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America's History in the Making

Postwar Tension and Triumph

Theme 3

While a growing middle class was attaining the American Dream, many in the United States were denied access to the same opportunities.

After 1945, the United States witnessed an expansion of economic opportunities, but a narrowing of political freedoms for some citizens. African American efforts to overcome discrimination met fierce white resistance in 1946 and 1947. Native Americans and Mexican Americans faced similar discrimination in the Southwest and elsewhere. Fears of subversion at home extended beyond Communists to homosexuals working in the federal government. Many Americans think of the 1950s as a golden era of economic prosperity with families living in comfortable suburban homes, but home ownership was more difficult for some Americans. For some families, men's earnings were not sufficient to provide the trappings of the consumer-oriented middle-class lifestyle. In addition to full-time jobs as homemakers, many married women worked part-time to help pay the bills.

Some realtors and bankers also excluded African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities from white suburbs through a process called "red-lining." They designated certain areas of the suburbs for whites only. The assumption behind the red-lining policy was that any mixing of the races would reduce the housing prices in the neighborhood. Some banks refused mortgage loans to minorities who wished to buy houses in red-lined areas, even if the prospective buyers could afford to purchase the house. Some developers, such as William Levitt, had buyers sign restrictive clauses stating that they would not sell their homes to non-whites. Although Americans of color remained concentrated in urban and rural areas, some did move to the suburbs, usually into segregated communities.

Primary Sources