Unit 8: 1948-1980 Modern America, the Cold War, & Civil Rights Movement.

Unit 8 1948-1980

  Modern America, the Cold War, & Civil Rights Movement.

Unit 8 Textbook Chapters: 

AMSCO Chapters 26-29 / American Pageant Chapters 37-40 Reading Guides (Optional but HIGHLY ENCOURAGED): 
Chapter 26 Truman and the Cold War 1945-1952
Chapter 27 The Eisenhower Years 1952-1960
Chapter 28 Promises and Turmoil:  The 1960s
Chapter 29 Limits of a Superpower 1969-1980

American Pageant Chapters 37-40: 
If you do  not have your textbook yet, you may read American Pageant chapters online:

Chapter 37  Making Modern America

Chapter 38  The Eisenhower Era

Chapter 39  The Stormy Sixties

Chapter 40  The Stalemated Seventies


All videos are approximately 20 minutes each.

Affluent Society and Civil Rights I (1945-61)

1960s Politics and Civil Rights II

Vietnam (1950-1975)


(alternate recorded lectures!)


Unit 8 Terms:


(no notes on Truman and the Cold War... see your reading guide and review materials for summary)
Cold War Map
The roots of the Cold War lay in the WWI era Bolshevik Revolution, the American Red Scare of 1919, American isolationism and nativism of the Roaring Twenties, and Soviet aggression of the WWII and post WWII eras. Although the U.S.A. was allied with the U.S.S.R. in WWII (simply because Stalin wasn't Hitler... Hitler was the bigger threat), America and the Soviet Union were marching down very different ideological paths which resulted in the Cold War.  This war was "cold" because the two sides never fought directly with each other.  They did fight proxy wars such as the Korean War and the Vietnam War, they battled through alliance building -- NATO and Warsaw Pact, they fought for territory through conquest and economic investment, but never directly with each other. This was due to atomic weapons. Fear of mutually assured destruction kept the two sides on the brink... for much of the Cold War Era. 

The Eisenhower Era, 1952–1960

Chapter Themes

Theme: The Eisenhower years were characterized by prosperity and moderate conservatism at home and by the tensions of the Cold War abroad.

Theme: The 1950’s witnessed a huge expansion of the middle class and the blossoming of a consumer culture. Crucial to the development of a new lifestyle of leisure and affluence was the rise of the new technology of television.

Theme: While Dwight Eisenhower and the majority of Americans held to a cautious, family-oriented perspective on domestic social questions, an emerging civil rights movement and the influence of television and popular music presented challenges to the spirit of national “consensus.”

chapter summary

Using the new medium of television to enhance his great popularity, grandfatherly “Ike” was ideally suited to soothe an America badly shaken by the Cold War and Korea. Eisenhower was slow to go after Joseph McCarthy, but the demagogue’s bubble finally burst. Eisenhower also reacted cautiously to the beginnings of the civil rights movement but sent troops to Little Rock to enforce court orders. While his domestic policies were moderately conservative, they left most of the New Deal in place.

Despite John Dulles’s tough talk, Eisenhower’s foreign policies were also generally cautious. He avoided military involvement in Vietnam, although aiding Diem, and pressured Britain, France, and Israel to resolve the Suez crisis.

He also refused to intervene in the Hungarian revolt and sought negotiations to thaw the frigid Cold War. Dealing with Nikita Khrushchev proved difficult, as Sputnik, the Berlin Crisis, the U-2 incident, and Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution all kept Cold War tensions high. In a tight election, Senator John Kennedy defeated Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard Nixon, by calling for the country to “get moving again” by more vigorously countering the Soviets.

American society grew ever more prosperous in the Eisenhower era, as science, technology, and the Cold War fueled burgeoning new industries like electronics and aviation. Women joined the movement into the increasingly white-collar workforce, and chafed at widespread restrictions they faced.

A new consumer culture, centered around television, fostered a new ethic of leisure and enjoyment, including more open expressions of sexuality in popular entertainment. Intellectuals and artists criticized the focus on private affluence rather than the public good. Jewish, African American, and southern writers had a striking new impact on American culture.

Civil Rights Movement Begins… Hearing of the lynching of black war veterans in 1946, President Harry S Truman commissioned a report titled "To Secure These Rights." Truman ended segregation in federal civil service and order "equality of treatment and opportunity" in the armed forces in 1948. All aspects of life of African Americans in the South were governed by the Jim Crow laws. Blacks dealt with an array of separate social arrangements that kept them insulated from whites, economically inferior, and politically powerless. The death of Emmitt Till stirred action and reaction in 1955, including Rosa Parks and other Civil Rights leaders. The Supreme Court started ruling in favor of civil rights in cases such as Sweatt v. Painter (1950) and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954). States in the Deep South resisted the ruling, and more than 100 senators and congressman signed the "Declaration of Constitutional Principles" in 1956, pledging their unyielding resistance to desegregation. This led to the crisis at Little Rock and other conflicts. Eventually, in 1957, Congress passed the first Civil Rights Act since Reconstruction Days. It set up a permanent Civil Rights Commission to investigate violations of civil rights and authorized federal injunctions to protect voting rights.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. It aimed to mobilize the vast power of the black churches on behalf of black rights.

On February 1, 1960, 4 black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina demanded service at a whites-only lunch counter. Within a week, the sit-in reached 1,000 students, spreading a wave of wade-ins, lie-ins, and pray-ins across the South demanding equal rights. In April 1960, southern black students formed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to give more focus and force to their efforts.

  “I just decided I was not going to be moved out of that seat.” Rosa Parks (Interview, 1978 

“Please, Mr. Sholes, don’t make me stand still. If I can’t move I can’t sing.” Elvis Aron Presley

Documents for Early Cold War writing practice

Documents for Cold War writing practice


· The economic boom is further stimulated by advances in science and technology. More Americans than ever become white-collar workers. Opportunities for women gradually open up. But as older smokestack industries, the foundation of union membership, begin to contract, so to do unions themselves.

· Television and TV advertising fundamentally transform the social, political, and cultural landscape of the nation in ways that few could predict in the early 1950s.

· Fearful of communist sympathizers, the public is susceptible to the rhetoric and accusations of Senator Joseph McCarthy of WI, and the second Red Scare grips the nation for years.

· The Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court in 1954 requires white Americans to accept black citizens as their equals in regard to education. In the process of negating the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) “separate but equal” decision, the court overturns (legally, at least) years of racial segregation. When the governor of AR blocks integration in Little Rock, the president sends in the US Army to enforce the law of the land.

· With the creation of NATOP and the Soviet’s response, the Warsaw Pact, two armed camps stare each other down. However, some steps are taken to ease the Cold War.. Eisenhower even warns Americans of the dangers of a rapidly developing military-industrial complex.

· The successful Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959 shows the limits of the containment policy even in the Western Hemisphere, as Castro soon aligns himself with the USSR.

· Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up a seat on a bus to a white sparked a successful local boycott and showed Americans the demeaning status of blacks. The boycott brought into the national spotlight Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

· The Eisenhower Doctrine, which can be seen as an extension of the Truman Doctrine, was spurred by the Suez Crisis and growing Arab nationalism.

· In 1954, the US backed a coup against the democratically elected leftist government of Guatemala as part of the American effort to keep communism out of the Western Hemisphere. Another motive was to protect the financial investments of American companies in Guatemala.

· Religion was an issue in the 1960 election of as John Kennedy, a Catholic, ran for rpesident; the country had never elected a Catholic president.

Documents for Comparing 20s/50s assignment

The Stormy Sixties, 1960–1968

Cold war Theme

Theme: The Kennedy administration’s “flexible response” doctrine to combat Third World communism bore ill fruit in Cuba and especially Vietnam. Johnson’s massive escalation of the war failed to defeat the Communist Vietnamese forces, while growing domestic opposition finally forced him from power.

cold war summary

Kennedy’s New Frontier initiatives bogged down in congressional stalemate. Cold War confrontations over Berlin and Russian missiles in Cuba created threats of war. Countering Third World communism through flexible response led the administration into dangerous involvement in Vietnam and elsewhere.

Johnson escalated military involvement in the Dominican Republic and Vietnam. As the number of troops and casualties grew without producing military success, dovish protests against the war gained strength. Political opposition forced Johnson not to seek reelection, and the deep Democratic divisions over the war allowed Nixon to win the White House.

Brief Analysis of the Vietnam War


· The Soviet decision to stem the tide of refugees from East Berlin to the West by constructing the Berlin Wall exacerbates Cold War Tensions and exposes the nature of Soviet hegemony.

· Inheriting a CIA-backed scheme developed during the Eisenhower administration, JFK approves the plan to help Cuban exiles bring down Castro’s regime. The attempted coup fails miserably.

· In a standoff that brings the superpowers close to a military confrontation, the Cuban missile crisis is, to the relief of the world, resolved after considerably maneuvering by both sides.

· JFK’s assassination in November 1963 stuns the nation. VP Johnson finishes out JFK’s term and wins reelection in his own right in a landslide victory in 1964 over his conservative Republican opponent, Senator Barry Goldwater.

· As a growing insurgency supported by communist North Vietnam threatens to topple the US backed government of South Vietnam, Johnson escalates US involvement in Southeast Asia.

· In a trend that started after WWII, a Republican, Barry Goldwater, carried most of the Deep South in the 1964 presidential race. He lost the election, but the next Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, benefited handsomely from white southerners’ exodus from the Democratic Party.

Why become a socialist? Remember Eugene Debs? Read his explanation:


Democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. Ronald Reagan

Vietnam War Review and Timeline

The Stalemated Seventies, 1968–1980

 Cold War Theme

Theme: As the war in Vietnam finally came to a disastrous conclusion, the United States struggled to create a more stable international climate. Détente with the two communist powers temporarily reduced Cold War tensions, but trouble in the Middle East threatened America’s energy supplies and economic stability.

Cold War summary

Nixon’s “Vietnamization” policy reduced American ground participation in the war, but his Cambodia invasion sparked massive protest. Nixon’s journeys to Communist Moscow and Beijing (Peking) established a new rapprochement with these powers. In domestic policy, Nixon and the Supreme Court promoted affirmative action and environmental protection.

The 1972 election victory and the cease-fire in Vietnam were negated when Nixon became bogged down in the Watergate scandal and congressional protest over the secret bombing of Cambodia, which led to the War Powers Act. The Middle East War of 1973 and the Arab oil embargo created energy and economic difficulties that lasted through the decade. Americans gradually awoke to their costly and dangerous dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and began to take tentative steps toward conservation and alternative energy sources.

Non-elected Gerald Ford took over after Watergate forced Nixon to resign. The Communist Vietnamese finally overran the South Vietnamese government in 1975. The defeat in Vietnam added to a general sense of disillusionment with society and a new sense of limits on American power.

Campaigning against Washington and Watergate, outsider Jimmy Carter proved unable to master Congress or the economy once he took office. The Camp David agreement brought peace between Egypt and Israel, but the Iranian revolution led to new energy troubles. The invasion of Afghanistan and the holding of American hostages in Iran added to Carter’s woes.


· Responding to anti-war protests, Nixon puts forth a plan called Vietnamization, to gradually withdraw US forces while preparing the South Vietnamese to carry out the fight. With US involvement in Vietnam seemingly coming to an end, Nixon wins reelection handily against Senator George Mc Govern. In 1974, Nixon is the first president ever to resign – he faced impeachment for covering up a burglary by his campaign committee.

· Nixon visits China, a surprise to many. He later visits the USSR, and is able to work out with the Soviet leadership agreements to reduce nuclear arms.

· It is revealed that while Nixon claimed to be winding down the Vietnam War he had secretly expanded it by ordering the bombing of neutral Cambodia to attack North Vietnamese troops that had taken refuge there. Even after the 1973 cease-fire with N. Vietnam, Nixon continued attacks on communist positions despite Congressional calls for cessation of the bombing.

· Outraged by US support of Israel, Arab nations retaliate by imposing an oil embargo on the US.

· Looking at a fresh political face, an outsider untainted by Washington politics, the Democrats nominate GA Governor Jimmy Carter, who wins the presidency in 1976. The crowning achievement of Carter’s administration is the Camp David Agreement, which offers hope for peace in the Mideast. But economic problems, energy concerns, huge federal and trade deficits, and what critics see as an amateurish foreign policy sap support for the administration.

· The War Powers Act of 1973 became a congressional imperative given the undeclared war in Vietnam and President Nixon’s decision to bomb Cambodia, a neutral nation.