1950s Discrimination Against Native Americans & Hispanic Americans

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  • 0:02 Race in Fifties America
  • 1:27 Discrimination Against…
  • 2:46 Discrimination Against…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

It's important for us to remember that the Civil Rights Movement wasn't just about one minority group but about several such communities. This lesson talks about the challenges faced by Native Americans and Hispanic Americans.

Race in Fifties America

All throughout American history, race has been a really tricky thing. In the 1800s, Irish and Italian immigrants were treated harshly by communities of English and Germanic Americans who had been in the country for only a few decades more. While race is far too big of a concept to cover in one lesson, suffice it to say that when people are not doing well financially, racial tensions flare more than usual.

Another interesting point exists: when people are doing well financially, but another race is not doing well, then society must be careful to make sure that systematic racism does not occur. Systematic racism is where the whole system is set up, whether intentionally or not, to help one group along at the expense of others.

Many of us have a very romanticized idea of the 1950s, based in no small part off shows like Leave It to Beaver. In fact, Leave It to Beaver helped shape what the people of the 1950s thought of themselves. However, if you ever watch one of those old shows, you'll see that they are pretty white. Other races don't feature too heavily.

In other lessons of this chapter, I hope you'll have the time to explore what is perhaps the most famous divide in American racial history: the African American struggle for equality. However, in this lesson, we are going to focus primarily on the plight of Native Americans and Hispanic Americans.

Discrimination Against Native Americans

Whether it's people discriminating against the Irish in the 1850s or Hispanics in the 1970s, the idea of 'our country' often comes up. Simply put, it's not a valid defense against Native American tribes because they were here long before most other Americans! However, Native Americans, despite their originality to the United States, were not featured heavily on shows like Leave It to Beaver, and if they did make an appearance, they were heavily stereotyped to the point of offensiveness.

Now let's abandon all that thought of the underlying racial attitudes and return to what I said at the beginning of the lesson. Remember, racial tensions flare most when there is money on the table. Native Americans had been placed on reservations, seemingly useless land, at the end of the 19th century. Sixty years later that land now had prime timber, oil reserves, and even oceanfront real estate. It was far from worthless. As a result, the United States government started what it called the Termination Policy, which sought to destroy the idea of the tribes that owned the land. Without the idea of a tribe, the land was up for gain. More than 2.5 million acres were put up for sale after the government seized the land.

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