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Minorities in the 1950s
Transcript of Minorities in the 1950s
In the 1950s, Mexican Americans in the western states often faced the same level of racism blacks did in the South
After WWII, Native Americans remained largely an outsider group. Good jobs continued to leave reservations and many Native Americans moved to cities where the faced discrimination.
The defining federal policy towards Native Americans in the 1950s was the Termination Policy. The Termination Policy sought to rapidly assimilate Native Americans by granting full citizenship to them and transferring authority from the federal government to the state level. While this sounds like it would be a good thing, it actually ended tribal sovereignty. Entire tribal reservations were disbanded. Assimilation also meant higher taxes, but there was little opportunity for employment in and around the reservations. Consequently, Native Americans experienced massive unemployment and poverty.
One of the most infamous displays of prejudice, following World War II, was the treatment of deceased Mexican-American army veteran, Felix Z. Longoria.
Longoria died in action during World War II. When his widow finally received his remains in 1949, the funeral director would not allow Logoria's remains in the chapel since he was "Mexican" and "the whites wold not like it".
On the bright side, this helped sparked a movement in Texas to fight discrimination, aided by future president (then senator) Lyndon B. Johnson
Felix Longoria Jr.
Some of the most obvious forms of racism towards lacks included segregated schools. Even after the Supreme Court ordered integrated schools, the South resisted. At Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, nine African American students bravely marched to the now legally integrated school. However, they were met with a hostile mob that was only diffused by President Eisenhower called the National Guard to personally escort the African American students.
Segregation: Little Rock Nine
As late as the 1950s, a couple states still barred Indians from voting. In 1962, New Mexico became the last state to enfranchise Native Americans. Nonetheless, Native Americans faced the same discriminatory disenfranchisement tactics that African Americans did in the South- these include poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud and intimidation. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped alleviate the use of these tactics.
Native American Voting Restrictions and Rights
Perhaps the most important development for Mexican Americans in the 1950s was the Bracero Program and subsequent
The Bracero Program
Miscegenation, or racial intermarriage, was prohibited in the South (Arizona only repealed it's anti-miscegenation law in 1962) and typically were defined as a felony. Anti-Miscegenation laws usually prohibited marriage between blacks and whites, but not always. In 1967, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled anti-miscegenation laws illegal.
Minorities in the 1950s/1960s: Seeds of Change
For decades, immigration from Asian countries was highly restricted. In 1952, Congress passed the McCarran-Walter Act. The act was both beneficial and restrictive towards Asian Americans; while it eliminated laws preventing Asians from becoming citizens, and established a quota of 100 immigrants from each Asian country, this was pitifully low compared to the quota allowed for western European countries such as Great Britain (65,000) and Germany (26,000). A more equal immigration quota policy was finally put in place in 1965, with a uniform annual cap of 20,000 immigrants per country.
The internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans during WWII had lasting effects into the 1950s and 1960s. The Japanese were forced to sell their homes and businesses for a fraction of their worth. When they came back to their homes, they often had to start all over. Even worse, many existing Japanese properties were vandalized during their absence.
Effects of Japanese Internment Camps
Mexicans, especially in Los Angeles, faced segregation in public areas like swimming pools, restaurants, parks, theaters and even schools. In some instances, Mexican-American Spanish speakers were expelled from school for speaking Spanish with other classmates. An instance where blatant discrimination was seen were in certain swimming plunges, where certain people were only allowed to swim on certain days of the weeks, or areas where it was reserved for them.
During WWII, the US went through a major
labor shortage. In response, some 4.5 million Mexicans were brought to the US to work in the fields between WWII and 1964.
The working and living conditions for Braceros were often brutal. By the time the program finally ended in 1964, Department of Labor official, Lee G. Williams described it as "legalized slavery".
Regardless, many Mexicans remained in the US, as employment was generally harder to find in Mexico. Additionally, Mexico was still recovering from a vicious internal revolution from a generation earlier. In 1953-1954, a serious recession hit the US and the government launched "Operation Wetback" in an (somewhat) successful attempt in deporting braceros who remained in the US illegally. "Operation Wetback" affected all Mexican Americans, including legal immigrants and non-braceros. The Bracero Program officially ended in 1964, but a similar pattern of migrant working remains to this day in the Southwest.
For Asian Americans, as you will find out in the documents, discrimination was more subtle and less violent than faced by other races; nonetheless, anti-Asian sentiments still existed. Attitudes towards Japanese were still cool immediately after WWII. Of course, when China became Communist in 1949, Chinese were also looked at with suspicion.
Given the extreme, institutionalized racism towards blacks during this time, however, the recognition is well merited.
Additionally, black Americans were early pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement and had strong leaders to follow, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X and Rosa Parks
In addition to segregated schools, many other public facilities in the South were segregated, such as buses. In Montgomery, Alabama, for instance, blacks were prohibited from sitting in the front of the bus. In 1955, Rosa Parks defied this policy and was subsequently arrested. Massive boycotts of the bus system followed, with up to 50,000 African Americans avoiding the public transit system. In November 1956, the Supreme Court finally struck down on segregation laws in public buses.
During WWII, millions of American women took jobs previously reserved for men, often working for the first time ever. In spite of their vital support during wartime, women were basically expected to quit their jobs and return to the role of housewife. In the 1950s, the entire mainstream culture seemed to have heavily enforced this strict gender roles. For example, Esquire magazine called working wives a "menace" in 1954.
What about the "Majority" during this time?
"Leave it to Beaver"
was as much of a fantasy now as it was then.
16.5 Percent of white families still lived below the poverty line. The median income for whites in 1960 was just over $3,000 per year, per person ($23,500 in today's money).
Not all white people were racists; not all men were sexists.
When women could work, they often made significantly less. In the 1950s, it wasn't unusual for companies to have a written policy stating women should be paid less than men. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was the first step in alleviating wage inequality, but the process would be gradual over many decades.
According to Feminist author, Betty Friedan, life for a housewife felt far less fulfilling or joyful than what advertisements would have you believe:
" The real problem must be something else, he decided-perhaps boredom. Some doctors told their women patients they must get out of the house for a day, treat themselves to a movie in town. Others prescribed tranquilizers. Many suburban housewives were taking tranquilizers like cough drops. You wake up in the morning, and you feel as if there's no point in going on another day like this. So you take a tranquilizer because it makes you not care so much that it's pointless."
"Feminine Mystique", Betty Friedan, 1963
For some, the 1950s and early 1960s really were an era of unprecedented wealth and prosperity. However, not all Americans shared this affluence.
Today's lesson is going to focus on minority groups in the 1950s and 1960s. While minorities often fared worse than their white counterparts, it was actually during the 1950s that helped lead to the massive social change of the 1960s.
A minority is basically a group of people less powerful than the dominant group. It is often the smaller group by population, but not always. For the purposes of this lesson, the miniorities being focused on are: Asian Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, African Americans and Women