The American Experience Since 1945

Table of Contents


History is shaped by people and events. The extent to which those factors can affect the pace of history is witnessed as the decades pass by and time is given to evaluate the true scale of influence. The only thing that matters is that there cannot be small and big events as long as both of them change the course of history in a way that it can be said that the world is never the same after their occurrence. This paper analyzes five decades starting from the fifties with outlining one major event from each decade that can be associated with that era.

The Fifties – Rosa Parks: the refusal that awakened a nation

The end of the civil war proclaimed freedom for the black people. However, the path to total desegregation and equal rights for the black population was a thorny path with its end still long ahead.

This end would not have been the same without the participation of a woman called Rosa Parks, whose role can never be underestimated whether in the 1950s or the twentieth century in general.

In 1955, the 42-year-old Rosa Park refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white passenger, an action against the accepted segregated policies resulted in her being arrested.

Her arrest pushed a wave of boycotts that ended in 1956, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation on the Montgomery buses was unconstitutional.

Despite this action being so small on the outside, it is the kind of action that can change history. “After her arrest, there were mass demonstrations that eventually changed every aspect of life in America for Blacks.

From schools, to work to housing and education, discriminatory laws began to fall–and many historians say that it was Parks” actions on that December day that served as the catalyst that would give courage to thousands upon thousands of people in other cities.” (Chappell, 2006).

It cannot be said that this action was the first or the last, or that subsequent movements would not have occurred, rather than this incident turned to be unique and influential in a way that it was her character that stimulated the people to take considerable actions and make a turning point out of that event.

At this time in history, where the black people took their positions as equals in the United States, the effect of the actions of Rosa Parks is especially evident and apparent.

With the many movements that followed the actions of Rosa Parks, and many leaders continuing the mission for equality, it can be said that the goals set after the end of the civil war were starting to be realized and as the Rev. Al Sharpton proclaimed at Park’s funeral “The first time we had a [place] in this nation is when all of us were included, and Rosa Parks did that in 1955.” (Chappell, 2006).

The Sixties – Civil rights movements and the Civil Rights Acts

The civil rights movements are a series of movements that mostly occurred in the 1960s and demanded equality within the society after which several acts such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 1965, and 1965.

Although most of the movements started were against racial discrimination, especially against black people, the movement expanded to cover other divisions of the population.

The movement started with such leaders as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X with their sit-ins and protests. The Chicano movement as a part of the civil rights movement demanded equality for Mexican-Americans. Movements for the equality of gender that questioned the unequal treatment of women also arose at the same period.

As a response to these movements, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed as a follow-up to 1964’s Act by Lyndon Johnson. These acts covered the issues of discrimination based on race on gender, and despite being used to address the issues of the discriminated population, it can be said that in general, it served the humanity of all humankind.

It should be noted that some of those approaches to change gave rise to other radical groups, as the possibilities for change “tended to give rise to impractical and unwise proclamations by black radicals, which in turn fueled white backlash and justified repressive measures by federal, state, and local authorities.” (Levy, 1998, p. 33).

However, the overall accomplishments should not be underrated, as for that decade, and subsequently, for the following, the defects of those movements were justified with their outcomes.

For the sixties, particularly the Civil Rights Acts were the accomplishments won due to the civil Acts movements. “Congress never would have passed these laws and the president would not have pursued or signed them if not for the rise of a massive civil rights movement.

Protests from Birmingham and Selma, Alabama, to Jackson and Greenwood, Mississippi, put unprecedented pressure on the executive and legislative branches to act.” (Levy, 1998, p. 91).

Thus the importance of the aforementioned events is undeniable, and the effects despite being social at first glance, the cultural and the economic were also embedded in the history of The United States.

The Seventies – Watergate: the scandal of the century

Watergate scandal is a political scandal that happened through the period from 1972 till 1974 and ended with the resignation of Richard Nixon.

In 1972, four months before presidential elections, in which the Republican candidate Richard Nixon was re-elected for a second term, the headquarters of the democrat candidate for presidency located at the complex Watergate in Washington was broke in by five people who were detained.

The people turned to be related to the president’s administration, whose intention was to set up equipment for intercepting communication. After that incident, the term Watergate became “an umbrella term, under which a wide variety of crimes and improper acts are included.

Watergate caused the downfall of a president. The scandal led to jail sentences for over a dozen of the highest-ranking officials of the administration. (Genovese, 1999, p. 3).

The incident shook the nation in a way that it changed the perception of the administration after the presidency of John F. Kennedy, which was generally favorable and especially with the press. The press in the Watergate scandal played a major role in uncovering all the details.

If analyzing the effect of this incident, its effect was prolonged further than the decade of its occurrence. “Watergate has had a profound and largely negative impact on American politics in the twenty-five years since that scandal was uncovered.

It has spawned a distrust in government among the American people led to a series of laws enacted to prevent future Watergates, but that has made it more difficult to govern, unleashed a hostile and highly investigatory press, increased the partisan sniping in the political culture and led to a more divisive relationship between the president and Congress. Further, the unintended consequences of the post-Watergate reforms have left presidents more vulnerable, or at least thinking they are so, and less able to function effectively as presidents.” (Genovese, 1999, p. 113).

The ordinary people are the ones affected by the incident, and after Watergate, there were many incidents labeled with suffix gate, which showed that it became somewhat ordinary for the officials to be involved in scandals.

Richard Nixon’s role in that incident is not much of an importance, the most important that after the scandal the administration was never the same, and the word Watergate was embedded in the American culture.

The Eighties – Reagan presidency

There were many important events in the eighties, but most of them were connected to Reagan’s policy, thus the presidency of Ronald Reagan is the main event of the eighties.

Reagan has undertaken the most resolute innovations in the field of economic policy. Under Reagan’s initiations, a series of tax rates reductions were accepted and the expenses on military needs were considerably increased, especially on the development of expensive systems of arms with the application of high technologies. Reagan also has changed the tone, if not the course of the American foreign policy. During most of Reagan’s presidency the question on an intensity discharge in the mutual relations from the USSR which was accented by Nixon, Ford, and Carter’s administrations, was overshadowed. There was a return to the rhetoric of the “cold war” of the 1950s.

Wide popularity was received by the “Star Wars» program. The persistence shown by Reagan in the advancement of this program and his statement, that its realization does not break the contract of 1972 about the restriction of systems of antimissile defense, has led to stopping the negotiations about the control over strategic armaments.

However, in 1987 Reagan and Gorbachev could reach an agreement on the liquidation of parts of their land nuclear weapons. Though it was a question of a small part of arsenals of two countries, the reached agreement marked a revival in the direction of discharging international tension

The last two years of the presidency of Reagan have been saddened by the political scandal which was considered the largest for the decade. In November 1986 it became known, that the government of the USA secretly sold the weapon to Iran and used millions of dollars received from these sales, to fund the Nicaraguan “Contras”.

It can be seen that the period of Reagan’s presidency was marked by many significant events; the most notable is his role in ending the cold war.

However, there are many events that could be related to his presidencies, such as the war on drugs and the Challenger disaster, and affected that decade socially, economically, and politically. “When Reagan finished his presidency in 1989, most Americans believed that it was time for new leadership, but they continued to admire and respect him as the chief executive who had placed the nation back on the right track. Popularity polls gave him a 70 percent approval rating, a record high for a retiring president. He was the first president since Eisenhower to complete two terms and was one of the few in the twentieth century to pass his office along to a chosen successor.” (Pemberton, 1998, p. 198).

The Nineties – Internet is everywhere

The nineties witnessed many critical turning points and events that affected the world and the US in particular, such as the first Gulf War and the fall of communism. However, the most appropriate characteristic of this decade is the start of the electronic age. Thus, the most notable event that shaped this decade not only in the US but in the world is the birth of the Worldwide Web which can be dated to 1992. The occurrence of the internet changed the perception of the terms information, communication, and commerce.

Even politics was influenced with the Worldwide Web as “By early 1996, polls taken by the Media Studies Center to coincide with the Republican Presidential nominating race found that the Web was already making a substantial place for itself in Presidential politics. All the major Republican candidates had established sites to support their campaigns. Even as early as in January/February of 1996, 4% of Americans of voting age had used Web browsers to visit political sites. Later reports suggest that during the campaign itself, the proportion of Web users seeking political information could have amounted to 6-10% of the electorate” (D’Alessio, 2000, p. 556).

The aspects and the categories of the population affected by the internet were expanded to almost everything, even the culture was affected as libraries were replaced by electronic catalogs and the usual lexicon was infiltrated by many expressions that indicate that the world is no longer as it was.

The internet changed everything drastically and the scale of these changes only increases as time goes by.


It can be seen that whether it is an event, movement, or a start of presidency, the history was shaped subsequently based on those events. Indeed there always would be arguments on the significance of some leaders or events, the most important that they cannot be ignored in the history of a country. The combination of successes and failures, people and events, makes each decade significant in the course of history.


Chappell, K. (2006). Remembering Rosa Parks: The Life and Legacy of ‘The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement’. Ebony, 61, 126+.

D’Alessio, D. (2000). Adoption of the World Wide Web by American Political Candidates, 1996-1998. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 44(4), 556.

Genovese, M. A. (1999). The Watergate Crisis. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Levy, P. B. (1998). The Civil Rights Movement. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Pemberton, W. E. (1998). The Life and Presidency of Ronald Reagan The Life and Presidency of Ronald Reagan. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.