Civil Rights and the 1950s: Crash Course US History #39


Episode 39: Consensus and Protest: Civil Rights
LOCKED Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course
U.S. history and today we’re going to look at one of the most important periods of American
social history, the 1950s. Why is it so important? Well, first because
it saw the advent of the greatest invention in human history: Television.
Mr. Green, Mr. Green! I like TV! By the way, you’re from the future. How does the X-Files
end? Are there aliens or no aliens? No spoilers, Me From The Past, you’re going
to have to go to college and watch the X-Files get terrible just like I did.
No it’s mostly important because of the Civil Rights Movement We’re going to talk
about some of the heroic figures like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but much of the
real story is about the thousands of people you’ve never heard of who fought to make
America more inclusive. But before we look at the various changes
that the Civil Rights Movement was pushing for, we should spend a little time looking
at the society that they were trying to change. The 1950s has been called a period of consensus,
and I suppose it was, at least for the white males who wrote about it and who all agreed
that the 1950s were fantastic for white males. Consensus culture was caused first, by the
Cold War – people were hesitant to criticize the United States for fear of being branded
a communist, and, second, by affluence – increasing prosperity meant that more people didn’t
have as much to be critical of. And this widespread affluence was something
new in the United States. Between 1946 and 1960 Americans experienced a period of economic
expansion that saw standards of living rise and gross national product more than double.
And unlike many previous American economic expansions, much of the growing prosperity
in the fifties was shared by ordinary working people who saw their wages rise.
To quote our old friend Eric Foner, “By 1960, an estimated 60 percent of Americans
enjoyed what the government defined as a middle-class standard of living.”[1]
And this meant that increasing numbers of Americans had access things like television,
and air conditioning, and dishwashers and air travel. That doesn’t really seem like
a bonus. Anyway, despite the fact that they were being
stuffed into tiny metal cylinders and hurdled through the air, most Americans were happy
because they had, like, indoor plumbing and electricity.
intro The 1950s was the era of suburbanization.
The number of homes in the United States doubled during the decade, which had the pleasant
side effect of creating lots of construction jobs.
The classic example of suburbanization was Levittown in New York, where 10,000 almost
identical homes were built and became home to 40,000 people almost overnight.
And living further from the city meant that more Americans needed cars, which was good
news for Detroit where cars were being churned out with the expectation that Americans would
replace them every two years. By 1960, 80% of Americans owned at least one
car and 14% had two or more. And car culture changed the way that Americans
lived and shopped. I mean it gave us shopping malls, and drive thru restaurants, and the
backseat makeout session. I mean, high school me didn’t get the backseat makeout session.
But, other people did! I did get the Burger King drive thru though.
And lots of it. Our whole picture of the American standard
of living, with its abundance of consumer goods and plentiful services was established
in the 1950s. And so, for so for many people this era was
something of a “golden age” especially when we look back on it today with nostalgia.
But there were critics, even at the time. So when we say the 1950s were an era of consensus,
one of the things we’re saying is there wasn’t much room for debate about what it
meant to be an American. Most people agreed on the American values:
individualism, respect for private property, and belief in equal opportunity.
The key problem was that we believed in equal opportunity, but didn’t actually provide
it. But some people were concerned that the cookie
cutter vision of the good life and the celebration of the middle class lifestyle was displacing
other conceptions of citizenship. Like the sociologist C. Wright Mills described
a combination of military, corporate, and political leaders as a power elite whose control
over government and the economy was such as to make democracy an afterthought.
In The Lonely Crowd sociologist David Riesman criticized Americans for being conformist
and lacking the rich inner life necessary to be truly independent.
And John Kenneth Galbraith questioned an Affluent Society that would pay for new cars and new
missiles but not for new schools. And we can’t mention the 1950s without discussing
teenagers since this was the decade that gave us Rock and Roll, and rock stars like Bill
Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and Elvis Presley and his hips.
Another gift of the 1950s was literature, much of which appeals especially to teenagers.
Like, the Beats presented a rather drug-fueled and not always coherent criticism of the bourgeois
1950’s morals. They rejected materialism, and suburban ennui and things like regular
jobs while celebrating impulsivity, and recklessness, experimentation and freedom.
And also heroin. So you might have noticed something about
all those critics of the 1950s that I just mentioned: they were all white dudes. Now,
we’re gonna be talking about women in the 1950s and 1960s next week because their liberation
movement began a bit later, but what most people call the Civil Rights Movement really
did begin in the 1950s. While the 1950s were something of a golden
age for many blue and white collar workers, it was hardly a period of expanding opportunities
for African Americans. Rigid segregation was the rule throughout
the country, especially in housing, but also in jobs and in employment. In the South, public
accommodations were segregated by law, while in the north it was usually happening by custom
or de facto segregation. To give just one example, the new suburban
neighborhoods that sprang up in the 1950s were almost completely white and this remained
true for decades. According Eric Foner, “As late as the 1990s,
nearly 90 percent of suburban whites lived in communities with non-white populations
less than 1 percent.” And it wasn’t just housing. In the 1950s
half of black families lived in poverty. When they were able to get union jobs, black workers
had less seniority than their white counterparts so their employment was less stable.
And their educational opportunities were severely limited by sub-standard segregated schools.
Now you might think the Civil Rights Movement began with Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus
Boycott or else Brown v. Board of Education, but it really started during WW2 with efforts
like those of A. Philip Randolph and the soldiers taking part in the Double-V crusade.
But even before that, black Americans had been fighting for civil rights. It’s just
that in the 1950s, they started to win. So, desegregating schools was a key goal of
the Civil Rights movement. And it started in California in 1946.
In the case of Mendez v. Westminster the California Supreme Court ruled that Orange County, of
all places, had to desegregate their schools. They’d been discriminating against Latinos.
And then, California’s governor, Earl Warren, signed an order that repealed all school segregation
in the state. That same Earl Warren, by the way, was Chief Justice when the landmark case
Brown v. Board of Education came before the Supreme Court in 1954.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall had been pursuing a legal
strategy of trying to make states live up to the ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson that required
all public facilities to be separate but equal. They started by bringing lawsuits against
professional schools like law schools, because it was really obvious that the three classrooms
and no library that Texas set up for its African American law students were not equal to the
actual University of Texas’s law school. But the Brown case was about public schools
for children. It was actually a combination of 5 cases from 4 states, of which Brown happened
to be alphabetically the first. The Board of Education in question incidentally
was in Topeka Kansas, not one of the states of the old Confederacy, but nonetheless a
city that did restricted schooling by race. Oh, it’s time for the Mystery Document?
The rules here are simple. I read the Mystery Document. If I’m wrong,
I get shocked. “Segregation of white and colored children
in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater
when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually
interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects
the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a
tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive
them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system.
[Footnote 10]”[2] Stan, the last two weeks you have given me
two extraordinary gifts and I am thankful. It is Earl Warren from Brown v. Board of Education.
Huzzah! Justice Warren is actually quoting from sociological
research there that shows that segregation itself is psychologically damaging to black
children because they recognize that being separated out is a badge of inferiority.
Alright, let’s go to the Thought Bubble. The Brown decision was a watershed but it
didn’t lead to massive immediate desegregation of the nation’s public schools. In fact,
it spawned what came to be known as “Massive Resistance” in the South. The resistance
got so massive, in fact, that a number of counties, rather than integrate their schools,
closed them. Prince Edward County in Virginia, for instance,
closed its schools in 1959 and didn’t re-open them again until 1964. Except they didn’t
really close them because many states appropriated funds to pay for white students to attend
“private” academies. Some states got so into the resistance that they began to fly
the Confederate Battle flag over their state capitol buildings. Yes, I’m looking at you
Alabama and South Carolina. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to
move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama and got arrested, kicking off the Montgomery
Bus Boycott that lasted almost a year. A lot of people think that Parks was simply an average
African American working woman who was tired and fed up with segregation, but the truth
is more complicated. Parks had been active in politics since the
1930s and had protested the notorious Scottsboro Boys case. She had served as secretary for
the NAACP and she had begun her quest to register to vote in Alabama in 1943. She failed a literacy
test three times before becoming one of the very few black people registered to vote in
the state. And in 1954 she attended a training session for political activists and met other
civil rights radicals. So Rosa Parks was an active participant in the fight for black
civil rights long before she sat on that bus. The Bus Boycott also thrust into prominence
a young pastor from Atlanta, the 26 year old Martin Luther King Jr. He helped to organize
the boycott from his Baptist church, which reminds us that black churches played a pivotal
role in the Civil Rights Movement. That boycott would go on to last for 381 days and in the
end, the city of Montgomery relented. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So that was, of course,
only the beginning for Martin Luther King, who achieved his greatest triumphs in the
1960s. After Montgomery, he was instrumental in forming
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a coalition of black civil rights and church
leaders who pushed for integration. And they needed to fight hard, especially in the face
of Massive Resistance and an Eisenhower administration that was lukewarm at best about civil rights.
But I suppose Eisenhower did stick up for civil rights when forced to, as when Arkansas
Governor Orval Faubus used the National Guard to prevent the integration of Little Rock’s
Central High School by 9 black students in 1957.
Eisenhower was like, “You know, as the guy who invaded Normandy, I don’t think that’s
the best use for the National Guard.” So, Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division
(not the entirety of it, but some of it) to Little Rock, Arkansas, to walk kids to school.
Which they did for a year. After that, Faubus closed the schools, but at least the federal
government showed that it wouldn’t allow states to ignore court orders about the Constitution.
In your face, John C. Calhoun. Despite the court decision and the dispatching
of Federal troops, by the end of the 1950s fewer than two percent of black students attended
integrated schools in the South. So, the modern movement for Civil Rights had
begun, but it was clear that there was still a lot of work to do.
But the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement shows us that the picture of consensus in
the 1950s is not quite as clear-cut as its proponents would have us believe.
Yes, there was widespread affluence, particularly among white people, and criticism of the government
and America generally was stifled by the fear of appearing to sympathize with Communism.
But there was also widespread systemic inequality and poverty in the decade that shows just
how far away we were from living the ideal of equal opportunity.
That we have made real progress, and we have, is a credit to the voices of protest.
Next week we’ll see how women, Latinos, and gay people added their voices to the protests
and look at what they were and were not able to change in the 1960s. Thanks for watching.
I’ll see you then. Crash Course is made with the help of all
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[1] Foner Give me Liberty ebook version p. 992
[2] http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/347/483/case.html

100 thoughts on “Civil Rights and the 1950s: Crash Course US History #39”

  1. I know this video is a few years old, but I want to point out an error. When saying Orval Faubus' name, John pronounces his last name wrong. It's actually pronounced closer to saw or flaw, rather than what is said in the video. Other than that, great video!

  2. Does anyone know if Crashcourse's done anything about mixed people or chinese immigrates in the older days. Or any good documentaries about them? I'm kinda interested to learn a bit more about ti but can't find any good sources

  3. Still on the fence on "aliens" in regards to Xfiles. Xfiles Season 11 basically infers that the aliens was all made up by the government. So yes aliens exist but not from a different planet.

  4. People wonder why they loved the 50's he gave you all the answers! White people flourished like never before! With that being said they didn't worry nor care about what anyone else was going through! This is why they want that time period back again. They want to be able to kill anyone of color at will and still move about like it's business as usual…

  5. I just read an online article about Egypt's female pharaoh, Nefertiti. Although she was clearly black, Hitler approved of her Aryan features, (aquiline nose, sculpted cheekbones, etc.), and displayed her bust at a museum. This resolves the seeming contradiction between Prince Harry's Nazi uniform, and his marriage to Meghan. So in the end, this is what the Civil Rights Movement accomplished: the resurgence of Nazism, masquerading as racial progress. Many people believe that Nefertiti died in disgrace. Maybe that's a good thing. Because for every high yellow queen out there, there is a biracial woman who is treated like any old dog, because her features are not Aryan enough. Or simply because she is a nice girl, who does not wish to benefit from Nazism.

  6. The one downside to the civil rights outcome is that we now think of rights in terms of groups, but rights by definition must be exclusively individual. Whites do not have rights. Blacks do not have rights. But each individual person has rights. That is the most fundamental aspect of liberal thought all the way back to the beginning of the Enlightenment, and we've managed to obscure it by focusing on groups instead of individuals. The effect has been to diminish the rights and freedoms of us all as reactionary movements against Enlightenment liberalism, such as socialism, work to take rights away from individuals and give more power to the state. This was never the intent of the civil rights movement, and most who participated would be mortified by this result.

  7. why does this liberal idiot have to make black people into incompetent victims who cant succeed without the charity of white people. It's sad how these liberal morons are more concerned about virtue signaling and relishing themselves in their own morally superiority then they are about how they are pepuatuating black poverty by contributing to the victim complex , robbing black youth of any ambition to suceed by convincing them the system is designed to make them fail so no matter how hard they try they will always be on the bottom. Who are the real racists?

  8. The media portrays black communities as bad people some are but a lot aren't if you notice some blacks live in very broken houses or apartments if you went a black neighborhood you might see them outside or listening to music here in Russia our houses aren't that good but give us heat and room i went to my black freinds house and it was horrible i told him if he did this himself and he replied "Nah i got the house like this." it was hard to look at the cracks on the red wall and the box TV he had the kitchen was small and the room was horrible i hope America an treat ALL races with respect whites,blacks, etc all need to be treated with respect.

  9. The civil rights movement was bad, america was meant to be a nation for white people/white ethnostate, and race mixing is communism, change my mind.

  10. it's so weird that in subtitles sometimes it appears sentences John Green never said, in rapid sucession

  11. 10:39 "Race mixing is communist" Jeez. It's scary and frustrating how ignorance molds the very definition of the self. These people could not accept, the thought wouldn't cross their mind, that they are not justified in their outrage.

  12. Come to think of it, the Civil Rights Movement happened on the heels of Kenya's Mau Mau revolt. The British were subjecting indigenous Kenyans to hard labor, in a so-called effort to convert them to so-called Christianity. The Kenyans retaliated, but the Brits won the war. And despite the CRM's banner of freedom and equality, it had all the elements of Britain's involvement in Kenya: religion, "work will set you free", etc. Dr. King merely spin doctored this theme, to make it palatable to the black majority.

    BTW, the reason I put "work will set you free" in quotation marks, is because it is the exact inscription the Nazis placed on the gates of Auschwitz, to warmly welcome their Jewish guests.

  13. I really wish he would make videos focusing on certain events rather than trying to fit as much as possible in tbh

  14. Sweet Jesus. The demographics of the United States in 1950, nay, even 1960, was 85% European-American, 11% African-American, 3% Hispanic, and less than 1% Asian, Must we constantly pummel ourselves with guilt about why most of the narratives that came out of this time period were written by "white males?" In addition, my family was one of the many "white" families (up to 50% by some accounts) who did not share in this massive mythological wealth accruement that historians attribute to "most Americans" in the 1950s. As a result, I have always felt out of place with this narrative (in addition to the rebellious "progress-making" decade of the 1960s popular historical narrative) that followed. And, even while feeling excluded from those narratives, the hopeful part of me would like to think that the re-evaluations of rigid Anglo-American exceptionalist mythology have improved the United States in some way. However,, all that I see now is massive confusion, a complete destruction of all traditions, a rapid shifting back and forth between extreme ideological left and right "solutions" to complex problems, and an inability to accept the deep truth that all of us (yes, even the most "progressive" of us in the 21st century) are deeply flawed human beings with prejudices and self-interested values who are nonetheless trying our best everyday.

  15. Those who call the 1950's the Consensus Era are mistaking consensus for socially-enforced, oppressive conformity that punished non-conformity with social marginalization and its lack of access to the mechanisms for acquiring the good life. This is the era when your boss told you what to wear and how often to remove the hair from your face. And woe to you if you didn't follow his orders. Trading your birthright for a mess of pottage, whether in fear, ignorance, or delusion, is not consensual.

    richard hargrove

    "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it."
    — George Bernard Shaw (through Inspector Javert)

  16. Just a heads up to unemployed Americans.. You are being discriminated against in your own country.. Many employers are breaking federal law by requiring future employees to speak spanish in order to gain employment. This should never be tolerated! No country in the world would accept this, yet in America employers are encouraging the violation of our jurisdiction by allowing nationals from another country to set up a microcosm of their country of origin on our soil!!!! This violates the jurisdiction clause of the 14th amendment!! When you see an employer post a job for bilingual only, they are encouraging that Americans get pushed out of obtaining a job so another ethnicity can take over the area.. This must be stopped with class action law suits! Learn english!!!! Other countries require us to learn their languages,, why does America have to cater to people who won't assimilate!!!!

  17. This is garbage revisionist history. The average 1950s African American family was better off than in the 1980s.

  18. The NCAAP was mostly organised and funded by jews. The groups with jewish finance and infrastructure pushed for integration while sidelining the black nationalist groups pushing for autonomy.

  19. Did anyone else notice the captions at 4:10 do not at all match what John is saying?? But are relevant, and rather funny.

  20. Here is my Bonnie Tyler answer to Dr. King's "love thine enemy" rallying cry: Once upon a time, I was falling in love; now I'm only falling apart. There's nothing I can do–total eclipse of the heart.

    Die crackers, die.

  21. The burger drive thru face zoom was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen and heard in my life. ☹️

  22. This is the fluffiest and nicest way to lie to people. Exactly, y’all want people to think that schools and bathrooms is the reason why the civil rights movement happened. Lynching and countless murders in countries towns all over the nation lead to the civil rights movement. It’s cowardly to even try to reduce your disgusting behavior it’s actually right in line with the new agenda. The past was bad but not horrible primal/dehumanizing bad. Yes, poor moronic whites were inhuman and barbaric.

  23. Interesting that you discuss the invention of TVs and mention of civil rights yet the murder of Emmitt Til is not mentioned which preceded the bus boycott and helped fuel the civil rights movement thanks to Mamie Tils approval of an open casket for all the world to see..yes via TV.

  24. It bugs me that people describe racism as " we made progress". Progress toward what? The only problem is white people's hate. Racism isn't even the problem. The problem is white people.

  25. It's incredibly interesting how all important individuals are multicolored and how you can't tell if said individual is caucasian or African American.

  26. In the 50’s the black family and black community was strong. 75% of black families had both parents in the home. Today only 25% families have both parents in the home. Looks like creating a victimhood mentality in the black community didn’t work.

  27. Did you know, by 1905, an all black college, Tuskegee college, had produce more millionaires than Harvard, Yale and Princeton combined?

  28. Creeper Aw man So we back in the mine Got our pickaxe swinging from side to side Side-side to side This task, a grueling one Hope to find some diamonds tonight, night, night Diamonds tonight Heads up You hear a sound, turn around and look up Total shock fills your body Oh, no, it's you again I can never forget those eyes, eyes, eyes Eyes-eye-eyes 'Cause, baby, tonight The creeper's tryna steal all our stuff again 'Cause, baby, tonight You grab your pick, shovel, and bolt again (Bolt again-gain) And run, run until it's done, done Until the sun comes up in the morn' 'Cause, baby, tonight The creeper's tryna steal all our stuff again (Stuff again-gain) Just when you think you're safe Overhear some hissing from right behind Right-right behind That's a nice life you have Shame it's gotta end at this time, time, time Time-ti-time-time Blows up Then your health bar drops and you could use a one-up Get inside, don't be tardy So now you're stuck in there Half a heart is left, but don't die, die, die Die-die-die 'Cause, baby, tonight The creeper's tryna steal all our stuff again 'Cause, baby, tonight You grab your pick, shovel, and bolt again (Bolt again-gain) And run, run until it's done, done Until the sun comes up in the morn' 'Cause, baby, tonight The creeper's tryna steal all our stuff again (Creepers, you're mine, haha) Dig up diamonds, and craft those diamonds And make some armor, get it, baby Go and forge that like you so MLG pro The sword's made of diamonds, so come at me, bro, huh! Training in your room under the torchlight Hone that form to get you ready for the big fight Every single day and the whole night Creeper's out prowlin', hoo, alright Look at me, look at you Take my revenge, that's what I'm gonna do I'm a warrior, baby, what else is new? And my blade's gonna tear through you, bring it 'Cause, baby, tonight The creeper's tryna steal all our stuff again (Gather your stuff, yeah, let's take back the world) Yeah, baby, tonight (Haha) Grab your sword, armor and go (It's on) Take your revenge (Woo), oh-oh, oh-oh So fight, fight, like it's the last, last night Of your life, life, show them your bite (Woo) 'Cause, baby, tonight The creeper's tryna steal all our stuff again 'Cause, baby, tonight You grab your pick, shovel and bolt again (Bolt again-gain, woo) And run, run until it's done, done Until the sun comes up in the morn' 'Cause, baby, tonight (Come on, swing your sword up high) The creeper's tryna steal all our stuff again (Come on, jab your sword down low) (Woo) Have a good day 😀

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