Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The 1950s: Decade of Progress

It is difficult and dangerous to make generalizations about a decade. Statistically, each ten-year period will have outliers and counter-trends within trends.

One can make an interesting argument, however, that the 1950s was one of the best decades in United States history for African-Americans.

In the 1950s, Blacks didn't have the massive unemployment numbers they have now. A greater percentage of them registered to vote and did vote.

A greater percentage of their children were born to an intact married couple. Public schools, various means of transportation, and most workplaces were being desegregated.

African-Americans had higher literacy rates.

Over the course of the twentieth century, Black populations became increasingly concentrated in inner-city neighborhoods. The problems which we now associated with urban life were less acute in the 1950s.

Fewer African-Americans committed crimes, fewer were arrested, fewer were convicted of crimes, and fewer were incarcerated. Their use of illegal drugs, and their abuse of legal ones, was much less.

It was after the 1950s, between 1960 and 2015, that life in the ‘ghetto’ became measurably characterized by unemployment, poverty, crime, drug abuse, and single parent families.

Life was not perfect in the 1950s. There were real problems and real tensions in race relations.

But in the 1950s, Blacks made progress. This decade was ‘the civil rights era.’

The 1950s saw the final and permanent end to the horrific practice of lynching. The last recorded lynching was in 1955. There were zero after that, and zero in 1952, 1953, and 1954.

During those same years, Rev. Martin Luther King led the Montgomery bus boycott and founded the SCLC.

A young African-American man was more likely to complete high school and get a job in the 1950s than in the year 2015.

The Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. President Eisenhower sent federal troops to ensure that the “Little Rock Nine” were able to obtain an education based on that Supreme Court decision.

Eisenhower also pushed the 1957 Civil Rights Act through Congress and signed it into law. He ensured that troops in the United States Army were fully integrated, moving President Truman’s symbolic Executive Order 9981 into reality.

All of these steps worked to crumble the “Jim Crow” laws, and the culture built around them.

America’s large cities were then more integrated than in the year 2015.

Life in the 1950s was not perfect. America had not solved all of its race-related problems. But there was an increasing sense of liberty, opportunity, and safety among Blacks - more than in previous decades, and sadly, more than in subsequent decades.