GOD'S COUNTRY: America in the Fifties by J. Ronald Oakley

GOD'S COUNTRY: America in the Fifties

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KIRKUS REVIEW

What was it really like behind the haze of nostalgia? According to Oakley in this massively researched work, there's a good case for believing that 50's America was indeed the best of times (and the worst), depending on who was making the judgment. Harry S. Truman's term of office was drawing to a close in a climate of bitterness over the ""loss of China"" and the Korean War. As the menace of McCarthyism settled over the land, the political passions of the time made Truman seem a bumbling fool. McCarthy's ascendancy, from 1950 to 1954, now seems so far-fetched and grotesque as to be almost comic. In one state, professional wrestlers were required to take a loyalty oath. A survey reported that an Ohio woman suspected her brother-in-law of communism because he ""drinks a lot and acts common-like."" The harm that was done by this witch-hunting to personal freedom, reputations, and careers is almost incalculable. After a year of Eisenhower's benevolent presidency, with McCarthy gone and the Korean War ended, Americans--at least white Americans--entered an era of optimism and prosperity. The economy expanded as rapid post-WW II population growth fueled demand for the good life. Chief among its status symbols was television: Between 1952 and 1956 the number of TV households increased from 15 million to 35 million. But little reflected the realities of black life. For the most part segregated at home, working in low-paying jobs, unable to vote, blacks were nonetheless the subject of the Southern myth of the Happy Negro--until two events shattered the stereotype. In 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ordered an end to legal segregation in the nation's schools. Eighteen months later came the Montgomery bus boycott, as blacks demonstrated they could use their economic clout to effect political changes. Another myth about to collapse of its own weight was that of domestic bliss, personified by working husband, devoted wife and mother, and clean, obedient children. But already some women were resentful of the narrow definition of their roles in life; some children were listening to, and loving, the first wave of rock music. With all these problems, and many more, besetting the decade, why is it now looked on as a sort of Golden Age? Oakley suggests, with reason, that the dark years that followed have glorified that rather mediocre and smug period, and turned it into the personification of the American Dream, an ideal vision of a time that never existed. An interesting look backward, but one that gives little enlightenment to its portents.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1986
ISBN: 0942637240
Publisher: Dembner--dist. by Norton