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The United States during the time period of 1919 to the present was an interesting time with most of the major events drastically shaping the modern day occurring during this time. Some of the biggest eras in this time period that really shaped American history are the end of the Roaring twenties and the Great Depression, during this time period America and the rest of the world faced the biggest economic crash the world has ever seen causing the best economy America had ever seen, created by in part the end of the Great War, become the worst economy practically overnight. Another massively important period during this time was the civil rights movement during the fifties and sixties, during this time we had massive protests for the civil rights for black Americans such as the Birmingham protest and the march on Washington. A final period of time is the end of the cold war and the new century with events such as the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 9/11 attacks which had lead to the war on terror and the mass surveillance we have today.
The Great Depression was a period between 1929 and 1942, there was quite a few factors that lead to the Great Depression including the collapse of the stock market along with economic weakness from undeveloped land and failing banks, along with Europe needing less and less American made goods as they were recovering from the war, prior to the start of the depression Herbert Hoover was elected president but due to his poor response to this economic downturn he lost the next election by a landslide to FDR who did everything he could to fix the depression. In 1928 Herbert Hoover was elected president with 83.6% of the electoral vote and 58.2% of the popular vote losing only 8 of the 48 states. The next year the Depression started, and with the world economy having never seeing an economic downturn this bad the economy was unable to deal with the collapse causing a chain of events of Germany defaulting on reparations, causing France and Britain to stop paying their debts to America, causing banks to fail meaning people were unable to get their money and prices for everything dropped so people were unable to make money causing employers to fire most if not all of their employees due to not being able to pay them. “Since 1929, the gross national product had fallen by one-third, prices by nearly 40 percent and more than 11 million Americans—25 percent of the labor force—could not find work.” (Foner, p.637) With many people unable to pay for their homes or rent they were kicked out and forced to live on the streets and many formed shanty towns called Hoovervilles named after the president. In 1932 around 20,000 Great War vets marched into Washington to demand their bonus early that they were due to get in 1945 however they had to be driven away by federal troops.
During these early years of the depression several other protests also occurred such as farmers blocking roads to prevent food from getting to markets and others protesting people being evicted from their homes. Many people saw Hoovers response as “inadequate and uncaring” (Foner, p.640) with several of his advisers, mostly rich people, telling him that this was a normal part of capitalism and that it’s the peoples fault that they are poor, and they should tighten their belts and work. “In 1931, Hoover quoted former president Grover Cleveland from four decades earlier: ‘The government should not support the people…Federal aid…weakens the sturdiness of our national character.’” (Foner, p.640) In an attempt to help public confidence, he kept trying to tell them that “the tide had turned” however people just saw that as proof that he was out of touch with what the people were dealing with. By 1932 Hoover finally admitted that voluntary action wasn’t working and created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation which gave loans to many business and home owners and he created public work projects such as the famous Hoover dam.
In 1932 the next election came and this one was not in Hoovers favor like the 1928 election, Hoover was up against FDR who got 88.9% of the electoral vote and 57.7% of the popular vote leaving only 6 states for Hoover. FDR was able to win with such a majority because he promised massive government intervention while Hoover didn’t do anything until the end of his term to help with this economic crisis. Just days after he was officially made president FDR had to deal with the banking crisis and declared a bank holiday temporarily stopping all baking operations and rushed to pass the Emergency Banking Act to get funds to banks in need and shortly after created the Glass-Steagall Act to prevent this from happening again.
During his first hundred days Roosevelt quickly created agencies such as the NRA, AAA, and CCC. The NRA (National Recovery Administration) was to help business by setting standard for everything from production and prices to wages. Unfortunately, the NRA codes were written by big companies that wrote the codes in their favor hurting smaller companies. Even though it didn’t really help the economy it did show that the government was going to do something about this crisis. The CCC was created for young men to get jobs to help improve things such as national parks earning these young men about $30 a month in 1933 worth about $565 today. Several other agencies were created all in an attempt to help end the depression. Along with these programs the 20th and 21st amendments were created and passed the 20th moved the presidential inauguration to January 20th and the 21st amendment repealed the prohibition. In 1935 the supreme court, run mostly by conservative judges, decided that the NRA and AAA were unconstitutional because the NRA regulated local business that were not a part of interstate trade and the AAA for the use of congressional power over the local economy.
In 1934 many Americans were in unions and participated in strikes across the nation with there being more then 2,000 strikes that year alone. Due to the midterms giving the democrats more seats FDR began the second new deal which focused more on economic security where as the first new deal focused more on economic recovery. This second new deal created things like Social Security, and welfare. Along with working on the new deal Roosevelt had “fireside chats” on the radio, “At a time when his political opponents controlled most newspapers, he harnessed radio’s power to bring his message directly into American homes.” (Foner, p.658)
After his reelection in 1936 FDR attempted to create a law that would allow him to replace any member of the supreme court over the age of 70 (which 6 out of 9 were at the time) however it did not pass but it did send a message to the court to fall inline with the presidents plans with the new deal and they backed off. While Both new deals helped improve the economy and create a large increase in liberal support and ideas it didn’t do enough to support women, blacks, and other minorities many of whom would lose jobs to white males. The New Deal by itself did not end the Great Depression it most certainly helped by decreasing the unemployment from its peak at 25% down to 15% but probably more importantly it helped improve the publics morale and increased public confidence. In the end it would take WW2 to fully awaken the American industrial might to take us out of the great depression.
The 1950’s and 60’s were known for a lot of events such as the creation of the interstate highway system, the cold war, and even the space race among other things, and while they are all important in their own ways arguably they are not quite as important as the civil rights movement which greatly increased the rights of black Americans that were promised decades prior. In 1946 a federal court case of Mendez v Westminster which ordered Orange County California to desegregate schools so the state in response desegregated all schools in the state. The governor who passed that law Earl Warren would later become a judge on the Supreme Court. Another major event was the Brown V Board of Education where Oliver Brown sued the Topeka Kansas Board of Education, so his daughter could go to a white school nearby, so she wouldn’t have to travel across dangerous railroads every day to go to a black school. Earl Warren read aloud the decision of the court saying, “Segregation in public education violated the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.” (Foner, P. 762)
Another major event was the Montgomery bus boycotts that began on December 1, 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man and was arrested sparking a year long boycott of the bus service. Its commonly said that she was just to tired to move however she was known to have a history of protesting for civil rights and was one of the few blacks allowed to vote in Montgomery so its much more likely she intentionally stayed in protest. During President Eisenhower’s term he didn’t do much to help the civil rights, but a law was passed that was meant to stop the suppression of the voting rights of black Americans, however there was very little enforcement of this law.
Once in 1957 the governor of Arkansas used the national guard to prevent the integration of Little Rock High School forcing Eisenhower to send in federal troops to escort nine black students to school. Only about 2% of black students were in desegregated schools in the former confederacy when Eisenhower left office. The 1960’s major civil rights movement started on February 1, 1960 when four students in North Carolina sat at a lunch counter for whites only and remained until the store closed not being served for being black in a white seat and did that every day for 5 months until the store gave in and served them. This event caused others to do the same but at any place that was segregated from park benches to restaurants and by the end of the year around 70,000 people had taken part in sit ins. The success of the nonviolent sit ins inspired other kinds of peaceful protests and marches across the nation especially in the south all culminating to the Birmingham protest where marchers were attacked by police with nightsticks, high-pressure fire hoses and other tools of the police. Because of this event President Kennedy would endorse the movement and leading businessmen would agree to desegregation and hire black people.
Later in august of 1963 arguably one of the most famous events of the Civil Rights movement occurred, the March on Washington. The goals of this march were to call upon the passage of the civil rights act and to reduce unemployment and increasing the minimum wage. This march ended in front of the Lincoln memorial where about 250,000 people were in attendance and where MLK gave his most famous I have a dream speech. Kennedy didn’t do much for civil rights during his first two years of his presidency but the events in Birmingham forced his hand and he called for the civil rights act, but he was killed before he could see it passed. Two major acts that were passed was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibited discrimination against the basis of race or sex, the other major act was the Voting Rights Act of 1965 allowing federal officials to register voters along with the 24th amendment banning the poll tax allowing for much more black voters. Its very clear that from this snapshot of the late 50’s and early 60’s a lot had changed all while mostly using peaceful methods.
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