southern states he lost to Thurmond. Wallace's defection cleared Truman of the Republican charges that he "was soft on Communism."

Truman conducted an adroit campaign. After the nominating conventions he called the Republican controlled congress back into session and challenged them to pass the Republican platform planks into law. With the Democrats stalling, and with all members eager to get out on the campaign trail, no important legislation was passed. Truman then put the Republicans on the defensive by campaigning against the "do-nothing Eightieth Congress." His campaign reinforced the New Deal loyalty to the Democratic party.

Public-opinion polls forecast a sure Republican victory (they stopped polling two weeks before the election). Life magazine ran an issue with Dewey on the cover with the headline "our next president." The Chicago Tribune put out an election extra announcing that "Dewey Defeats Truman." But Truman received 24.1 million popular votes against 22 million for Dewey, and 303 electoral votes against 189. Truman won for two reasons. First, the Democratic coalition of blacks, union members, and northern urban ethnics held. Second, the Republicans were so confident of victory that many of them did not vote. The 53 percent voter turn-out was the lowest in history. Truman's victory was a party victory, not a personal one, although the Democrats also regained control of Congress.


Understand the Second Red Scare.

The Soviet take over of Eastern Europe, the Chinese Communist victory in China, the invasion of South Korea by the Communist North, and the Soviet explosion of an atomic bomb in 1949 bewildered and frightened the American people. In addition, the Truman administration conducted a public relations campaign designed to "scare the hell" out of the American people to get support for its containment policies. When these factors combined with politicians willing to take advantage of the situation for their own personal benefit, a great fear of subversion and Communism swept the United States.

In 1947 President Truman set up a federal loyalty program. By December 1952, 6.6 million people had been checked for security -- 490 were dismissed as ineligible for government employment on loyalty grounds. No cases of espionage were uncovered by the investigations. On the other hand, several people who had worked on the development of the atomic bomb were convicted of passing information to the Soviets, and two of them, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, were executed in 1953.

In February, 1950 a little-known senator from Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy, gave a speech in Wheeling West Virginia. "I have here in my hand a list," he said -- a list of Communists in the State Department. He insisted that these Communists were "known to the Secretary of State," and they were "still working and making policy." In other words, according to McCarthy, Secretary of State Acheson himself, as well as other high-ranking government officials, actively abetted Communist subversion.

McCarthy had no such list. He never released a single name, and never fingered a single Communist in government. Yet McCarthy rose to power because of the political conditions created during the late 1940s by a group of Republicans as they sought power. The Democratic victory of 1948 was terribly frustrating to the Republicans. They had been denied the presidency since 1933 and they had thought for sure that it would be theirs in 1948 -- four more years of Democratic rule was a bitter realization. By placing the blame for the post-war success of Communism on internal American subversion the Republicans had a sure-fire campaign issue against the Democrats. It was a simple solution to a complex problem and it appealed to the American people -- Communism succeed, not because American was innately wrong or weak, but because traitors had undermined the system from within. McCarthy, with the tact support of congressional Republicans, made himself the personal symbol in the American fight against Communism -- in other words, for a time, to attack Joe McCarthy was to attack the "American way of life."

To many Republicans McCarthy symbolized the issues generated by more than a decade of attacks against the Democratic administrations of Roosevelt and Truman. When two Democrat Senators who had opposed McCarthy were defeated in the 1950 elections (their defeat was not because of their opposition to McCarthy, but people thought otherwise) Democrats feared him as a threat to personal and party fortunes. As a result neither party acted to check McCarthy or to restrain his excessive behavior. In this sense both McCarthy and McCarthyism can be understood as products of the normal operation of American party politics.

During this period many people had their careers and lives ruined by gossip and innuendo. "Black lists" were created in education, entertainment, business, and government. If a person's name was on the list he could not get work. Anyone who hired an individual on the list ran the risk of being added to it. The House UnAmerican Activities Committee called hundreds of witnesses before it, badgering them and questioning their veracity. Throughout the country, zealous citizens anxious to protect their communities from the taint of Communism, failed to distinguish between Communism and the traditional American right to dissent.

With election of the Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower to the presidency in 1952, McCarthy became an embarrassment to the Republican party. For over a year Eisenhower tried to get along with McCarthy. But McCarthy grew increasingly erratic and the televised Army-McCarthy hearings of April-June 1954 proved to be his downfall. By taking on the army and the Eisenhower administration McCarthy went too far -- his behavior on television turned many Americans against him and the Senate moved to censure him. If McCarthy had not attacked Eisenhower, the Republican State Department, and other Republican Senators, he probably would not have been censured by a 67 to 22 vote. McCarthy was censured for his refusal to appear before a Senate subcommittee to answer questions and for his abuse of an army general before his own subcommittee. In other words, McCarthy was censured for breaking the rules of the Senate--thus the Senate, like the American people, never really grappled with the real question of the Second Red Scare; civil liberties during times of national stress. McCarthy died a broken man in 1957.


Understand the United States during the 1950s.

By 1952 people were dissatisfied with twenty years of Democratic rule. The Republicans selected Dwight D. Eisenhower as their candidate. Ike had been the Allied Supreme Commander in Europe, he was a moderate in politics, and he was one of the most popular men in America ("I Like Ike" was his campaign slogan). Eisenhower easily defeated his Democrat opponent governor of Illinois Adlai E. Stevenson. Eisenhower was so popular that in the 1956 election, a year after suffering a serious heart attack and just a few months after undergoing major abdominal surgery, the voters reelected him over Stevenson again by an even larger margin than in 1952.

Since Eisenhower was the first Republican president after the New Deal, his acceptance of most of the New Deal programs "legitimatized" them. They were now viewed as necessary and an integral part of the American system. Eisenhower was far less conservative than many liberals feared and many conservatives had hoped. Emphasis would be, as he expressed it, upon "dynamic conservatism" -- caution in financial and economic matters, but with attention to problems of human welfare. Under Eisenhower the St. Lawrence Seaway was built, and the Interstate Highway system was started. The Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act (1954) was designed to solve two problems: help the American farmer by getting rid of surplus farm food (which was expensive to store and which would deteriorate if stored too long); and, use the surplus food as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Under this act the government began to sell surplus food to other nations for foreign currencies (which would then be respent in the host country), made outright gifts of surplus food to needy nations, and provided cheap milk for schools. In 1959 food stamps were added to the program.

For a majority of Americans, the 1950s were an age of unprecedented prosperity. Wealth was still maldistributed; the poor remained about as numerous as they had been for decades. The lowest-paid 20 percent of the population earned the same 4 percent of the national income that they had during the 1920s; and the wealthiest 20 percent of the population continued to enjoy about 45 percent of the national income. What made the difference was the vast increase in "discretionary income" that evolved during World War II. In 1950, discretionary income totaled $100 billion compared with $40 billion in 1940. The sum increased steadily throughout the decade.

Television was the most significant social development of the 1950s. Invented in 1927, there were only 8,000 privately owned televisions in the U.S. in 1946. After the war the radio networks plunged into television, making more extensive programming available -- by 1950 3,880,000 (9 percent) of American homes had televisions. By 1955 the number had jumped to 64.5 percent of American homes, and by 1970, more American households were equipped with a television set than had refrigerators, bathtubs, or indoor toilets.

The impact of television is still unclear. It probably caused a decline in reading among young people. It helped create a mass culture. National businesses discovered that they could compete with local merchants because of television advertising. During the 1960s, American towns began to look alike with the growth of chain supermarkets and national franchise companies that drove local owned businesses into bankruptcy. Because the network and local news programs preferred announcers who spoke "standard American English," regional variations in speech declined. Television carried the events of the day directly into people's homes -- the black civil rights movement of the 1960s, for example, received a great boost when Northern whites saw on television the Southern white oppression of blacks. The terrorists of today realize the emotional impact of television and often use it for their own benefit.

Television helped increase the power of the presidency. FDR was the first president to recognize the value of the mass media with his radio broadcast "fireside chats." As the only nationally elected politician (with the exception of the vice president) the president can command television time almost at will. Being able to speak directly to the people of the nation greatly increases his ability to sell his programs and ideas -- an advantage his political opponents do not have.

The essence of the good life, to many Americans of the 1950s, was to escape from the cities and the country and move to the suburbs. In part, young couples of the postwar period had little choice as to where they would live. World War II had forced millions of them to delay marrying (or if married, the new wife tended to live with her parents while her husband was in the service) and starting a family. In 1945 and 1946, they rushed into marriage, childbearing, and searching for a place to live. But because of the stagnation of domestic construction during the Great Depression and the war, few homes were available. Land was much less expensive on the outskirts of cities than downtown, and developers rushed in to fill the housing need. Of the one million housing starts in 1946 and the 2 million in 1950 (compared with 142,000 in 1944), the vast majority were in the suburbs. The houses of suburbia tended to be very similar in design to allow for quick construction and low selling prices. By 1960, as many Americans lived in suburbs as in large cities.

The flight from the center cities left urban centers to the elderly, the poor, and the racial minorities -- a poor tax base -- and it segregated the suburbanites from other ages, classes, and races of people (95 percent of the people living in the suburbs were white, 25-35 years in age, married couples with infant children ). Suburban life reinforced the American dependence upon the automobile. Neighborhood shopping centers began to disappear to be replaced by the shopping mall. In 1945, there were eight automobile-oriented shopping centers in the U.S., by 1960 there were almost 4,000.


Understand the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency in 1960.

The election of 1960 pitted Vice President Richard M. Nixon against Senator John F. Kennedy. Nixon had made his reputation as a anti-Communist Republican congressman and senator from California. Kennedy, a witty and charming Senator from Massachusetts, had lost a bid to be Stevenson's vice presidential running-mate in 1956, but he had gained national recognition in the attempt. The Democratic Senate leader, Texan Lyndon B. Johnson, who had run second to Kennedy in the convention balloting, accepted Kennedy's request to be the vice presidential candidate.

As usual, personalities and emotions probably played a more important role than issues in the campaign. The two candidates were in basic agreement on most major questions. Kennedy's central theme was the need for positive leadership, public sacrifice, and a bold national effort to "get America moving again." He spoke often of a "missile gap" (actually nonexistent) that Eisenhower had allowed to develop between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Nixon denied that the military and economic situation was as bad as Kennedy claimed and he stated that he was the man to move America forward.

The election was extremely close, Kennedy's popular majority was only 119,057 out of 68.3 million votes. The margin in the Electoral College was more decisive -- 303 for Kennedy to 219 for Nixon (with 15 Southern votes for the segregationist candidate Harry F. Byrd of Virginia). Kennedy was the nation's first Catholic president. His Catholicism enabled him to capture the votes of some Catholic Republicans and many Catholic Democrats, but Nixon captured even more Democratic Protestant votes. The election also foreshadowed the break-up of the New Deal Democratic coalition. Party loyalty was declining as ticket splitting and independent voting became even more pronounced. White southerners continued to move out of the Democratic party because of its support (as compared to the Republicans) for black rights. Nixon received almost half of the southern popular vote. Senator Byrd gave white Southerners an opportunity to vote against the Democrats, and most white Southerners could not bring themselves to vote Republican yet (the party of Lincoln and the hated "Yankees"), but the time was soon coming. Kennedy won by barely keeping the Democratic coalition together.

Kennedy's "New Frontier" programs faced serious obstacles in Congress. The coalition of conservative Republicans and Southern Democrats that had been blocking or diluting progressive legislation since 1938 continued to resist most of his programs. For example, Kennedy was unable to get a school aid bill, Medicare, a civil rights bill, or a tax cut/reform bill through Congress. Kennedy was able to get the Peace Corps started, and the 1959 Soviet launching of the Earth's first artificial satellite (Sputnik) enabled him to convince Congress to begin a massive space research and development program, which set the goal of passing the Soviets and sending an American to the moon by 1970 -- Southern conservatives were happy to vote for the space bills since most of the space facilities were located in their region. Kennedy was able to lay the groundwork for his programs though, and most importantly, to bring them to the public's attention. In 1964 the situation would change. Along with electing Lyndon Johnson to the presidency a huge Democratic majority was sent to Congress, in large part because the voters wanted the Democratic program to be enacted.


Understand the United States relationship with Cuba.

After the Spanish-American War and the American acquisition of the Panama Canal, the United States was determined to dominate the entire Western Hemisphere. American troops would land in the Caribbean over twenty times during the early 20th century to protect or consolidate U.S. interests, provoking a mounting feeling of anti-Americanism in Latin America.

World War I diminished England's historical influence and facilitated U.S. economic expansion in the hemisphere. Between 1913 and 1920 U.S. commerce with Latin America increased by 400 percent. In 1929, U.S. investment in the region amounted to over $5 billion, exceeding Britain's by almost one billion. The Great Depression and the rise of fascism modified U.S. policy toward Latin America. Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt the U.S. pursued a "Good Neighbor" policy toward the region. While U.S. economic domination did not diminish, U.S. political intervention into the domestic affairs of Latin American countries did. For example, when Mexico nationalized its oil industry American oil firms pressured the U.S. government to take retaliatory action. Instead President Roosevelt gave Mexico long-term credits to enable the Mexican government to compensate U.S. companies.

After World War II the U.S. once again relegated Latin America to a secondary position. The American goal was stability in the region to allow American businesses to penetrate Latin American markets. The immense economic power of the U.S based multinational companies often dwarfed all local enterprises -- the annual sales revenue of United Brands (the old United Fruit Company), for example, exceeded the entire national budgets of countries such as Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

After the United States defeated the Spanish in 1898 the United States sought to make Cuba a self-governing protectorate, an arrangement designed to protect American interests in Cuba without the problems of colonialism. The Cuban constitution included the Platt Amendment which gave the U.S. the naval base at Guantanamo Bay "in perpetuity," and the right to intervene in Cuba for the "preservation of Cuban independence" and for the "maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty" (the intervention portion of the amendment was abrogated in 1934).

The next years witnessed the rapid expansion of sugar production, increased American investment, persistent political corruption, and economic and political instability. The Cuban economy was almost totally dependent upon sugar. By manipulating the amount of sugar allowed into the U.S. the United States could direct the Cuban economy. As the U.S. ambassador to Cuba stated in a 1960 Senate hearing: "The United States . . . was so overwhelming influential in Cuba that . . . the American Ambassador was the second most important man in Cuba; sometimes even more important than the Cuban President."

By 1930 foreign companies controlled 80 percent of the Cuban sugar industry and the majority of the profits from sugar production left the country. Land ownership was concentrated in very few hands--twenty-two companies owned 20 percent of Cuba's agricultural land. Industry was almost nonexistent, for a series of reciprocal trade agreements with the United States--which guaranteed Cuba's sugar market--made it impossible for Cuban industry to compete with American imports. Most sugar workers were needed only during the harvest; they were jobless during the other eight months of the year. By the 1950s the economic injustices of the Cuban economy made it ripe for revolution.

In a 1952 coup Fulgencio Batista gained control of the Cuban government (Batista had earlier ruled Cuba during 1934-1944). Batista was typical of the military dictators that often control third world countries. He preferred bribery and corruption over brutality, but he was not adverse to using force and torture if necessary to remain in power. In 1959 Fidel Castro overthrew Batista and threw U.S. - Cuban relations into a turmoil.

Castro, born in 1927, is the illegitimate son of a wealthy Cuban landowner. His father's estate contained over 10,000 acres and employed 500 men. In 1953 Castro led a small band of men in an attack on some Cuban army barracks in the hope of setting off a rebellion against Batista. The attack failed, and most of the men were killed or captured and tortured. Castro himself was captured several days after the attack and sentenced to jail. Although the assault failed, the drastic acts of repression the government carried out in its wake, and Castro's eloquent defense speech at his trial ("History will Absolve Me") made him a national hero. Castro spent the next 19 months in prison. In 1955 Batista proclaimed a general amnesty for all political prisoners and Castro moved to Mexico.

In 1956 Castro and 81 others landed in Cuba. The landing was betrayed and he and a small group of other survivors were lucky to escaped to the Sierra Maestra mountains. From there he conducted guerrilla raids on government forces. By 1957 violence was rampant throughout Cuba. Various groups, most unaffiliated with Castro, attacked Batista's regime and met with government retaliation. By March, 1958 the United States realized that Batista was doomed and it suspended arms shipments to his government. On January 1, 1959 Batista and his closest aides fled to safety to Miami and Castro was in control of the government. Thus, a rebel band, numbering fewer than 300 until mid-1958 and barely 3,000 when the old regime fell, defeated the government of Cuba. Castro won because he was organized, he refused to quit, he had the backing of the majority of the people, and Batista's army was corrupt and incompetent.

After taking office Castro consolidated power in his hands. Public trials and executions of former allies of Batista took place. Since Castro was a nationalist, and since much of Cuban wealth was owned by foreigners, he realized that true Cuban independence would alienate the United States -- especially programs like land reform and the expropriation of industry. Castro used the Soviet Union as an ally to insure Cuban economic and political independence from the U.S. The Soviet Union was only too happy to oblige, seeing a ally only 60 miles from the shores of the U.S. as a great asset. In February 1960 the Soviet Union and Cuba signed a trade agreement to exchange Cuban sugar for Soviet oil and machinery. In June the U.S. eliminated the Cuban sugar quota and banned all U.S. exports to Cuba. In January 1961 diplomatic relations were severed.

President Eisenhower gave the CIA approval to begin planning an invasion of Cuba using anti-Castro Cuban refugees. The Cubans would land at a remote section of the country and set up a base of operations to carry out guerrilla warfare against Castro with the goal of overthrowing his government. Upon taking power in January 1961, President Kennedy approved of the plan and in April 1961 the invasion began. About 1,400 Cuban exiles, trained by Americans in Guatemala, carried ashore on American ships, and covered by American airplanes, landed at the Bay of Pigs. Castro completely crushed them. Kennedy had played a delicate game, trying to give enough support to make the invasion work but not enough to make U.S. involvement obvious. That he failed in both counts was confirmed when Kennedy had to publicly claim responsibility for the fiasco and give Castro $60 million worth of medical and "humanitarian" supplies for the return of the captured invaders.

Emboldened by this American failure, in 1962 the Soviets began placing nuclear armed missiles in Cuba. These missiles would have reduced the warning time to the U.S. to just a few minutes instead of the 15-20 minute warning that missiles launched from the Soviet Union would have (at the time the Soviets did not have submarines capable of launching missiles). Later estimates showed that the Cuban missiles would have doubled the available megatonage that the Soviet Union could have used against the U.S. On the other hand, as the Soviets pointed out to Kennedy, the U.S. had previously placed nuclear armed missiles in Turkey that were as close to the Soviet Union as their missiles in Cuba were to the United States.

After the discovery of the missiles in October 1962, Kennedy instituted a naval blockade of Cuba and told the Soviet Union that if they refused to remove the missiles already in Cuba the U.S. would bomb the missiles sites and invade the island. After thirteen days in which the world came perilously close to nuclear war, a deal was struck whereby the U.S. agreed not to invade Cuba and the Soviets agreed to withdraw their missiles. The U.S. also secretly agreed to go ahead with its plans of withdrawing its obsolete missiles from Turkey. The April 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco greatly increased Castro's prestige in Cuba and moved him even closer to the Soviet Union. Castro's move leftward caused many middle and upper class Cubans to flee the country--eventually over a million Cubans would leave. Castro began an extensive land reform program and the nationalization of U.S. owned property without compensation.

From the beginning of its existence the Cuban Communist government assisted "liberation" movements throughout the underdeveloped world. In addition to a philosophical belief in these movements, Castro used the Cuban army to help pay off his debts to the Soviet Union. As many as 40,000 Cuban troops have been stationed in Africa; Cuban troops played a significant role in the triumph of the Marxist regime of Angola. Cuba sponsored civilian aid programs in over 35 countries. This aid primarily consisted of medical and education assistance and public works construction--the latter was a major earner of foreign exchange. The revolution did not cure Cuba's economic problems. The country is still economically dependent on sugar production. Sugar makes up over 80 percent of Cuba's exports. Because of the extreme fluctuations of sugar prices, Cuba was dependent on Soviet subsidies. The Communist bloc purchased over 60 percent of Cuba's sugar paying a subsidized price of four times the free market price. With the break-up of the Soviet Union these subsidized purchases have ended and Cuba is undergoing profound economic hardships.

While on a political trip to Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 President Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald was captured and two days later was himself murdered in the basement of the Dallas police headquarters by a night-club operator named Jack Ruby. The motives behind Oswald's actions are not known. Oswald had been in the Soviet Union the year before the assassination, and he had visited the Cuban embassy in Mexico City after his return to the United States. Unbeknown to the public, Kennedy had ordered the CIA to make several assassination attempts on the Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro. Castro was aware of the attempts though, and Kennedy's assassination may have been suggested by the Cubans to Oswald. Another theory holds that organized crime may have ordered the "hit." The Kennedy's were pushing hard against the Mob (the President's brother, Robert, was the Attorney General), and Jack Ruby was known to have underworld connections (Ruby died in jail from cancer soon after his conviction for Oswald's murder). In any case, no solid evidence has been uncovered to prove any theories about the assassination.


Understand Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.

After Kennedy's November, 1963, assassination Lyndon Johnson became president. Johnson was a product of the New Deal, and his "Great Society" programs were basically a continuation of Roosevelt's policies. In 1937 Johnson had been elected to the House, and in 1948 he entered the Senate. He was elected minority leader in 1953--a rare tribute to a freshman senator. From 1955 to 1960 he compiled a distinguished record as Senate Majority Leader. In 1964, Johnson was elected in his own right, defeating the conservative Republican candidate Barry Goldwater overwhelmingly. Goldwater carried only five deep south states (he had voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act) and his home state of Arizona.

Unlike Kennedy, Johnson was able to get almost all the legislation he sent to Congress passed into law. There were three important reasons for this success: 1) As Senate Minority and Majority leader Johnson knew the strengths and weakness of the members of Congress and he was able to use this information to manipulate them; 2) there was a tremendous outpouring of sympathy for Kennedy and his programs after his death--Johnson was not at all adverse in using his predecessor's memory to drum up support for his legislative program; and, 3) in the 1964 election the Democratic margin in the House increased by 38 seats and in the Senate by two seats. The Southern Democrat-Republican coalition could be out-voted.

Johnson's extraordinary political talents enabled him to push through a comprehensive social program and to effect a revolution in race relations. If it had not been for the Vietnam war Johnson might be recognized as one of the greatest American presidents. The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations, and the 1965 Voting Rights Acts gave blacks federal protection in voting. Federal aid to education was greatly increased, Medicare was enacted. Federal housing projects were started, the Job Corps trained disadvantaged youth for careers, VISTA sent volunteers into decaying inner cities and poor rural areas, and Head Start prepared poor children for school. The Great Society increased federal spending for health, education, and social purposes from $54 billion in 1964 to $98 billion in 1968. And it did seem to work. In 1959, 22.4 percent of the population had been classified by the government as "poor" (an annual income of $3,130 for an urban family of four), by 1969 the percentage had fallen to 12.2 percent.

The Vietnam War eventually killed the Great Society. Refusing to raise taxes, the administration eventually had to choose between "guns or butter," and it chose guns. But the problem was deeper than this. Johnson's programs were not sweeping enough to accomplish the institutional reforms necessary for permanent change. Wealth was not significantly redistributed. In 1962 the bottom 20 percent of the families in America shared 4.6 percent of the nation's personal income, in 1968 it had only increased to 5.7 percent (the top twenty percent decreased their share from 45.5 percent to 40.6 percent). After the Great Society ended the imbalance again began to increase. Between 1980 and 1984 the median family income for the bottom 40 percent of the population, in constant 1984 dollars, fell $477 ($12,966 to $12,489) while for the top 10 percent it increased $5,085 ($68,135 to $73,230).


Understand the civil rights movement.

To understand the civil rights movement two things must be kept in mind. First, the United States' population has always had strong racist elements in it. Second, Americans generally believe in the creed of equality. These two contradictory factors constantly played upon each other during the black drive for social, economic, and political equality and they account for many of the ambiguities in the white response. As bigoted as Americans can be, they tend to respond to pleas to alleviate social injustices. Anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism have significantly declined in American society. Presently, Indians, Asians, blacks, and Hispanics have full political rights. The discrimination that still exists is societal (de facto), not legal (de jure).

The United States is not unique or more racist than other countries, but when the black movement for equality came about in the late 1950s, ingrained racism would deeply effect not only the enemies of black equality, but also its friends. The Kennedy and Johnson administrations had to serve constituents that were diametrically opposed to each other -- urban blacks and whites. Since World War I blacks had been moving North. They tended to settle in urban areas like New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles that were located in key electoral college "swing" states. Thus, their votes counted heavily in national elections. For example, the black urban vote effectively counterbalanced the white southern vote that Truman lost to the Dixiecrats in the 1948 election. As long as the civil rights movement was confined to the South it had, in general, Northern white support. But, as Northern blacks began to also demand equality through affirmative action and school integration, many Northern whites began to oppose the movement. The Republican party took advantage of this white dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction is a significant reason why they were able to control the presidency, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, between 1968-1992 (Carter and Bill Clinton are the exceptions that proves the rule. Even though they are Southerners, more Southern whites voted against them than for them. But, enough southern whites did vote for them to allow them to carry some Southern states with a combined black-white vote).

After Reconstruction legal segregation had been instituted in the South. The Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) upheld the constitutionality of "separate but equal" facilities for blacks and whites. Yet the black facilities were not equal. Blacks had separate schools, water fountains, hospital and bus waiting rooms, and bathrooms (often gasoline stations did not have bathrooms for blacks, if they did, they were usually unisex). They were not allowed to swim in the public swimming pools, attend the local movie theater (or if they did they were segregated to the balcony), or use the public library. Restaurants and motels were for whites only. While segregation was total in the South, it was not confined to it. Las Vegas, Nevada, for example, refused to allow blacks to stay in its hotels or gamble in its casinos. Legality was the difference between southern and northern segregation. If a black tried to use a southern public facility he had broken the law, not just a custom. In the North segregation was preserved through segregated housing and social pressure.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded by, among others, W.E.B. Dubois, had been working for black rights since the early 1900s. By the 1950s the NAACP believed the time was ripe for an all-out attack on segregation. Many blacks had gone into World War II with the idea of a "double V for victory" -- victory over the Axis and victory over segregation. The successful integration of the armed forces during the Korean War proved that blacks and whites could work together. The Cold War made segregation an embarrassment to the national government in its fight against Communism. The movement of blacks from the South, where they were disfranchised, to the North, where they could vote, gave them increased political power.

The NAACP challenged school segregation in the courts, and in May, 1954 The Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka reversed the Plessy decision, stating "that in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. The Court was correct in its statement that "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." The state of Mississippi was a prime example. Although blacks comprised over 50 percent of the school age population, in the 1960-61 school year the state spent $46 million on white education versus $26 million for black education. Nine counties in Mississippi did not even have a black high school. As late as 1950, Mississippi employed over 700 black teachers who had not completed high school. Ten years after the Brown decision, a black teacher in Mississippi with a bachelor's degree made $350 less than a white teacher with identical credentials. Mississippi, like most southern states, required a literacy test to register to vote. And, as the U.S. Civil Rights Commission reported in 1965: "The quality of education afford Negroes has been so poor that any test of educational skill as a prerequisite to voting would necessarily discriminate against them."

The Court ordered school districts to integrate with "all deliberate speed." The border states moved toward compliance, but the deep south states resisted bitterly. In 1964, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina had less than one percent of their school age blacks in school with whites. It took a 1968 Supreme Court decision before the Court finally declared that "all deliberate speed" meant "at once." Yet, as late as 1970, over 18 percent of the south's black children were still in segregated schools, and almost 62 percent went to schools over half black.

Using the Brown decision as a catalyst, blacks began to work actively for the right to vote in the South and the right to use public facilities. Beginning in December, 1955, under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, blacks boycotted the Montgomery, Alabama's segregated bus system. When the boycott succeeded King went on to lead other attacks on segregation and, until his April 1968 assassination, he was the movement's most influential spokesman.

After the election of John F. Kennedy the movement picked up momentum, and as black discontent grew (Kennedy's rhetoric for black rights far outpaced his actions), there was a comparable increase in Southern resistance. The Civil Rights Commission reported in 1963, "Citizens of the United States have been shot, set upon by vicious dogs, beaten and otherwise terrorized because they sought to vote." Less dramatic than violence, but even more effective, was economic intimidation. Since the vast majority of jobs in the South were controlled by whites it was easy for Southern racists to insure that blacks who attempted to register to vote or who were active in the desegregation movement lost their jobs.

In August, 1963, a quarter of a million blacks and whites marched on Washington demanding black equality. After the death of Kennedy, Johnson was able to get the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed that forbade discrimination in public accommodations, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act which insured blacks the right to vote. In 1964 the 24th Amendment to the Constitution made the poll tax illegal. Legal discrimination had ended in the United States, but economic and social discrimination continue.

The introduction of chemical weed killers in the early 1950s permitted the economical use of tractors and mechanical cotton pickers on Southern plantations. Southern black hand labor was no longer needed and millions of uneducated, unskilled blacks were thrown off the plantations and many of them moved North. At the same time that blacks were moving North, whites were moving out of the cities into the suburbs and blacks replaced them as the occupants of the inner cities. In the 1950s segregation still existed in the North and the black ghetto was vertically integrated. Blacks of all classes and level of education and achievement lived there -- doctors, lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs, persons of strong religious feeling, as well as lower-income groups. Ironically, black gains in integrating housing killed this situation. Now there are few role models in the community. The black middle class no longer lives in the inner city and the stable working class is moving out as rapidly as possible. Although the majority of blacks are doing markedly better than they were before the civil rights movement, one-third are still below the poverty line. And for a core group of 2 million to 3.5 million chronically poor and alienated inner city and southern rural blacks, conditions seem to be deteriorating, with no improvement in sight. This group at the bottom -- an underclass -- seems beyond the reach of existing social programs, and may be growing. Its plight can be captured by statistics:

  • In 1950, 16 percent of children born to blacks and other minorities had unwed mothers; by 1989, 66 percent of all black infants were born to unwed mothers, compared with 16 percent of whites.
  • In 1955, blacks and other minorities had an unemployment rate of 8.2 percent, compared with 3.7 percent for whites. In August, 1992, black unemployment was 14.3 percent, compared with 6.6 percent for whites.
  • The majority of all persons sent to prison are black; most of the victims of their crimes are black. More black males are in prison than are attending college.
  • The black infant mortality rate is almost twice that of whites (19.2 deaths per 1,000 live births versus 9.7 deaths per 1,000 live births).
  • Black median family income in 1989 was $19,758 as compared to a white medium family income of $31,435. The income gap between blacks and whites is growing. In 1969 the medium family income of blacks was 61 percent of white medium family income; in 1992 it was 54 percent.

Today the inner city is populated almost exclusively by the most disadvantaged -- people outside the mainstream, criminals, families with long-term spells of poverty and welfare dependency. The black ghetto is increasingly isolated from mainstream America, creating the danger that a permanent underclass based on race is again developing in American society.

American women also increased their demands for equality in the 1960s. Building on a long tradition of struggle, inspired by the black civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and economic factors that caused the number of working wives to increase from 30 to 40 percent during the decade, women began to agitate for equal pay for equal work, and the removal of the "glass ceiling" that existed in most business firms. Betty Friedanâs 1963 book The Feminine Mystique articulated the frustration that many women felt, and helped lead to the 1966 formation of the National Organization for Women (NOW). As women increased their economic well-being, the fight over access to birth control and abortion became major feminist issues. It should be noted, that the poorest group in America is still single women with children.

The black civil rights movement stimulated other minority groups to seek equal civic rights and economic justice. Native Americans, long the poorest minority in the country, formed the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968 and began to move more aggressively in the courts to protect rights that had been promised to them in treaties with the national government. Cesar Chavez organized migrant farm workers (most of whom were Hispanics) into the United Farm Workers Union. He organized consumer grape and lettuce boycotts, and was able to get many farmers that used migrant workers to recognize his union.

Go on to  Ch. XV.  The Vietnam War

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