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Most Significant Events in the USA History: From Its Inception Through The Upheavals of Each Generation Essay

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Updated: Dec 28th, 2021

Introduction

Writing about the history of America, Bilhartz and Elliot (2007) have candidly described how American history has been full of struggle. For instance, they note, “Like the ebb and flow of water down a mountainside, the currents of America history have not followed a steady, even course” (Bilhartz and Elliot, 2007, p.xxiii). Moreover, reconstructing America’s history over time requires one to follow the journey from its inception, observing the upheavals of each generation and outlining how the grand events in each period have carried the nation into new eras that are sometimes characterized by fresh challenges and opportunities.

Period: 1950s

Teen culture, “The World One movie”

The period during the World War II saw the America’s population being significantly affected. Due to the devastating effects experienced during the war, the economic situation of the nation worsened while birth rate declined drastically. But with the end of war and the promise of a stable life environment, economic prosperity started to be experienced; resulting into the escalation of birth rates (Lytle, 2006, p.27). However, by the mid-1950s many of these children were entering the adolescence stage and due to their soaring number, their fads and fancies turned to be a national alarm. What became evident was the fact that parents, teachers and community leaders held partial control over high schools and numerous subcultures that young people were developing. Moreover, the separation which became evident created a considerable tension whereby the adults were disturbed by the social class values of the teen culture. In addition, teens manifested their culture in many ways, for example they adopted and preferred certain clothing styles, heroes, and entertainments and behaved in manner that adults interpreted to be rogue.

Nothing heightened the rift between this class conflict and the described juvenile delinquency than the 1953 contentious movie by the name ‘The Wild One’. The movie centered on a rebellious theme which highlighted an episode where a motorcycle gang orchestrated terror on a small town of California. Adults associated the movie with ‘Communist’ and became worried that the movie promoted and advocated for anti-social subculture revolt which could result into encouraging the teenagers to emulate its plot and hence result into delinquency and riots (Dirks, n.d). But the teenagers were not ready to listen to this outcry of the adults as they embraced the movie. In effect, the movie star, Marlon Brando, turned out to be one of the major icons of the time, with the bikers’ dress and language becoming the worshipped styles among the teens (Lytle, 2006, p.27). Moreover, the produces of the movie claimed that the movie was intended to highlight the increasing delinquency in the society and the concern that was being attached to this. As a result of this movie, teens in 1950s became both a subject to explore and a market to exploit. Consequently, the media ensured that the subculture the teens were largely embracing as a national phenomenon while at the same time generating fads and tastes which the media commercialized quickly (Lytle, 2006, p.28).

This era was successful in the American history in that, it marked the emergency of: Rock and Roll music, distinct fashion of clothes, television, hairstyles, automobile, motorbikes and a distinctive language. For instance, the emergence of television in this era ensured most families turned to television for entertainment and education programmes. Up-to-date, television has continuously influenced America’s culture and politics which in turn have transformed the country to become strong in the present society.

Montgomery Bus Boycott

December 5, 1955 marked the beginning of legal conflict following an incident whereby an African American woman named “Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus” to a white person (Robinson, 1987, p.8). Rosa was a seamstress, and the day she was arrested she had worked till late. By using the buses, African Americans were constantly discriminated both in actions and words, and in most cases they abided to the brutal laws of riding under brutal tyrannical conditions. On December 5, 1955, an estimated population of fifty thousand African American people walked off public buses and protested while at the same time, they were defying the existing conditions which were demeaning, humiliating and too intolerable to endure. They refused to ride buses in Montgomery for one entire year.

As Gibson Robinson would observe later, “the bus boycott originated in the demeaning, wretched, intolerable impositions and conditions that African American citizens experienced in a caste system commonly called segregation” (Robinson, 1987, p.8). The protest by the blacks were so intense that the federal government was forced to declare the segregation in public transport illegal an unconstitutional, thus bringing about a sigh of relief to the affected races. Immediately an appeal was filed to block and overturn this ruling which again put the boycott on course until November 13, 1956, when the Supreme Court made a ruling in recognition and respect of the ruling of the district court.

What became important out of the boycott was that the decision made by the court and the subsequent desegregation of public buses transcended across these events to address the issue of racial segregation in the larger American society. Moreover, the period gave rise to civil right movements that were championing for the recognition of rights of African Americans in the nation. Subsequently, the Montgomery Bus Boycott became a firm stepping stone for the national Rights movement and the victory it received prompted Martin Luther King to national personality and figure of attention as he became more vibrant and vocal on the rights of African Americans and other minorities in the society.

Period: 1960s

War on Poverty (Job Corps)

War on Poverty changed in 1960s from providing jobs and income programs to more programs in training, education and motivational rehabilitation for particular groups of individuals outside the regular economy. Job Corps became one of the components of War on Poverty in 1960s, which aimed at realizing rapid progress. Indeed, many believed that Job Corps would, “change indifference to interest, ignorance to awareness and resignation to ambition” (Stricker, 2007, p.51). Basically, there were two types of Job Corps centers; Urban Training specialized in offering special vocational training while the smaller conservation camps emphasized human renewal, providing physical labour in forests and recreational areas and was supplemented by education curriculum (Gillette, 2010, p.212). Moreover, Job Corps were designed and targeted to the people in society who were likely not to succeed such as school dropouts’ youth who came from poor families. These youth had reverted to crimes, riots and other antisocial acts and such a program came as a relief.

The program faced opposition with some Republican senators disparaging it and claiming that there were millions of job vacancies, thus there was no need for War on Poverty. They claimed that, “by taking young people from their families, is using Nazi and Soviet methods” (Stricker, 2007, p.51). In effect, Programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, Model Cities, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and Job Opportunities in the Business Sector (JOBS) were created while programs like food stamps, welfare and Social Security were boosted. Basically, Youth Corps provided part-time jobs and summer work in landscaping, painting parking meters and cleanup jobs to low-income youths who were in schools. However, those students in college but from low-income families were given grants, loans and jobs including Work-Study Program.

Therefore, 1960s became one of the rare periods in history when millions of people in USA embraced major reforms. Civil rights movements got people to think about economic opportunity; the public largely became advocates of the War on Poverty and in colleges, idealism defeated careerism as more students got involved in community organizing and hence the decade turned out to be the moment when new institutions were created and old ones fixed (Stricker, 2007).

March on Washington 1963

The 1963 March on Washington was the zenith of a series of very inhumane acts that were being done on humankind. For instance, there had been open casket funeral Emmit Till to the cruel beatings of youth Blacks in Birmingham who were protesting without violence. At the same time, segregation and racism that was being witnessed in the national army prompted the 1963 March on Washington (Johnson, n.d). It was common for the white men to use batons, fire hoses, vicious dogs and tear gas on both black and white demonstrators using nonviolence to demonstrate but to many civil crusaders, this was pure brutality.

On August 28, 1963, it will remain as undeleted mark in the history of America as almost a half million people, both white and African Americans, marched from Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial in the nation’s capitol led by A. Phillip Randolph, Martin Luther King, James Farmer, Bayard Rustin and Roy Wilkins (Johnson, n.d). The march was agitating for the fulfillment of certain demands which included: passage of significant Civil Right Legislation, immediate abolition of segregation in public schools, non-brutal provision of security to demonstrators, significant public works programs with the capacity to provide employment, enactment of legislations to put stop to incidences of discrimination in public and private hiring and lastly, the need for self-government in Washington (Johnson, n.d).

King delivered “his famous ‘I have a Dream’ speech at the Lincoln Memorial”, to the applause of the demonstrators (Johnson, n.d). The demonstrations seemed to yield fruits as the incumbent president set forth various changes which were further pursued by his successor in the later years. Therefore, it can be noted that, the March on Washington was successful as it set stage for some radical changes in terms of legislations such as; the Civil Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and also the Employment Opportunities Act of 1972 (Johnson, n.d).

Period: 1980s

Stock Market Crash (Black Monday)

Reagan legacy is highly known and remembered for its long-term effect on economic policy. Notably, Reagan initiated economic policies that saw Americans being freed from big government, implementation of massive tax cuts for businesses and individuals and increasing the national debt in order to build a stronger military (Batchelor and Stoddart, 207, p.10). In addition, the period between 1982 and 1987 experienced economic expansion that produced almost $20 trillion and gave Americans hope in form of lower inflation, falling interest rates, job creation and expansion in stock market. However, the blow of this decade’s success came to a standstill on October 19, 1987, when the stock market crashed, which was the largest one-day collapse in the history of America (Batchelor and Stoddart, 207, p.11). On this day, Dow Jones Industrial lost almost 22.6 per cent of its value that as estimated to be about $500 billion dollars and for many, this crash brought to the fore front the hidden flaws in the Reaganomics infrastructure (Batchelor and Stoddart, 207, p.11).

In 1987, the SEC unveiled a huge process that involved insider trading and found many companies to be guilt of involvent in these acts. At the same time, the Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates to offset a rise in inflation, which disorganized activities on Wall Street. However, in responding to this, many trading firms fell back to using portfolio insurance as a protection from dips in the market. And to respond to the Federal Reserve’s interest’s majority of firms started trading on their portfolio insurance futures by taking in billions in matter of minutes, thus causing the future market and the stock market to crash concurrently and the blame of that Monday fell on Wall Street. However, within 24-hour period, $500 billion dollars got lost from the index and the crash created a domino effect which resulted into similar crashes across the globe.

A conflict between clients and their brokers saw the former take law into their hands, shooting their brokers. Recession became imminent and federal government reacted by lowering short-term interest rates the following day in order to mitigate against the depression and bank crisis (Batchelor and Stoddart, 207, p.13). Furthermore, there was the installation of a circuit breaker system that electronically stop trading if prices drop too rapidly and such measure was to prevent any other future crash.

Political: Refuge Act of 1980

During the period 1975-1980, refugees and refugee issues became the main issues that dominated Congressional debates. As a result of the fall of Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, the period was characterized by “admission of more than 400,000 Indochinese refugees, the enactment of major amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act in the form of the Refugee Act of 1980, and the exodus from Mariel Harbor, Cuba, to southern Florida” (DIANE Publishing Company, 1995, p.590). The Act repealed the ideological and geographical limitations which earlier had acted in favor of refugees running away from communism or from Middle East countries.

After the “enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980, large numbers of Cubans entered the United States through southern Florida, totaling an estimated 125,000, along with continuing smaller numbers of Haitians” (DIANE Publishing Company, 1995, p.590). The Reagan ad ministration decided to legitimize the citizenship of the Cuban refugees, and since the Refugee Act of 1980 incorporated United Nations definition of refugee into USA law, this resulted into USA solidifying its principles and precepts about the refugees world-wide. More important is the role of the Act in bringing overall improvements in programs and funding provisions for the refugees and the right to gain full citizenship of the country after five years whereby this has eliminated the hardship that refugees had to through, from having no status in the country to harassment. The Act therefore, has in the long-run portrayed America as a country that is committed to the ideal of liberty and safety to persons from other lands who are being persecuted.

Conclusion

The above events have re-defined the history of USA as a nation that today many things and grand developments in terms of economic, social, political and even cultural can be attributed to these eras. The important thing is the connection of the developments of these eras, with the present achievements in key areas of social, economic and political. A point to remember is that, the events did not mark a destination but rather created bridges on which the society can use to make more progress in future. Drawing evidence from these past events and observing the current history of the nation one becomes confident to hypothesize that, the teen’s culture in the coming ten years will undergo tremendous changes, Civil movements will continue to agitate for more rights, economic reforms will continue to be undertaken and policies to cater for immigrants will not halt. Therefore drawing evidences from these eras becomes important and necessary to make hypothesis about the future.

References

  1. Batchelor, B. and Stoddart, S. (2007). CT, Greenwood Publishing Group. Web.
  2. DIANE Publishing Company. (1995). PA, DIANE Publishing. Web.
  3. Dirks, T. (N.d). . Web.
  4. Gillette, M. L. (2010). . NY, Oxford University Press. Web.
  5. Johnson, M. (N.d). The March on Washington and its consequences.
  6. Lytle, M. H. (2006). . NY, Oxford University Press. Web.
  7. Robinson, J. A. G. (1987). . University of Tennessee Press. Web.
  8. Stricker, F. (2007). . NC, UNC Press. Web.
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