Remembering The Fifties

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The fifties has the reputation of being the decade of the "Boomers", the "Happy Days" generation.  Many people call us the post-war babies, and the term includes all babies born after the end of World War II on into the sixties.  The increase in babies born in the US alone was over 4.3 million.  Post war though is hardly an accurate description.  1950 brought Truman's instructions to the US Atomic Energy Commission to develop the hydrogen bomb, North Korea invaded South Korea and troops were sent from both Canada and the US to fight once more.  Communists were forbidden entrance into the US and the cold war between the US and Russia was underway.  The 1950 statistics revealed that 480 of the 800 million world's children were undernourished and the war against starvation was initiated.

When you say the fifties, people remember the size of the cars, rock and roll, coonskin caps, hula hoops, Barbie, cap guns and pop-bead necklaces.  Those of us born in that decade remember watching Buffalo Bill and Howdy Doody, Dick Clark and American Bandstand, the M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E Club, Disney, Father Knows Best, Lassie and Bonanza to name just a few.

The fifties however was the beginning of a lot of radical changes and a new awareness that the sixties brought to a head.  When electric power was produced from atomic energy in Nevada and the radioactivity was detected in Rochester, New York in its snowfall people began to question the health hazards of this type of testing.   The first sit-in was in Yucca Flat, Nevada at the first atmospheric bomb testing.   After nuclear tests in Nevada sheep were dying and a 7 year old died of leukemia in Carson City.  By 1960, 90% of the cast and crew of "The Conqueror" who were downwind of Yucca Flats where eleven nuclear bombs were exploded in 1955 had contracted cancer and 43 had died.  

A change in music with the closet hit of Bill Haley & the Comets with Rock Around the Clock, and Elvis Presley's That's All Right Mamma lead to a break through for the black bands and vocalists.  More than just music was making way for civil liberties.  Rosa Park made a stand in Montgomery, Alabama and refused to give up her seat on a bus.  Another war was about to stir with the court ordered admission of the first Negro student in the University of Alabama and suits filed against Alabama for the segregation of buses. 10,000 students joined the march against desegregation.

The fifties also brought the Polio epidemic and 58,000 people were affected by it some 1,400 were to die.  The first contraceptive pill was introduced and the size of a family was being regulated.  It also brought to light the sexual preference issues when George Jorgenson went to Denmark for the first sex change operation.

The fifties had beatniks, arguments over skirt lengths, saddle shoes, Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamster Union being expelled from AFL-CIO.  It also had the USSR's Sputnik, bomb shelters, the first marketing of McDonalds, peyote and psilocybin mushrooms.

In the words of Ed Sullivan, "It was a really big show".   The words were sung out by the youth of the fifties that a change was about to take place as the marchers sang, We Shall Overcome.  The Boomers were to be the new age warriors fighting the battles against resistance to change.  Seekers of human liberty, compassion and action to bring about reformation.

                         Cheryl C. Helynck


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