Sources of Freedom Exercises

This chapter concentrates on the history of the 1950s and its economic prosperity, its conformity and cultural critics, and the civil rights movement.

Opening with the Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev debates in 1959, the chapter sets up the theme of the suburban material bliss of the 1950s. The "golden age" of the 1950s is discussed, identifying a new meaning of freedom for the American people in consumerism and the freedom of consumer choice. The Cold War fueled industrial production and promoted a redistribution of the nation’s population and economic resources. Likewise, the Cold War also shaped a new role for women and the family. Left out of this economic prosperity and growing suburbia were blacks and ethnic minorities, who found themselves left in the inner cities.

The chapter then examines the Eisenhower administration. Calling his policies modern Republicanism, Eisenhower did not roll back the New Deal, but instead extended the core New Deal programs. Labor too benefited from the prosperity of the decade. In foreign policy, Eisenhower adopted the policy of "massive retaliation" to fight the Cold War and used the CIA in various Third World countries to counter nationalist movements which were viewed as Soviet-sponsored communist campaigns. Responding to the affluence and the anxieties of the Cold War, cultural critics of the 1950s spoke out against the conformity they witnessed. From sociologist David Riesman to the poems of the Beats, cultural critics voiced dissent.

The final section of the chapter discusses the civil rights movement. Building upon decades, the movement gets its momentum from the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. Mobilizing the black community in Montgomery, King’s oratory abilities and his definition of freedom are highlighted in Voices of Freedom. The chapter concludes with the 1960 election between Nixon and John F. Kennedy.

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