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History of the United States (1945-1964)

 This article is part of the
History of the United States series.
 Colonial America
 History of the United States (1776-1865)
 The coming of the Civil War
 The Civil War
 History of the United States (1865-1918)
 History of the United States (1918-1945)
 History of the United States (1945-1964)
 History of the United States (1964-1980)
History of the United States (1980-present)
 Demographic history of the United States
 Military history of the United States

Table of contents
1 The breakdown of postwar peace
2 The "Affluent Society" and the "Other America"
3 America and the Cold War
4 The struggle for social change
5 The Kennedy administration
6 Related Topics

The breakdown of postwar peace


For more than a decade after the end of World War II, few American historians saw any reason to challenge the official US interpretation of the beginning of the Cold War: that the breakdown of relations was a direct result of Stalin's violation of the Yalta accords, the imposition of Soviet-dominated governments on an unwilling Eastern Europe, and aggressive Soviet expansionism. However, later historians, especially William Appleman Williams in his 1959 The Tragedy of American Diplomacy and Walter LaFeber in his 1967 America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-1967, articulated an overriding concern: US commitment to maintaining an "open door" for American trade in world markets. Some historians have argued that US provocations and imperial ambitions were at least equally to blame, if not more. In short, historians have disagreed as to who was responsible for the breakdown of US-Soviet relations and whether the conflict between the two superpowers was inevitable.

The origins of the Cold War

The wartime alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union was an aberration from the normal tenor of Russian-US relations. Strategic rivalry between the huge, sprawling nations goes back to the 1890s when, after a century of friendship, Americans and Russians became rivals over the development of Manchuria. Tsarist Russia, unable to compete industrially, sought to close off and colonize parts of East Asia, while Americans demanded open competition for markets. In 1917 the rivalry turned intensely ideological. Americans never forgot that the Soviet government negotiated a separate peace with Germany in the First World War in 1917, leaving the Western Allies to fight the Central Powers alone. Lasting Soviet mistrust stemmed from the landing of US troops in Russia in 1918, which became involved, directly and indirectly, in assisting the anti-Bolshevik Whites in the Russian Civil War. In addition, the Soviets never forgot the repeated assurances from Roosevelt that the United States and Britain would open a second front on the European continent; but the Allied invasion did not occur until June 1944, more than two years after the Soviets had demanded it. In the meantime, the Russians suffered horrendous casualties, as high as twenty million dead. The West had delayed the invasion, forcing the Soviets to absorb the brunt of German strength.

World War II resulted in enormous destruction of infrastructure and populations throughout Eurasia, from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, with almost no country left unscathed. The Soviet Union was especially scathed due to the mass destruction of the industrial base that it had built up in the 1930s. The only major industrial power in the world to emerge intact, and even greatly strengthened from an economic perspective, was the United States, which moved swiftly to consolidate its position.

The Big Three: The Allied Leaders at Yalta
Prime Minster Winston Churchill (UK),
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (US),
and First Secretary Joseph Stalin (USSR)

When the war ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, Soviet and Western (US, British, and French) troops were located in particular places, essentially, along a line in the center of Europe that came to be called the Oder-Neisse Line. Aside from a few minor adjustments, this would be the "iron curtain" of the Cold War. In hindsight, Yalta signified the agreement of both sides that they could stay there and that neither side would use force to push the other out. This tacit accord applied to Asia as well, as evinced by US occupation of Japan and the division of Korea. Politically, therefore, Yalta was an agreement on the postwar status quo in which Soviet Union hegemony reigned over about one third and the United States over two thirds.

And there were fundamental contrasts between the visions of the United States and the Soviet Union, between capitalism and communism. And those contrasts had been simplified and refined in national ideologies to represent two ways of life, each vindicated in 1945 by previous disasters. Conflicting models of autarky versus exports, of state planning against free enterprise, were to vie for the allegiance of the developing and developed world in the postwar years. Even so, however, the Cold War was not obviously inevitable in 1945.

Despite the wherewithal of the United States to advance a different vision of postwar Europe, Stalin viewed the reemergence of Germany and Japan as Russia's chief threats, not the United States. Stalin assumed that the capitalist camp would soon resume its internal rivalry over colonies and trade and not pose a threat to Russia. Economic advisers such as Eugen Varga reinforced this view, predicting a postwar crisis of overproduction in capitalist countries which would culminate by 1947-1948 in another great depression.

Trends in federal expenditure in the United States reinforced Stalin's expectations. By this time, business had been reinforced by government expenditures as a consequence of depression and the war. Between 1929 and 1933 unemployment soared from 3 percent of the workforce to 25 percent, while manufacturing output collapsed by one-third. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs tried to stimulate demand and provide work and relief for the impoverished through increased government spending, baked up later by the British economist John Maynard Keynes. In 1929 the proportion was only 3 percent. Between 1933 and 1939, federal expenditure tripled, and Roosevelt's critics charged that he was turning America into a socialist state. But the cost of the New Deal pales in comparison to World War II. In the first peacetime year of 1946, federal spending still amounted to $62 billion, or 30% of GDP! In short, federal expenditures went from 3% of GDP in 1929 to about a third in 1945. And war spending financially cured the depression, pulling unemployment down from 14 percent in 1940 to less than 2 percent in 1943 as the labor force grew by ten million. The war economy was not so much a triumph of free enterprise as the result of government/business sectionalism, of government bankrolling business.

The results of massive postwar demilitarization were a matter of speculation at the time. Stalin predicted overproduction and depression. Given the trend in federal expenditure, his predictions were not absurd. Stalin thus assumed that the Americans would need to offer him economic aid, needing to find any outlet for massive capital investments just to maintain the wartime industrial production that brought the US out of the Great Depression. Thus, the prospects of an Anglo-American front against him seemed slim from Stalin's standpoint. However, there would be no postwar crisis of overproduction. And, as Stalin anticipated, this was averted by maintaining roughly the same levels of government spending. It was just maintained in a vastly different way.

But the whole role of government was not set in stone and was in question once again. Although America's military-industrial complex was born in World War II, it could have been stifled in its incipiency. Pressures to "get back to normal" and were intense. Congress wanted a return to low, balanced budgets, and families clamored to see the soldiers sent back home. The Truman administration worried first about a postwar slump, then about the inflationary consequences of pent-up consumer demand. The GI Bill of Rights, adopted in 1944, was one answer: subsidizing veterans to complete their education rather than flood the job market and probably boost the unemployment figures.

Thus, a conversion to the prewar economy would be extremely difficult, and in the end it did not happen. In the end, the postwar government would look a lot like the wartime government, with the military establishment, along with military-security dominant. The postwar capitalist slump predicted by Stalin would not be averted by domestic management, supplemented perhaps by a greater role in promoting international trade and monetary relations. In fact, President Roosevelt in 1941 hoped that after the war, the world's largest building, the huge, mile-long in circumference Pentagon complex in northern Virginia, would be converted into a storage facility. It was not; the military-industrial complex dominated postwar life, largely the result of the Cold War.

Two visions of the world

The United States, however, led by President Harry S. Truman since April 1945, was determined to shape the postwar world according to open up the world's markets to capitalist trade according to the principles laid down by the Atlantic Charter: self-determination, equal economic access, and a rebuilt capitalist Europe that could again serve as a hub in world affairs. Franklin Roosevelt had never forgotten the excitement with which he had greeted the principles of Wilsonian idealism during World War I, and he saw his mission in the 1940s as bringing lasting peace and genuine democracy to the world.

But this vision was equally a vision of national self-interest. World War II resulted in enormous destruction of infrastructure and populations throughout Eurasia, from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, with almost no country left unscathed. The only major industrial power in the world to emerge intact—and even greatly strengthened from an economic perspective—was the United States, which moved swiftly to consolidate its position. As the world's greatest industrial power, and as one of the few nations unravaged by the war, the United States stood to gain more than any other country from opening the entire world to unfettered trade. The United States would have a global market for its exports, and it would have unrestricted access to vital raw materials. Determined to avoid another economic catastrophe like that of the 1930s, Roosevelt saw the creation of the postwar order as a way to ensure continuing US prosperity.

Such a Europe required a healthy Germany at its the center. Truman could advance these principles with an economic powerhouse that produced 50 percent of the world's industrial goods and military power that rested on a monopoly of the new atom bomb. These aims were at the center of what the Soviet Union strove to avoid as the breakdown of the wartime alliance went forward.

The United States also led the effort to impose its vision of the world with new international agencies: the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which were created to ensure an open, capitalist, international economy. The Soviet Union opted not to take part.

The collapse of postwar peace

The wherewithal of the United States to advance a different vision of the postwar world conflicted with Soviet interests, which motivated their determination to shape postwar Europe. National security had been the real cornerstone of Soviet policy since the 1920s, when the Communist Party adopted Stalin's "socialism in one country" and rejected Trotsky's ideas of "world revolution." Before the war, Stalin was disinterested in pushing Soviet boundaries beyond their full Czarist extent.

After the war, the aims of Soviet Union were not aggressive expansionism, but attempts to secure the war-torn country's western borders. Stalin, assuming that Japan and Germany could menace the Soviet Union once again by the 1960s, thus quickly imposed Moscow-dominated governments in the springboards of the Nazi onslaught: Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria.

Disagreements over postwar plans first centered on Eastern and Central Europe. Having lost 20 million dead in the war, suffered German invasion through Poland twice in 30 years, and suffered tens of millions of casualties due to onslaughts from the West three times in the preceding 150 years, first with Napoleon, the Soviet Union was determined to destroy Germany's capacity for another war. US aims were ostensibly opposed since they would require a healthy Germany at the center of Europe.

Winston Churchill, long a visceral anti-Communist, condemned Stalin for cordoning off a new Russian empire with an "iron curtain." Afterwards, Truman finally refused to give the war-torn Soviet Union reparations from West Germany's industrial plants, Stalin retaliated by sealing off East Germany as a Communist state.

Russia's historic lack of maritime access, a perennial concern of Russian foreign policy well before the Bolshevik Revolution, was also a focus for Russia where interests diverged between East and West. Stalin pressed the Turks for improved access out of the Black Sea through Turkey's Dardanelles Strait, which would allow Soviet passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Churchill had earlier recognized Stalin's claims, but now the British and Americans forced the Soviet Union to pull back.

But when Soviet security was not at stake, Stalin demonstrated no aggressive designs: the Soviet Union eventually withdrew from Northern Iran, at Anglo-American behest; Stalin did observe his 1944 agreement with Churchill and did not aid the communists in the struggle against the corrupt, British-led monarchial autocracy in Greece; in Finland he accepted a friendly, noncommunist government; and Russian troops were withdrawn from Czechoslovakia by the end of 1945.

Containment and the escalation of the Cold War

While the Soviet Union acquiesced to Anglo-American designs to impede Soviet access to the Mediterranean (a perennial focus of British foreign policy since the Crimean War in the 1850s), the Americans heated up their rhetoric; Anglo-American aims to prop up the Greek autocracy became a struggle to protect "free" peoples against "totalitarian" regimes. This would be articulated in the Truman Doctrine Speech of March 1947, which argued that the United States would have to $400 million to efforts to "contain" communism.

By successfully aiding Greece, Truman also set a precedent for the US aid to regimes, no matter how repugnant, that were anti-Communist and pro-capitalist. American foreign policy moved from State Department officer George Kennan's argument that the Soviets had to be "contained" using "unalterable counterforce at every point," until the breakdown of Soviet power occurred.

The United States capitalized on the Cold War fears to launch massive economic reconstruction efforts, first in Western Europe and then in Japan (as well as in South Korea and Taiwan). The Marshall Plan began to pump $12 billion into Western Europe. The rationale was obvious: What was the point of having such overwhelming productive superiority if the rest of the world could not muster effective demand? Furthermore, economic reconstruction helped create clientelistic obligations on the part of the nations receiving US aid; this sense of obligation fostered willingness to enter into military alliances and, even more important, into political subservience.

Stalin, fearing a revived Germany, responded by blocking access to Berlin, which was deep within the Soviet zone although subject to four power control, hoping to extract concessions for the blockade to be ended. However, it greatly backfired. Military confrontation loomed while Truman embarked on an impressive, provocative move that would humiliate the Soviets internationally: flying supplies in over the blockade during 1948-1949.

Truman joined eleven other nations in 1949 to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), America's first "entangling" European alliance in 170 years. Stalin retaliated against these provocative steps by integrating the economies of Eastern Europe in his version of the Marshall Plan, exploding the first Soviet atomic device in 1949, signing an alliance with Communist China in February 1950, and forming the Warsaw Pact, Eastern Europe's counterpart to NATO.

Confronted with growing Soviet successes to respond to provocative Western actions, US officials quickly moved to escalate and expand "containment." In a secret 1950 document, NSC-68, they proposed to strengthen their alliance systems, quadruple defense spending, and embark on an elaborate propaganda campaign to convince Americans to fight this costly cold war. Truman ordered the development of a hydrogen bomb; in early 1950 the US embarked on its first attempt to prop up colonialism in French Indochina in the face of mounting popular, communist-led resistance; and the United States embarked on a blatant violation of wartime treaties yet: plans to form a West German army.

The immediate post-1945 period may have been the historical high point for the popularity of communist ideology. Communist parties won large shares of the vote free elections in countries such as Belgium, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and Finland and won significant popular support in Asia—in Vietnam, India, and Japan—and throughout Latin America. In addition they won large support in China, Greece, and Iran, where free elections remained absent or constrained but where Communist parties enjoyed widespread appeal.

In response, the United States sustained a massive anticommunist ideological offensive. The United States aimed to interfere in the internal affairs and sovereignty of other countries or impose its will upon others under the guise of "freedom", "democracy" and "human rights". In retrospect, this initiative appears largely successful: Washington brandished its role as the leader of the "free world" at least as effectively as the Soviet Union brandished its position as the leader of the "progressive" and "anti-imperialist" camp.

The Korean War

For details see the main article Korean War.

In early 1950 came the first US commitment to form a peace treaty with Japan that would guarantee long-term US military bases. Some observers (including George Kennan) believed that the Japanese treaty led Stalin to approve a plan to invade US-supported South Korea on June 25, 1950. Fearing that a united communist Korea could neutralize US power in Japan, Truman committed US forces and obtained help from the United Nations to drive back the North Koreans to Stalin's surprise. In a historic diplomatic blunder, the Soviets, boycotted the UN Security Council, and thus its power to veto Truman's action in the UN, because it would not admit People’s Republic of China.

However, Truman would offset this with his own monumental, historic error: allowing his forces to go to the Chinese-Korean border. The People's Republic of China responded with human-wave attacks in November 1950 that decimated US-led forces. Fighting stabilized along the thirty-eight parallel, which had separated the Koreas, but Truman now faced a hostile China, a Sino-Soviet partnership, and a bloated defense budget that quadrupled in eighteen months.

The "Affluent Society" and the "Other America"

Not only did the United States interfere in the internal affairs and sovereignty of other countries, sometimes aiding the most viscous and corrupt autocracies under the guise of "freedom", "democracy" and "human rights," or hypocritically overthrow left-leaning, democratizing governments, such as the Iranian regime in 1953 and that of Guatemala, but what were supposedly American values did not even extend to sizable portions of its own population.

The immediate years unfolding after World War II were generally ones of stability and prosperity for the white American middle class. The growth of consumerism, the suburbs, and the economy, however, overshadowed the fact that prosperity did not extend to everyone. More than 30 million Americans, according to some estimates, continued to live in poverty throughout the Eisenhower years. The Cold War rhetoric of "freedom" and "democracy" was especially far from reality for a large segment of the population, African Americans in the South, who continued to suffer from social, economic, and political discrimination.

At the center of middle-class culture in the 1950s was a growing absorption with consumer goods. Not just a result of the postwar prosperity, it resulted from the increasingly variety and availability of produced, for which advertisers were increasingly adept at creating demand. And affluent Americans in the 1950s and 1960s responded to consumer crazes such as the automobile as dishwashers, garbage disposals, televisions, and stereos. To a striking degree, the prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s was consumer-driven (as opposed to investment-driven).

As the population of suburbia, with its increased mobility, swelled to account for a third of the nation’s population by 1960, US auto-manufacturers in Detroit responded to the boom with ever-flashier automobiles. The growth of suburbs was not only a result of postwar prosperity, but innovations of the single-family housing market. Arthur Levitt began a national trend with his use of mass-production techniques to construct a large “Levittown” housing development on Long Island. Meanwhile, the suburban population swelled due to the baby boom. Suburbs provided larger homes for larger families, security form urban living, privacy, and space for consumer goods.

However, the key factor motivating white Americans to move from the suburbs was race. Most suburbs were restricted to whites. While few African Americans could afford to live in them, even affluent African Americans with the wherewithal to afford a home in the suburbs faced informal and formal barriers. The few African Americans who ventured into suburbs were generally shunned in every passive and overt manner. Indeed, whiles clamored to leave cites, so incensed by the prospects of their children attending school with African American schoolchildren. African American enrollment was growing in urban school districts due to the Supreme Court desegregation cases of the mid-1950s.

Around every city, a clear hierarchy emerged of "good" suburban neighborhoods and more most ones, mirroring the emergence of such class gradations within the cities themselves. Touted for their sense of community, suburbia has been attacked by later critics for its conformity and homogeneity. Indeed, suburbs were inhabited by many of similar age and background.

America and the Cold War

For details see the main article on the Cold War (1953-1962).

The Eisenhower administration and "massive retaliation"

Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was the dominant figure in the nation's foreign policy in the 1950s. A patrician, visceral anticommunist closely tied to the nation's financial establishment, Dulles was obsessed with communism's challenge to US corporate power in the Third World. He denounced the "containment" of the Truman administration and espoused an active program of "liberation," which would lead to a "rollback" of communism. The most prominent of those doctrines was the policy of "massive retaliation," which Dulles announced early in 1954, eschewing the costly, conventional ground forces characteristic of the Truman administration in favor of wielding the vast superiority of the US nuclear arsenal and covert intelligence. Dulles defined this approach as "brinksmanship"—pusing the Soviet Union to the brink of war in order to exact concessions.

Thus in 1953, the new president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, moved to end the Korean War (accomplished with a shaky armistice that lasts to this day) and cut the federal budget. He reduced military spending by one-third but continued fighting the Cold War effectively. As an aside, however, North Korea remains a pressing geopolitical annoyance for the US, labeled a part of George W. Bush's so-called "Axis of Evil" an enduring conflict that still has the Asia Pacific on the brink of war.

In another exercise of the new "rollback" polices, acting on the doctrines of Dulles, Eisenhower thwarted Soviet intervention wielding US nuclear superiority and used the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to overthrow unfriendly governments.

But in the meantime, a new, dynamic and reformist Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, was broadening Moscow's policy by establishing new relations with India and other key non-aligned, noncommunist states in the Third World. Eisenhower increased Soviet power by developing a hydrogen bomb and, in 1957, by launching the first earth satellite. To stabilize his European position, Khrushchev created the Warsaw Pact in 1955 (to counter West German rearmament) and built the Berlin Wall in 1961 (to stop the Germans from leaving the communist East). While the Berlin Wall was a propaganda setback, the Soviets garnered a huge victory when Khrushchev formed an alliance with Cuba after Fidel Castro's successful revolution in 1959. Also to the annoyance of the United States the revolution lives on to this day 90 miles from the shore of the greatest hegemonic power in world history.

Aside from this, other events, less publicized at the time, mark 1956 to 1962 as the first major cold war turning point. In 1956, the Soviets intervened to quell an anti-communist rebellion, foreshowing the collapse of European communism three decades later. Moreover, Sino-Soviet times were deteriorating and the Communist world would never again be a monolith.

And the roots of the ongoing US "war on terrorism" and 2003 "Operation Iraqi Freedom" can be traced through the 1950s. Since the region contained the world's largest oil reserves, the US was concerned about the stability and friendliness of the Arab regimes in the area, which the health of the US economy grew to depend. US companies had already invested heavily in the region.

Thus the United States reacted with alarm as it watched Mohammed Mossadegh, the nationalist prime minister of Iran, begin to resist the neocolonial presence of Western corporations in his nation. In 1951 he nationalized his nation's British-owned oil wells. Convinced that Iran, a Western client state, was shifting toward an independent foreign policy, Eisenhower used the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), joining forces with Iran's military leaders, to overthrow Iran's government. To replace him, the US favored elevating the young Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, from his position as that of a constitutional monarch to that of an absolute ruler. In return, the Shah allowed US companies to share in the development of his nation's reserves. He remained a close US ally for 25 years, even as his regime was becoming increasingly hated and despotic. As another aside, Iran is yet another example of the parallels between 1950s and contemporary US foreign policy. Popular anger, seething and repressed for a generation, eventually culminated in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which led to a hostage crisis that would perhaps later bring down the Carter administration. Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran, which, from the standpoint of the US, had the audacity to overthrow CIA-imposed absolutist regime, is a part of President Bush's so-called "Axis of Evil" along with North Korea. Korea is a focus of George W. Bush's administration, another administration, like Reagan's, notable for its striking affinity with the "massive retaliation" polices of John Foster Dulles.

The US used the CIA to overthrow other governments suspected of turning procommunist, such as Guatemala in 1954, another multiparty democratizing government. In 1958 the US sent troops into Lebanon to maintain its pro-US regime (now, Lebanon's government is a close ally of Syria, touted as a target for another "pre-emptive US attack"), and between 1954 and 1961 the Eisenhower dispatched economic aid and 695 military advisers to South Vietnam, which would later be absorbed by its communist counterpart amid one of history's greatest popular-based insurrections against a corrupt client state. Vietnam remains one of the world's five remaining Communist states.

The American offensive in the Third World was very effective in the short-run, but failed to install pro-US regimes that would be enduring and stable. But some setbacks were evident even in the 1950s. In particular, the first strain among the NATO alliance shattered the concept of the West as a united monolith. Less effective in dealing with the nationalist government in Egypt, in 1956 Eisenhower had to force Britain and France to retreat from a badly planned invasion with Israel intended to seize the Suez Canal from Egypt, a sign that the interest of the United States in the Middle East was much more than its strong support of Israel. The Eisenhower administration opposed French and British imperial adventurism in the region due to sheer prudence, out of fear that Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser's bold standoff with the region's old colonial powers would inspire greater pro-Soviet sentiment in the region. In yet another example of how foreign interventionism of the Eisenhower administration resonates to this day, the United States in 2003 deposed the Iraqi regime, which was inspired by Nasser's secular pan-Arab nationalism and populist social policies.

Thus, the Suez stalemate was a turning point heralding an ever-growing rift between the Atlantic over US hegemony, which was becoming far less of a united monolith than it was in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. The West Europeans, with the exclusion of the British until 1971, also developed their own nuclear forces as well as an economy Common Market to be less dependent on Washington. Such rifts mirror changes in global economics. American economic competitiveness faltered in the face of the challenges of Japan and West Germany, which have recovered rapidly from the wartime decimation of the industrial bases. The late nineteenth- and twentieth-century successor to Great Britain as the "workshop of the world," the United States now finds its competitive edge dulled in the international markets while at the same time faced with intensified foreign competition at home.

As another example of shifting courses among the increasingly independent-minded Western allies, this time, it is France that has opposed US adventurism in the Middle East during the 2003 "pre-emptive" attack on Iraq, a reversal of roles from the Suez crisis.

The struggle for social change

The civil rights movement

The immediate years unfolding after World War II were ones of stability and prosperity for the American middle class. The growth of consumerism and suburban development, however, overshadowed the fact that prosperity did not extend to everyone. More than 30 million Americans, according to some estimates, continued to live in poverty throughout the Eisenhower years. The Cold War rhetoric of "freedom" and "democracy" certainly had no growing in reality for a large segment of the population, African Americans in the South, who continued to suffer from social, economic, and political discrimination in the South.

Following the end of Reconstruction, many states adopted restrictive laws which enforced segregation of the races and the second-class status of African Americans. In 1883, the Supreme Court ruled in the Civil Rights Cases 163 US 3 1883, effectively destroying many of the radical-Republican-driven reforms. Later Supreme Court cases such as Plessy v. Ferguson 163 US 537 1896 further eroded African American civil rights.

Voting rights discrimination was widespread. Black sharecroppers were often evicted by white farmers for trying to vote. Voter registration boards used discriminatory practices such as these to limit the number of eligible black voters, such as holding black applicants to a higher standard of accuracy than whites; allowing white applicants to register in their cars and in their homes; processing black applicants last, even when they were first in line; establishing separate registration offices in different parts of the courthouse; offering assistance only to white applicants in completing the registration form; and refusing to notify black applicants about the status of their applications.

In the Deep South even harsher methods of preventing African Americans from voting were employed; black applicants were often jailed; centers for voting education have been firebombed such as Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Terrell County, Georgia. They threatened, beat, and in some cases, murdered black applicants.

Southern blacks, who resisted segregation, especially sharecroppers who were often evicted for registering to vote, and especially rural blacks, lived in constant fear of their employers, who vowed to fire them; of white "citizens' councils," who adopted policies of economic reprisal against demonstrators; of white vigilante groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, which exerted an often-unchecked reign of terror across the South, where lynching of African Americans was a common occurrence and rarely prosecuted. Nearly 4,500 African Americans were lynched in the United States between 1882 and the early 1950s.

Brown v. Board of Education and "massive resistance"

In the early days of the civil rights movement, litigation and lobbying were the focus of integration efforts. The U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka 347 US 483 1954, Powell v. Alabama 287 US 45 1932, Smith v. Allwright 321 US 649 1944, Shelley v. Kraemer 334 US 1 1948, Sweatt v. Painter 339 US 629 1950, and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Board of Regents 339 US 637 1950 led to a shift in tactics, and from 1955 to 1965, "direct action" was the strategy—primarily bus boycotts, sit-ins, freedom rides, and social movements.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) was a landmark case of the United States Supreme Court which explicitly outlawed segregated public education facilities for blacks and whites, ruling so on the grounds that the doctrine of "separate but equal" public education could never truly provide black Americans with facilities of the same standards available to white Americans.

In 1951, a suit was filed against the Board of Education of the City of Topeka in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas on behalf of Linda Brown, a third grader from Topeka, Kansas who was forced to walk a mile to her segregated black school, while a white school was only seven blocks from her house. Brown's suit had the backing of the NAACP, whose chief counsel, Thurgood Marshall, himself appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967, argued the case. The District Court ruled in favor of the Board of Education, citing the U.S. Supreme Court precedent set in Plessy v. Ferguson 163 U.S. 537 1896, which allowed state laws requiring "separate but equal" facilities in railway cars for blacks and whites.

Governor Orval Eugene Faubus of Arkansas used the Arkansas National Guard to prevent school integration at Little Rock Central High School in 1957, and Governors Ross Barnett of Mississippi and George Wallace of Alabama physically blocked school doorways at their respective states' universities. E.H. Hurst, a Mississippi state representative, stalked and killed a black farmer for attending voter registration classes. Birmingham's public safety commissioner Eugene T. "Bull" Connor advocated violence against freedom riders and ordered fire hoses and police dogs turned on demonstrators. Sheriff Jim Clark of Dallas County, Alabama loosed his deputies on "Bloody Sunday" marchers and personally menaced other protestors. Police all across the South arrested civil rights activists on trumped-up charges. All-white juries in several states acquitted known killers of local African Americans.

Civil rights organizations

Although they had white supporters and sympathizers, the modern civil rights movement was designed, led, organized, and manned by African Americans, who placed themselves and their families on the front lines in the struggle for freedom. Their heroism was brought home to every American through newspaper, and later, television reports as their peaceful marches and demonstrations were violently attacked by law enforcement. Officers used batons, bullwhips, fire hoses, police dogs, and mass arrests to intimidate the protestors. The second characteristic of the movement is that it was not monolithic, led by one or two men. Rather it was a dispersed, grass-roots campaign that attacked segregation in many different places using many different tactics.

While some groups and individuals within the civil rights movement advocated Black Power, black separatism, or even armed resistance, the majority of participants remained committed to the principles of nonviolence, a deliberate decision by an oppressed minority to abstain from violence for political gain. Using nonviolent strategies, civil rights activists took advantage of emerging national network-news reporting, especially television, to capture national attention and the attention of Congress and the White House.

The leadership role of black churches in the movement was a natural extension of their structure and function. They offered members an opportunity to exercise roles denied them in society. Throughout history, the black church served not only as a place of worship but also as a community "bulletin board," a credit union, a "people's court" to solve disputes, a support group, and a center of political activism. These and other functions enhanced the importance of the minister. The most prominent clergyman in the civil rights movement was Martin Luther King, Jr Time magazine's 1964 "Man of the Year" was a man of the people. His tireless personal commitment to and strong leadership role in the black freedom struggle won him worldwide acclaim and the Nobel Peace Prize.

Students and seminarians in both the South and the North played key roles in every phase of the civil rights movement—from bus boycotts to sit-ins to freedom rides to social movements. Church and student-led movements developed their own organizational and sustaining structures. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (the SCLC), founded in 1957, coordinated and raised funds, mostly from northern sources, for local protests and for the training of black leaders. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, founded in 1957, developed the "jail-no-bail" strategy. SNCC's role was to develop and link sit-in campaigns and to help organize freedom rides, voter registration drives, and other protest activities. These three new groups often joined forces with existing organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in 1909, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), founded in 1942, and the National Urban League. The NAACP and its Director, Roy Wilkins, provided legal counsel for jailed demonstrators, helped raise bail, and continued to test segregation and discrimination in the courts as it had been doing for half a century. CORE initiated the 1961 Freedom Rides which involved many SNCC members, and CORE's leader James Farmer later became executive secretary of SNCC.

The administration of President John Kennedy was a mixed blessing. Kennedy supported enforcement of desegregation in schools and public facilities. Attorney General Robert Kennedy brought more than 50 lawsuits in four states to secure black Americans' right to vote. However, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, concerned about possible Communist influence in the civil rights movement and personally antagonistic to Martin Luther King Jr, used the FBI to investigate King and other civil rights leaders.

The Kennedy administration

Kennedy was president for only about 1,000 days. This brief tenure was marked by such notable events as the acceleration of the United States' role in the space race, the beginning of the escalation of the American role in the Vietnam War, the Cuban missile crisis, and the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba; these events aggravated the Cold War with the USSR. He appointed his brother Robert F. Kennedy to his Cabinet as Attorney General.

President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Lee Harvey Oswald, apprehended for the crime, was himself fatally shot by Jack Ruby before he could be formally charged or brought to trial. Four days after Kennedy and Oswald were killed, President Lyndon Johnson created the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination. See John F. Kennedy assassination for further details of the circumstances surrounding Kennedy's death.

After Kennedy's assassination, Lyndon Johnson served out the remainder of the term in manner he felt was consistent with Kennedy's agenda. He convinced Kennedy's cabinet to serve out the rest of the term, including Robert Kennedy (despite the acrimonious relationship between Johnson and Kennedy). He also used his considerable political savvy to ensure passage the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These actions allowed Johnson to easily win the 1964 presidential election.

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