What Was Wonderful About The 1960s Depends On How You Felt About The 1950s


You are watching the opening 30 minutes of Show#1 of my six part 1990 television series “Making Sense of the Sixties.” To see the second half go here – https://youtu.be/b-UA36Wc_Ns

The series was controversial when it first aired with the New York Times (as an example) presenting two reviews, one positive and one negative. It is currently used by thousands of high schools and colleges to help students to study at that time. It was recorded in 1989 so the comments you are watching present baby boomers and members of the silent generation looking back at their youth experiences.

Prior to my series PBS presented a series called “Eyes On The Prize.” It looked at the growth of the civil rights movement during that time. My series focused on the tens of millions of young people who grew up in suburbia. Their parents were moving into the middle class and moving to suburbia to live what they called at the time, the American Dream. They were largely white for the most part, had a mom and a dad with the dad working and the mom a housewife.

Growing up in suburban, urban, and rural America during the 1950s was very different.

The 1950s was the birth of modern suburbia in the United States, spurred by the post-WWII economic boom and the housing demand from returning soldiers. Suburbia was characterized by a sense of uniformity and conformity as seen in the classic rows of similar-looking homes (inspired by the Levittown model where I get up). Life in the suburbs was marked by a strong emphasis on family values with a working father, a stay-at-home mother and children attending local schools. Children growing up in this environment had newly built facilities like parks and community centers and were offered opportunities to engage with a network of peers in a relatively safe and planned environment. However, almost all of these communities were racially and socio-economically homogenous due to discriminatory practices like redlining.

In contrast, 1950s cities were hubs of cultural and economic diversity. They were bustling with industry and were more racially and ethnically diverse. Kids growing up in these environments were exposed to a wider range of cultural experiences but they often also faced challenges tied to overcrowding, pollution, and in some cases, crime. Economic disparity was also more evident in urban environments. But urban kids had access to resources like museums, libraries and a range of public facilities that were usually not available in suburbs or rural areas.

Growing up in the 1950s in a rural government such as on a farm was a significantly different experience. The pace of life was slower compared to urban and suburban areas, and children would likely have had more responsibilities tied to the family’s agricultural work. The sense of community was often tighter and access to amenities and resources (like shopping centers, cinemas, hospitals or varied educational opportunities) were more limited. The rural school experience differed from the urban and suburban experiences due to smaller school sizes and often multi-grade classrooms. Despite the harder work and fewer amenities, many people who grew up in rural areas speak fondly of the sense of freedom that they felt, the connection to nature, and the close-knit community bonds they experienced.

I have presented other clips from my series on my YouTube channel and some have commented that their experiences were different. Please remember that the focus of my series which largely on what young people experienced whose families had left the cities and moved into the suburban growing middle-class.

If you were alive and growing up at that time I want you to know that I appreciate all of the comments presenting different experiences whether or not they were articulated in this sequence.
David Hoffman Filmmaker


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