PROLOGUE | In the Beginning - 1950s | The Trip - 1960's | Paying the
Piper - 1970s |
The Right Turn - 1980s | Denial - 1990s | The Forever War - 2000s | Hope
and ? - 2010s | EPILOGUE |
you how it's gonna be..."
- Buddy Holly, Not Fade Away (Click
here for Buddy)
Coming of Age:
From Disneyland to Vietnam
In the beginning,
there was no TV. But we had radio, and it was good. It also kept us
informed with news on the hour and half hour - once you got past the
farm reports. Between radio, Look, Life, Time, and the morning
newspaper, we all knew the score!
started rough, but most of us were not old enough to remember that.
The Cold War, prompted by the Soviet Union's takeover of the eastern
European nations, had been a constant push to remain vigilant against
The Cold War had
made the world a place of 'us' and them,
with our allies. Those that had not decided which side to back, the US,
or the USSR were 'non aligned nations' and it was our goal to show them
how good we were, to prevent the lies told by Communists from gaining
traction in those places. But China becoming a communist country in 1949
had a profound affect on Americans, who felt it was somehow the American
government's fault for 'losing China' to the communists.
Amid all this,
early in 1950, in a tossed together speech at an insignificant tea
party, a Senator from Wisconsin made an outrageous charge that "in my
pocket I have a list with 205 names" – all State Department employees –
who are "members of the Communist Party." Despite their Communist
credentials, Senator Joe McCarthy continues, they "are still working and
commands attention when it is reported in the papers. Though the Senator
refuses to supply the list, and he continues to state a different number
each time he is interviewed, McCarthy snared the media. The newsmen knew
Joe McCarthy as a junior Senator who is rather lazy in his habits and
imprecise in his statements, so most are skeptical. They spend their
time fact checking his statements, and as expected, find they never read
the same way twice. Among other details, he refers to a different number
each time he speaks of 'the list.'
But the news
audience does not care. McCarthy's charges ignited a fire. He has the
attention of people across America, but certainly church members. And in
1950, that was a majority of Americans. American churches of almost all
religious denominations had long focused on bringing the gospel to
people who had never heard the words of Jesus. These Americans whose
visions of the people their missions touched every week thanks to their
donations had no difficulty imagining them living with the terrors they
had been taught that came with Communism.
Thus we have
one aspect of the dividing line in American perceptions of McCarthy in
the 1950s: is it a Red
Menace, or a Red Scare? Where you landed on that question decided how
you felt about McCarthy.
But with the attack by the North Koreans into South Korea,
that question was no longer a hypothetical one. The Cold War had become
Hot war - a shooting war. Truman committed troops, and yet, troops would be pushed to the wall before Americans got
it turned around. Now, those Duck and Cover drills got serious.
here for Red Scare)
crazy talk of Joe McCarthy started to sound reasonable to some people.
They called for security oaths, and tests to see if everyone was a
'real' American, and not a commie pushing their propaganda into movies
and news shows.
But not to all.
here to see Truman's Response)
Of course, the
Congress quickly passed the security act, and overrode Truman's veto.
McCarthy, up for
re-election in 1952, ran on a the "Three Cs - Crime, Corruption, and
Communism" -- but the only thing he focused on
was Communism, because that got him media attention. And media attention
was as good as an advertisement for a junior Senator up for re-election 1952.
here to see McCarthy speak)
The idea of
shadowy Communist spies or traitors excited the American public. While
few were ever found in government - but they were all over the place in
the entertainment world! Not in real life - just between the pages.
Books, radio shows, movies, and soon TV shows would be overrun with
spies! Commies were everywhere - from the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift to
Mike Hammer and Matt Helm. Fiction certainly enjoyed
the boom that spies brought to us, and little did we know how long they
In all these stories, good
prevails - but only after terrible trials and losses. Usually, the
victim was a best friend who may not have believed that communists were
dangerous. After that friend suffers a terrible and needless death, a
resolute American stands up to the subversive, hidden threats faced by
Americans everywhere - but like the protagonist, they just didn't know
it. Now that they do, it is a do or die situation, and usually, they are
the one who deal death back to those
Of course, we
were not old enough to read the book on the right when it came out, but
lots of people did. (OK - so did we as soon as we could get our hands on it. Spoiler alert - the Commies are behind everything.)
Mickey Spillane created the tough guy Mike Hammer, who would dominate
the best seller lists for the 1950s as you 'average guy just getting by
in the world, but he'd experienced the tough knocks of war and knew
right from wrong, understood the power of a good right hook, and which
end of a gun was the right one to be behind. By the end of the decade, Spillane held nine of the top ten
places on the bestsellers list, and the only book on the list he had not written was the Holy
Bible. The author said that made sense. His books and the Bible talked
about the same issues: Right and wrong, life and death, betrayal,
passion, -- and choices. (No word of Communists in the Bible, however.
But that is likely why Spillane beat it out of the number one slot.)
about the three C's, but ignored the real one: Corruption, meaning, the
power of payoffs to convince people to bend the rules. With the
booming economy and the many projects that had been delayed over the
decades of the Depression and the War, money flowed into new building
construction for local and regional governments and private businesses. Corruption became
common as long-delayed major projects and projects took off fast and ate
up the money. How? Some needed help to get fast tracked and that could
happen with the right influence. The same is true where sometimes, local
requirements needed set aside to get the bid approved. One common target was the 'low bid' system of
selecting a vendor - with the right 'in' one could get a technicality
highlighted, have the bids thrown out, and get a better shot at getting
the bid. And as in the case of the parking meters, or perhaps the new
City Auditorium, recoup the money by not providing what the bid
required? The big boom in construction in the post war years made cash
abundant, and cash made corruption possible.
City celebrated the long delayed construction of the new Auditorium in 1950.
(And just in time for the last major Missouri river flood of 1952. But
that is a different story.)
The price of the
Auditorium construction had skyrocketed,
and added overruns required multiple new bond efforts to make the
building happen. City taxpayers approved the bonds and paid the extra
But what had they
bought? After taking possession, stories abound of finding
electrical plugs with no connection to the electrical system, water
fountains that had no plumbing connections, and similar issues.
These would result in additional spending after the job was considered
done and the original bills paid. While the price had more than
doubled, it certainly appeared the taxpayers did not get what they
thought they were buying - a completed job.
In short, the
word Corruption was on the lips of many in the early 1950s. But no
charges were filed.
was the scandal of Sioux City tavern owners caught in after-hours
operations in 1953. Some protest being busted because their protection payments are up-to-date.
stopped talking to the prosecutor, but many want to talk to Mark Sabel before their next
step. Sabel is not a lawyer - just someone with a lot of friends, it
In the quiet early morning hours
of September 17, 1953, a bomb destroys the early morning quiet. It is at 3515 Pierce, in Sabel's garage,
beneath the bed room where he, his young wife, and their new baby were
sleeping. They are not injuried - but nor are they talking.
Why target a fruit seller? People begin question what Sabel is actually selling.
Some claim the answer is: 'Influence.'
And the bomb is to make it clear to Sabel to keep his mouth shut.
The case soon
widens beyond the issue of police payoffs, which has been met with stony
The new trail leads to City Hall,
and irregularities in equipment purchases and contract bidding.
equipment vendor talks when questioned about their 'luck' in the City's
decision to reject the bid of the low bidder, and award the contract
instead to them. Oh, it was a re-bid, but they won that, the vendor
says. Well, yes, but their meters
then required an additional purchase to achieve the minimum required
functions of the bid. Unlike the original winner, whose meters included
those functions. How did that work?
the vendor pleads guilty,
claiming they were unaware of the issues or any offers made by the
salesman to a multitude of people. The saleman was also
found guilty of a separate charge.
The City Purchasing Agent
resigns over practices in his office, including bidding 'irregularities'
that frequently saw low bids rejected, and re-bids that go to the
City Commissioners 'admit mistakes' and plead guilty of accepting
gratuities. They will get fines and suspended sentence, and get out of
the papers as soon as possible. The third Commissioner, N. P. O'Millinuk,
denies the charges, and fights it out in the court. He will receive the
same sentence as the other two after his eventual conviction.
Six Tavern owners
are found guilty of violating the liquor laws.
And Mark Sabel?
The trial finds him innocent on all charges.
That does not
last. New charges are brought, and this time he will be found
guilty. He will go to prison for a bit over a year.
By the end 23
persons are indicted, and all are found guilty of something.
The headline cases
with its far-reaching results bring shame on Sioux City, at least in the
eyes of those pushing hard to make Sioux City a model for the state.
Looking for options to rehabilitate the city's image, the Rockefeller
Commission is invited to study the situation and city government, and
make recommendations for improvement.
The entire affair
is the last
gasp for the Commissioner form of local government. The study point to years of a poorly run City Hall.
The depth of the scandals reveal the truth of the Commissioner form of government:
it puts people whose only qualification is the ability to be elected in charge of departments with great responsibilities
- and great opportunities that can be harvested by sharp operators with
clever pitches. In
the go-go era of the 1950s, leaders and departments are swimming in
waters over their head a country awash in cash as long delayed projects
are in demand. Cash speaks loudly behind closed doors, and inexperienced
department heads answerable only to voters every 4 years is a recipe for
influence peddler to thrive.
A majority of the
Sioux City voters follow the Rockefeller recommendations, and approve a
new charter to change to the City Manager
system. The Commission is replaced by a Council who appoints a City
Manager, and the departments are operated by supervisors who report to
the City Manager. This removes City Council members from direct control of City
departments, and will usher in a new time of professionalism at City
Hall. It is a ‘great leap forward’ for Sioux City.
I Like Ike
dominated the race for the Presidency in 1952. His election majority
overwhelmed the Democrats, as voters agreed with the campaign slogan "I Like Ike." Not only Ike, but the Republican party was swept into
power in the Senate as well, the first time since Hoover's term 20 years
before. Ike's election was all but ordained. A bona
fide hero whose judgment was trusted by millions of Americans,
Eisenhower provided the calming presence after Truman's trouble with the
three C's - Crime, Corruption, and Communism. The fall of China to
Communists was blamed on the belief that the Democrats had indeed been
soft on Communism. The charge that the Democrats "lost China" stuck,
as Truman had cut the amount of money America was sending to China
before the fall. Truman, who hated fraud and the theft of American
taxpayers dollars more than anyone, knew Chiang Kai-shek was
pocket millions of those hard earned American dollars, and chopped the
aid. But the 'China Lobby' was strong in the US, thanks to those
American churchgoers, and
played on their sympathies while denying everything.
Truman wasn't wrong, but either way it made him an easy
target for blame from McCarthy when China did fall to Mao's Red Army
forces in 1949.)
suspected of being 'soft on Communism' could be unelected. Thus tossed
from power, many Democrats took it as an article of faith it was better
to be in office and wrong than out of office and right. (To which Truman
would have sneered and called them all unprintable answer, but certainly
a fourth C would have been part of it - Coward.)
The new Senate Minority Leader, smarting under the
loss of Senate control to the Republicans, vowed to never again be in a
position where he or his party could be seen as having 'lost' a country
to communism. His name was
Lyndon Johnson, and that
would have terrible consequences long term for the country.
But facts are,
Ike would be a
good president. His capabilities soon prove out, and his promise to end
the war in Korea leads to an
It is never finished - both sides simply agreed to go
home. We didn't care. We had stood up to the commies, and we knew we had won. We were
fighting the good fight.
of good fights on movies, too! We got Juvenile Delinquents in Blackboard
Jungle, Teenage Rebellion in The Wild One, and Dissatisfied
Youth in Rebel Without a Cause.
of these movies showcased actors that would be contenders in the
coming years. Sidney Poitier, Marlon Brando, and James Dean,
respectively, with lots of great supporting actors.
But it is the
soundtrack to Blackboard Jungle that proved an immediate
standout. The title song, Rock Around the Clock powered the show
so well it became an instant hit on radio - and was big enough to get
used in yet again in another movie!
did they call the new movie? Rock Around the Clock! (Click
here to see the song and dancing!)
movie offers lots of Rock and Roll and crazy dancing, and uses the
changing times as audiences move from big band music to rock and roll as
a vehicle to move forward a romance. That stuff was obviously for the
older crowd - all we wanted was the Rock and Roll! The move provides a
timeless showcase of some great groups at the dawn of this new age!
Not the least of which is Bill Haley and his Comets, the former western
crooners turned into... well, what are they? The new slang will say they
are rockers, thanks to the song
title. It will soon apply to all the groups that follow in the song's
frenetic, fast-paced sonic footsteps. Alan Freed is also in the show, as
himself, introducing the groups and their songs. It inspired others to
follow. That includes the next movie, Rip It Up, which dispenses with the
subplot. Long before MTV, Freed becomes the first VeeJay.
Here is the scene from Rip it Up! (Click
here to see Rip It Up - and LOTS of crazy dancing!)
of great movies aimed at the Boomers would flow into the
theatres. From SciFi classics to Elvis comedy romances, all have a teen audience in mind. The biggest ones, of course, have Elvis and
lots of songs. It would be another decade before the mainstream movies are
aimed at the Boomer - but the day is certainly coming!
What's Good for General
Motors is Good for America
The decade started strong, again, with some help from the
Boomers. What's that? How could Boomers, only a few years old, help the
As the good job
market prevailed in the 1950s post war families, flush with cash from
savings stockpiled during WWII, moved out of the crowded housing in the
cities to give their kids a better life. Overnight, the housing market
responded to the demand, creating new housing developments out of farm
fields and vacant spaces. These efforts produced affordable low-cost
homes that could provide bedrooms and a yard for the new 2.3 kids
American families would average over the coming decade.
Much of this is
made possible by rising wages in America. Business boomed, and as a
business leader would soon tell Congress while lobbying for friendlier
business laws, "What's good for General Motors is good for America."
Everyone knew that, and it would be the second 'truth' to come from the
course, living in a suburb meant mass transit would not be an option to
get to the job. Cars were needed and GM and Ford responded. Demand for products meant a demand for workers, and wages rose to
attract them. By 1955 American incomes for workers are at an all-time high,
averaging $3850 a year. At almost $2 an hour it is twice the new minimum wage, which really did not cover anyone.
All this leads to
a new phenomenon in America - the rise of an actual middle class. It had
previously been mostly occupied by the small business owner, and perhaps
shift managers. But by 1955, wage workers - hourly laborers - achieved an income
that could purchase good
homes and cars, as well as pay for the necessities of food and utilities. These
purchases fuel more jobs and more income, as people are hired to build
the houses, the cars, and the TVs that are quickly being purchased -
along will lots of other goods! Costs remain low, too. The average
house is listed as between $11,700 and $22,000. Rent is only $75 a
The car to the
left, the 1955 Chevy, starts at $1600 in the basic model - more of
course for those new V-8 engines. But gasoline to feed these new
'hill-flatteners' is only 22 cents a gallon. A First class stamp is 3
cents, rent is $75 a month. Prices on radios are dropping fast, no
longer the central entertainment provider in the home. But there are so
many things today to purchase, and best of all, money to do so!
Automatic washers and dryers lead the list by the mid 1950s. The
refrigerator has replaced the ice box - and the ice man and the coal
truck will both disappear, too. Coal furnaces with boilers are on their
way out, replaced by oil and natural gas furnaces.
There is so much
more you could spend your money on. But you still have some left to put
in the bank. Not that anyone really does, but their parents, who lived
through the Great Depression try to instill that in their kids, the
parents of the boomers.
Television is the
newest gadget everyone has to have! Families with their new income are
buying the TV! Those new TVs are $150 for one with a
17-inch black and white picture, which is about a half month's work in
the early 1950s. Not too many channels to watch though. KVTV signed on in Sioux City March 19, 1953, and KTIV
in October the following year. Omaha already had two channels, but that
was too far for a normal antenna to pick up. With only two
channels and a limited amount of programming, television managed to
rapidly change lots of things. Primarily, how people spent their free
Linda Ellerbee, later a TV newscaster and programming
producer, noted in her biography that as a child at the age of 7, her
formerly inseparable best friend had suddenly stopped coming outside to
play. Ellerbee, worried about her, and after a few days of this, knocked
on her door. The friend's mother told her 'they had gotten a TV, and she
can't come outside.' Oh my gosh, the young Ellerbee thought, "TV
ate my best friend!"
was not the only person to change their ways.
Americans changed their
habits to conform to television's schedule. Dining habits were affected
when network programming originating on the east coast started at dinner
time in the midwest! Swanson Foods, based in Omaha, rose to the
challenge. In 1954 they created and introduced the TV dinner in 1954.
The cover LOOKED like a TV! And it worked perfectly with the new TV
trays that appeared in Sears that year.
Swanson only produced
turkey dinners in late 1954. By 1955, Swanson sold
lots of available broadcast hours, but limited programs. In the early days,
networks NBC and CBS produced shows for their affilated stations, but it was slow to start.
Most of their programming was for prime time viewing - so we got really
used to seeing that test pattern during the day.
But Sioux City
stations stepped up, and a number of programs popped up on the black on
gray TV screens of the time. To fill the
local stations made their own shows, creating local programs where they
could offer something on the airwaves. These local producers likely had as little
experience making TV shows as the people watching had - none at all.
This was a completely new medium for most of the people involved. Some came
to TV from radio, like Don Stone, who had been so popular on radio he
was chosen to fill in on The Breakfast Club when the host took
vacation. (This would be the equivalent of taking Johnny Carson's place
on the Tonight Show at Carson's zenith. So there was no lack of talent
available. (Ironically, Sioux City would provide a launching pad for two
that would become nationally famous.)
But like radio
when it launched, TV was completely new. There were no ground rules,
other than the legal regulations. Radio people understood the requirements
of a good talking program - but nothing about the setup beyond the
microphones. The use of the cameras, the positioning of lights, the use
of a background set in the studio - these were new situations. Yet those
shows drew viewers and remain fond memories for many.
Local news and
weather became the first shows, certainly meeting a need in our region.
Interestingly, more than one local TV weatherman would go on to become a
prominent name in the community, and two were elected to local
government years after their TV time was over. At least one became mayor of Sioux City. Perhaps their humble
pointing a stick at a curtain shade to discuss lines drawn on
a map gave them insights on talking to people? Or is it
possible that people believed the persona they displayed on TV was who
they were in 'real' life? In their cases, it was, but, as we would learn
soon with politicians and TV, that is not always true.
TV shows for and about kids was the next
effort, and if it was low hanging fruit, it would still prove to be very
Kids shows offered an easy format, with a host entertaining a room
full of kids with funny banter interspersed with cartoons. It could all
happen in the corner of the studio, with no real difficulties day to
day. But the memories it would create would last a lifetime for those
TV helped make Bowling a major sport in the US in the 1950s. The fixed
location of the action allowed TV stations to venture outside the studio
and showcase local people, which was an important. Channel 9 produced
many local programs, including "Big Bowl," and "Saturday Afternoon
Dance Party." Both were popular, but it was "Canyon Kid's Corner" that
stuck around the longest. Local kids could come on the show as a
group, and many did. We could actually see ourselves on that exciting
new media, television!
Even in the rural America,
we could see kids just like us on all the shows, because new TV shows were aimed at us. From Howdy Doody to
The Mickey Mouse Club, we saw ourselves on those shows. And
that never stopped. (Left: Jim Henry, right, interviews cowboy star
'Hoot' Gibson on a Canyon Kid episode.
here for an Canyon Kid retrospective.)
Lots of channels
around the country took advantage of the mix of Rock and Roll and
dancing, and created TV shows with dancing. Here is Iowa's version on
WOI-TV from Des Moines. But of course, Philadelphia did it best, with
the Beech Nut Show, which later became American Bandstand.
here for an Iowa Dance show, Seventeen)
As we aged,
television matured. We saw newer programs with great actors and
incredible themes. We traded the
Disney Hardy Boys for Tod and Buz
and took to the road in a Corvette. They
traveled much further than just old Route 66 - they saw America! Books
were aimed at us too, from Kerouac to comics, and everything in between.
By the mid 50s, movies started coming around, but it would be another
decade before we became their prime audience - but that was coming.
Of course, TV
also showed us things that didn't seem right - kids at lunch counters
being beaten just for sitting there. Mobs milling around a school in
Little Rock. What was that about? We might not be certain, but when we
saw the crowds yelling at that little girl just walking to school, we
were knew which side was wrong.
The events of the
mid 1950s gave many of us our first experience with the situations faced
by people that were not like us. The murder of Emmitt Till proved too
graphic for early TV, though networks in the big cities did carry it.
But the happenings of Rosa Parks and her refusal to give up her seat to
a man on the bus struck us as ridiculous. What man would insist a lady
give up her seat? But the following events of the Montgomery Bus Boycott
introduced us to the new face of the south, a young pastor named Martin
Luther King, Jr. We would certainly hear more of him.
And while the
while the news of Brown vs. The Board of Education was a big news item,
it didn't seem all that important to those of us that it did not effect.
But it opened the world to those that did not look like we the majority.
It would spark the events we would remember, though - the insane
television pictures from Little Rock, Arkansas.
What we saw most, though, was Ike was steamed. Later we would learn he
had gotten an agreement from Arkansas Gov. Faubus to bring the children
into the school, and protect them, so that it would not be necessary for
the Federal government to act. If so, it would remain an issue for the state,
which is what Ike wanted. But the Governor went back on his word to get
the endorsement of an Arkansas crowd. Faubus learned one thing - he
might keep his job, but you did not go back on an agreement with
President Eisenhower. The 101st Airborne rolled into Little Rock
quickly, and in force. Then Ike went on TV to explain why, in no uncertain
terms. All of us with fathers knew the tone of that voice and that look.
Ike was steamed.
It was the first
time troops were sent into the South since Reconstruction, to enforce
the Constitution. Ike didn't like it, and didn't want to be the one to
do it. But unlike Faubus, Ike would do
here for Little Rock video)
for a later program but complete with video from the time.)
here for Eisenhower address from the Oval Office)
couldn't feel too smug, of course. During the 1940s and 1950s, lots of
big band era names played Sioux City, but they could not stay at the
Warrior Motor Inn, or any of the downtown hotels. Worse though, as
recently as 1951,
Sioux City Memorial Park cemetery stopped the funeral of Sgt. Rice
rather than allow a Native American to be buried in their all white
cemetery. The cemetery had gladly taken the money and signed the papers prior to
the event - but when they realized all the mourners were Natives, they
voided the contract.
Sgt. John Rice had died fighting for America in Korea.
But the freedom he fought for did not include the ability to be buried in his home town.
Reading the story
in newspaper, President Truman was
outraged. He grabbed a phone, and Sgt. Rice and his wife found
themselves transported to D.C. where Sgt. Rice was given full military
honors and interred as a hero at Arlington National Cemetery.
But most of us
didn't really notice this event. It didn't affect us. And that is the
problem - discrimination by its nature removes people from sight. It
makes people invisible to those it does not affect. That makes it difficult
to fix, until like Rice, like the Little Rock 9, like Rosa Parks or the
lunch counter sit ins, or like the murder of Emmitt Till, their story is
finally big enough, outrageous enough, painful enough, to find a place
on the national news media. And as we see with most of these stories, we
can read about them - but when TV or the newspapers make you see the hate filled-looks, or the
actual beatings, that finally make their story visible.
The Brown vs. the
Board of Education ruling destroyed the legal fiction that separate is
equal. It unlocks that door, but social threats of violence dare anyone
to walk through that door, to become visible, and to make themselves the target for that hate
and violence. Change is hard, and it will require more than being seen.
Eventually, it will require
all people - the viewers - to consider how they would feel if they were
in the same situation, where their rights were diminished by something
beyond their control. Something like the color of their skin. But for
that to happen,
there will have to be more confrontations that reach the newspaper, or
now, the television. This generation, on both sides, will live in that
crucible for coming decades. We will see how it impacts the end of the
1950s, and becomes the center of attention for the coming decade.
Experiencing the World via Radio and Movies
Radio was our
ticket to another world. Largely
abandoned by businesses as our parents migrated to television, radio
sparked the beginning of the change of the old order. We
heard DJ's tell us of distant lands and far away places, and we heard
music that moved us. The lyrics spoke to us, and about us. Things were already
changing in America.
here for audio of Alan Freed Dance Party - with Frankie Lyman and
the Teenagers as the first song. )
But those DJs,
going back to the early 1950s, were making a huge difference. They were
playing black rhythm and blues singers, and later soul and doo-wop. (Click
here for Doo-Wop's greatest songs.)
But Doo Woop
wasn't a thing n the South. It was the wilder songs, and the blues, like
Muddy Waters and others, that Southern Citizen's
not want heard. (Click
here to hear Alan Freed's Moon Dog program.)
kids, like Aaron Elvis Presley did Hound Dog, and acted and sounded ...
well, black, the White Councils were concerned. But things started to simmer
when TV showed Elvis gyrating on TV.
Radio had long
been separated, and in the South, they, like the Black citizens, were
considered to 'know their place.' They did not try to draw kids to black
establishments, and the only blacks in White Establishments were the
white kids didn't know this, any more than those kids in England
listening to black Rhythm and Blues records did. They all started
emulating the sound, the beat, the emotion, and the dancing. For the first time, the South's Citizen's Councils could not
prevent white kids from experiencing what they called 'Race' music, and
the first cracks in the wall of Southern segregation appeared. They
would strike back, but it would be too late. There was no color barrier
on the air -- at least outside the South. And the South could not stop
the radio signals coming in. But they could try to force local radio to
follow their rules. (See the links below.)
here for Rock and Roll has got to go)
here for the Blow Back to Stop the Rock)
It was radio that
stretched the color line. Where a young guy named Robert Zimmerman far
to the north tuned in everything from southern country to the crazy
sounds of Little Richard. It was the radio and Chuck Berry who taught
the Beach Boys how to 'play a guitar like ringing a bell.' The radio was
really 'where it was at, man!'
On radio, you couldn't tell Chuck Berry wasn't white,
or that Elvis wasn't black. But we didn't care either way. We heard Ray Charles and
Roy Orbison, Little Richard and Buddy Holly, Fats Domino and Pat Boone -
and liked them all. The radio gave
us Elvis, Buddy, the Beach Boys, and soon,
here for Elvis on Ed Sullivan for first time - Don't Be Cruel)
here for Chuck Berry on Hollywood A Go Go - Johnny B. Goode)
for Chuck Berry on Beech Nut Show - School Days)
here for Buddy Holly on Ed Sullivan - Peggy Sue)
here for Buddy Holly on Ed Sullivan - That'll Be the Day)
here for Johnny Cash on Tex Ritter Ranch Party )
here for Johnny Cash impersonating Elvis)
continue to be our ticket to another world, even as the 1950s ended.
Alan Freed was finished by the Payola scandal, Buddy Holly dead in a
plane crash, Chuck Berry was in prison, and Elvis
was in the Army.
Rock would prove to be resilient, as we will see next week!
In the fall of
1957 though, a stranger sound than all of this can be picked up on some
radios. It is a distant 'Beep ... beep... beep.' It is coming from outer
space, and no one on this side of the world is happy about it. The beep
of Sputnik announced the U.S.S.R. to be the first country to place an object into orbit.
The U.S.S.R. The Russians. The Commies. Americans... at least American
officials are in shock. The first step into space is not made by the
'Leader of the Free world' but by a country thought to be too backward to feed
themselves. Worst of all, by Communists. It is a bitter moment for
It will become
more than bitter though as the true meaning of this moment becomes clear.
Many leading American scientists had publicly stated they didn't
believe anything larger than a bowling ball could be placed into orbit.
Yet here it was, not only orbiting, but emitting its own signal to
broadcast to the world its grand achievement.
If it could place
something into orbit, were cameras far behind? And if orbiting is
possible, why stop at cameras? Why not nukes?
The Space race
technological achievement becomes a pivotal moment for the United States. Changes
from this single event will reverberate through the next two decades,
and in some ways, much longer.
by incident, will commit to a future in space, and that commitment will
be felt in many ways:
- a true
race with the U.S.S.R. to be the country that claims the victory in
- a willingness
to spend the money on research, on development, and on testing to catch
up, and surpass the USSR.
- the dedication
to improve the educational opportunities to attract and to train
students in the mathematics and science programs necessary to continue
and expand the race.
- a visible
reminder through the years of this dedication in the form of public
space launches and the excitement that those continuous efforts bring.
While the US has
trouble off the start, and will continue chasing the USSR for more than
5 years on human launches, the infrastructure already in place makes US
satellite development lucrative, and desirable. By the dawn of the
1960s, the United States will have deployed important first generation
weather satellites and communication satellites. Within a few years,
they will have revolutionized the young television industry, allowing
near instantaneous communications around the world. The 1964 Olympics
will be broadcast live from Japan - an unheard of concept. Telephone
communications also leaped forward. Weather satellites are changing our
concept of forecasts, with real data to tell us what awaits over the
horizon. And spy satellites will quickly make the dangerous U2 flights
unnecessary - but not soon enough. Ike's 'Open Skies' offer is replaced by the 'Eye in the
Sky' that tracks troop moments - and missile development.
Much is made in
America of the tax dollars spent in space. Not a single dollar is spent
in space , and the Americans on the ground will be the true benefactors
of these improvements. While interest in human space exploration will
wane in two decades, the US never pauses on continued development of
ever-evolving satellites that will improve American's lives in the
McCarthy Goes... McCarthyism Stays
By the end of the
decade, McCarthy would finally be hung by his own words, and censured by
the Senate. But McCarthyism will never really be gone. Fear of appearing
soft on communism will run American policy for at least 25 more years.
It is the
television broadcaster William Murrow who finally starts the process.
Murrow pits his prestige on the line, and his See it Now program, using
his formidable skills as a journalist to present the case against
McCarthy on the air - using only McCarthy's own statements. The public listens and appears to agree if they are
open to reason at all. But even now, six years into McCarthy's reign of
terror, whose drinking has only made him increasingly sloppy in his use
of lies stated as facts, survives the encounter. That he is not taken
down by Murrow's well researched list of facts, his point by point
assessment of McCarthy statements that are clearly manufactured lies,
shows the truth of the situation. People make emotional choices, not
ones based on logic. Truth matters less than feelings, it appears, and
the program does
not turn the tide completely against McCarthy.
It is a sobering
moment for many people. How does one combat a demagogue, a liar, a
charlatan? Someone that simply states wrong is right and fiction as
Clearly, it is an
answer that still eludes us.
But Murrow's use
of McCarthy's own words in the program does protect Murrow from most of
the blowback that could have hit him, and for years, Murrow is credited
with delivering the mortal blow to McCarthy.
That simply is
not true. McCarthy continued to be a force. McCarthy real enemy is
himself. His greatest failing was his diminished capacity to see the
world had changed, now, and he was no longer invulnerable. His
alcoholism and his inflated ego, coupled with lazy work habits made him
susceptible to manipulation. His staff, consisting of two young men who
provided most of the legwork and effort and what little thought that
there was, managed to turn McCarthy toward a foe he could never take
down: The United States Army. Anyone with any smarts would know that, but McCarthy had always been cunning, but never
Anyone with any
intelligence at all would have realized that the sitting President, who
was also the most popular man in the United States, and whose standing
was never tarnished, who had spent his entire professional life as part
of the United States Army, would not find anyone trying to tarnish the
reputation of the Army would not be tolerated.
had a chance of winning this. His hubris made him appear exceedingly foolish,
and did the most to undercut his standing with the public. But
a bigger factor is live coverage, gavel to gavel, of the hearings. This time, it was not the edited news clips of
seeing only the moments of McCarthy thundering away
at the individuals that had come under his glare. This time, every moment of
the hearing was shown. McCarthy's sometimes befuddled looks told
Americans watching a different story than the clips had. His sometimes
lost look as he thrashed about looking for a thread to seize for a sound
bit moment, for a perfect picture for the newspaper began to wear thin
efforts finally broke his stranglehold on the public, when the opposing
council looked at McCarthy and expressed not scorn, but pity for him. It
was a moment of embarrassment caught on film, and McCarthy looked more
lost than all his former victims had turning their moment in the
later allowed the Senate to censure McCarthy - and much is made of that
as a bipartisan effort. That too, is an overstatement. McCarthy still
had a strong group of GOP Senators that had his back. But Ike, who saw
McCarthy for what he was, a glory hound with no sense and little value,
wanted McCarthy gone. Ike in 1957 had more pull with the party than
But there is a
further proof of the danger of McCarthy: Murrow, who had been
unassailable himself in the newsroom at CBS, found from that moment
forward, he too, had been damaged. When the contract with his sponsor
came up, they did not renew. And no new long term sponsor was waiting.
Paley, the head of CBS who had fought with Murrow at times but never
simply ordered him to do anything, became more distant, and less
receptive. The News became more under the control of CBS, removing
Murrow's defense of the institution as separate from the profit making
side of the company.
It was not an
instant change, but the slide started when Murrow challenged McCarthy.
And there are many that did not miss that fact, either.
But the American public will never stop using the label of 'Communism'
as a club to batter anything they disagree with. Sadly, 55 years
later, reports show false stories planted on Facebook by Russian counter
intelligence groups were gladly picked up and shared, mostly by people
who would label themselves as anti communists. Those fake news
stories were designed to spread doubt and distrust in the American
government, much as the agents in the Warsaw Pact nations used fake news
stories and rumors to undercut and destroy those countries. We come full
circle to our opening.
That will be
especially true when McCarthy's key aid, Roy Cohn, will later befriend
and mentor a wealthy New York businessman, who later becomes President
of the United States.
A Chance for a
1959 the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev finally is invited to visit
the United States - by an Iowa farmer, Roswell Garst. Garst had met
Khrushchev after reading a state policy speech by the Premier bragging
about the U.S.S.R.'s increasing corn production. 'Come to Iowa,'
if you want to see the right way to do it, states Garst in an open
'letter to the editors' newspaper response. Khrushchev snaps up the
offer. It is cleared by the State Department, and Khrushchev is coming
for his long awaited chance to visit the U.S.A. But where most heads of
State might visit for a day or two - Khrushchev is staying for two
weeks! He wants to tour the country - and especially, Disneyland.
Khrushchev maneuvered his way to the Premier position after Stalin’s
death. Now he’s trying to win over the world – and the rest of the
Politburo back home. It is a balancing act on a high wire, and yet we
have no recognition of that tricky situation. We have been preaching the
evils of communism for close to a decade now, and finally a real
communist shows up to visit. One that acts at time generous and other
times boorish. But his sense of drama is perfect for the audience, in
person and on the TV. He draws crowds everywhere, even in Coon Rapids,
Iowa, where cars line the country roads leading to the Garst farm. And
later, Iowa State University in Ames.
most things in stride. He loves the massive crowds he draws, and
discounts the occasional protester carrying signs. One sign reads, "The
only good Communist is a Dead one." It is understandable, he says with a
shrug. They've never seen a live one before.
fascinated by what they see, as Khrushchev is a combination huckster and
two-bit dramatic actor. For his part, he rises to the occasion, and is
on his best behavior, though he has his moments. He is not put off by
the nasty questions from the newsmen, though the lecturing speeches by
California mayors that should be welcoming him begins to get on his
nerves. But the near breaking point is when he is denied access to
Disneyland. 'You hide state secrets at Disneyland?' Safety concerns,
they tell him.
But the meeting
with Eisenhower at Camp David goes well, and plans are laid for a summit
in Moscow in 1960.
There were more
changes as the decade ended. Women moving into the workforce at greater
numbers. Women entering college, not for their 'MRS' degree, but for an
actual degree. (OK, in the vernacular of the time, perhaps it was 'to
have something to fall back on' - usually a teaching certificate - in
'Mister Right' turned out to be 'Mister Wrong, and then Mister GONE.'
Women had a long tough road ahead. But change was coming soon.
As the 1960s
dawned, even the sky would not be the limit. When that
young new President stood tall on TV, his words came out as white clouds
that hung in the cold morning air. As he spoke of the torch passing to a new
generation, we knew he was talking to us, not our parents. It was a stirring moment in
history, and TV was there, which meant, we were there, too.
That is the story
of the 1960s and beyond - through the new communications devices, we
Of course, TV
also showed us things we didn't want to see. And that, too, left an
we were coming of age. By 1965, as many people were under 30 as over 30!
As the earliest Baby Boomers graduated, and we knew we'd make a difference.
We would change things.
As soon as we got Vietnam
straightened out. We weren't
certain why we were going there, but, well, Ike had said there were those
dominos, and it was our job, our duty. I mean, they were commies, right?
So we had to fight. Good news - we weren't going to be there long. Six months. A year, tops.
I mean, we won WWII. Who could stop us?
Join me next Monday
night as we move into the 1960s!
NEXT CHAPTER -- Next week!
In the Beginning - 1950s
| The Trip - 1960's | Paying the Piper - 1970s |
The Right Turn - 1980s | Denial - 1990s | The Forever War - 2000s | Hope
and ? - 2010s | EPILOGUE |
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class, and people left feeling empowered.” -- Dr. Lynn Barteck, Tri
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