Evoking the 1950’s: The Era When America Was Supposedly So Great
Live Music from the ’50s to follow this Olio!
Donald Trump is hardly the first politician to float the idea of making the United States “great again.” For at least forty years, dozens upon dozens of office seekers have been arguing that contemporary America is a shadow of her former self. That we’ve gone off course somehow. That we’ve lost sight of something as a people. That things used to be much much better. This Golden Age everyone’s talking about – they mean the 1950s. And in many ways they’re not wrong.
The United States experienced the highest standard of living of any nation in the history of human civilization in the 1950s. Homeownership skyrocketed. Science and technology were brimming with innovation. An entire generation of working class Americans went to college for the first time at little to no cost, and when they graduated they found a robust job market waiting for them.
But the 1950s weren’t golden for everyone. Racial and gender discrimination surged. One-fifth of the nation still lived below the poverty line. And all the while the stage was being set for the tumultuous and divisive decade that would follow it. This Olio creates a conversation around key developments in the history of 1950s America. Topics will include the rise of television, the GI Bill, suburbanization, the baby boom, the Cold War, the early civil rights movement, and a thorough re-examination of popular claims that the decade was America’s Golden Age.
Lawrence Cappello is the Macaulay Honors College Visiting Professor of History at CUNY Queens College. He is the author of None of Your Damn Business: A History of Privacy in the United States, due out next year. He has written for The Atlantic and The Nation.