During the 1950s and 60s, America became a more unified nation. This is not to say that all aspects of American culture and class were equal; however, the nation, as a whole, was making excellent strides to becoming “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
The unification of the American people and the slowdown in discrimination of class status was not an overnight miracle fix; it took decades of hard work to accomplish the unification that came to be during the 1950s and 60s. Ending a social system built on class has been fought for centuries; ending discrimination against blacks took a serious stride to improvement with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, in 1862; and women’s rights have been a major issue since the Seneca Falls Convention, in 1848.
I don’t think it was America getting weary that allowed these three problems to seek solution. I believe that World War II had a lot to do with the solution. There were several aspects of World War II that created an appreciation for each other.
As previously discussed in other articles, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 helped educate thousands of returning veterans, helping to increase white collar jobs and helping end class struggle; with men fighting in war, women were forced to step up and work in areas in which they never previously had, such as munitions factories (they became known as munitionettes); and blacks served with whites on the battlefield, to preserve democracy and defeat the Axis Powers. The mutual respect that arose from these circumstances ignited a passion within America to right the wrongs, to rid the American nation of its faulty logic regarding sex, race, creed, and class.
Multiple polls taken during the late 50s – early 60s show that 75 percent of Americans considered themselves part of the middle class. While these numbers showed great improvement for ending class struggles in America, it is the two following examples of unification that really helped set the middle class as the national standard for the American Dream.
Bringing Women into the Fold
Seeing the importance of education—and being able to now afford it—many women started to enroll in college. While women were still patronized, with colleges instituting “marriage” majors and offering women courses such as “volunteerism,” the pattern of women attending college set precedent for women to receive an education and work in the same roles that men did. Even though most women entering the workforce would find their jobs in ads hiring “pink-collar” workers, the women in the workforce doubled from 1940 to 1960. By the early 1960s, one in three workers was a woman.
During the 1960s, the American government would pass several laws to assist in making women’s rights equal and fair. In 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, making it illegal for employers to pay women less than men for the same job. In 1967, President Johnson issued Executive Order 11375, which covered discrimination based on gender to his affirmative action policy of 1965. While women would (and to some extent still today) deal with unfair wages and sexual harassment, their acceptance into the workforce was a major step towards America’s unification during the 50s and 60s.
The Struggle for Black Equality
With the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, National Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was thrust into a position of power and authority. He spoke for the black community and preached non-violent solutions to ending Jim Crow laws and segregation.
Much like women, blacks saw a lot of government legislation that chipped away at the social injustices towards the African-American community. The first major step was the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ended segregated schools in 1954. In 1957, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of1957; in 1964, Congress passed the Equal Opportunity Act; in 1965, Congress passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act; and the most powerful piece of legislation was the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
With an American people unified in ending discrimination, a governmental agency correcting unconstitutional legislation, and American leaders working diligently to improve America’s outlook, America finally became the “land of the free…”