Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Popular Culture: 1950s" from VOA

This is Phil Murray. And this is Rich Kleinfeldt with THE MAKING OF A NATION -- a VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.

Today, we tell what life was like in American during the 1950s.

Imagine that you are visiting the United States. What would you expect to see?

In the 1950s, America was a nation that believed it was on the edge of nuclear war. It was a nation where the popular culture of television was gaining strength. It was a nation whose population was growing as never before.

After the terrible suffering of World War Two, Americans thought the world would be peaceful for awhile. By 1950, however, political tensions were high again. The United States and the Soviet Union, allies in war, had become enemies.

The communists had taken control of one east European nation after another. And Soviet leader Josef Stalin made it clear that he wanted communists to rule the world.

Joseph Stalin

The Soviet Union had strengthened its armed forces after the war. The United States had taken many steps to disarm. Yet it still possessed the atomic bomb. America thought it, alone, had this terrible weapon.

In 1949, a United States Air Force plane discovered strange conditions in the atmosphere. What was causing them? The answer came quickly: the Soviet Union had exploded an atomic bomb.

The race was on. The two nations competed to build weapons of mass destruction. Would these weapons ever be used?

The American publication, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, always showed a picture of a clock. By 1949, the time on the clock was three minutes before midnight. That meant the world was on the edge of nuclear destruction. The atomic scientists were afraid of what science had produced. They were even more afraid of what science could produce.

In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. The Korean conflict increased efforts in the United States to develop a weapon more deadly than an atomic bomb. That was the hydrogen bomb. The Soviets were developing such a weapon, too.

Many Americans were afraid. Some built what they hoped would be safe rooms in or near their homes. They planned to hide in these bomb shelters during a nuclear attack.

Other Americans, however, grew tired of being afraid. In 1952, the military hero of World War Two, Dwight Eisenhower, was elected president. The economy improved. Americans looked to the future with hope.

President Dwight Eisenhower

One sign of hope was the baby boom. This was the big increase in the number of babies born after the war. The number of young children in America jumped from twenty-four million to thirty-five million between 1950 and 1960. The bigger families needed houses. In ninetee fifty alone, one million four hundred thousand houses were built in America.

Most new houses were in the suburbs, the areas around cities. People moved to the suburbs because they thought the schools there were better. They also liked having more space for their children to play.

Many Americans remember the 1950s as the fad years. A fad is something that is extremely popular for a very short time one fad from the 1950s was the Hula Hoop. The Hula Hoop was a colorful plastic tube joined to form a big circle. To play with it, you moved your hips in a circular motion. This kept it spinning around your body. The motion was like one used by Polynesian people in their native dance, the hula.

Other fads in the 1950s involved clothes or hair. Some women, for example, cut and fixed their hair to look like the fur of a poodle dog. Actress Mary Martin made the poodle cut famous when she appeared in the Broadway play, "South Pacific."

Mary Martin in "South Pacific"

In motion pictures, Marilyn Monroe was becoming famous. Not everyone thought she was a great actress. But she had shining golden hair. And she had what was considered a perfect body. Marilyn Monroe's success did not make her happy. She killed herself in the 1960s, when she was 36 years old.

Another famous actor of those days was James Dean. To many Americans, he was the living representation of the rebellious spirit of the young. In fact, one of his films was called, "Rebel Without a Cause." James Dean died in a car accident in 1955. He was twenty-four.

The 1950s saw a rebellion in American literature. As part of society lived new lives in the suburbs, another part criticized this life. These were the writers and poets of the Beat generation, including Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. They said life was empty in 1950s America. They described the people as dead in brain and spirit.

Jackson Pollock represented the rebellion in art. Pollock did not paint things the way they looked. Instead, he dropped paint onto his pictures in any way he pleased. He was asked again and again: "What do your paintings mean?" He answered: "Do not worry about what they mean. They are just there ... like flowers."

In music, the rebel was Elvis Presley. He was the king of rock-and-roll.

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley was a twenty-one-year-old truck driver when he sang on television for the first time. He moved his body to the music in a way that many people thought was too sexual.

Parents and religious leaders criticized him. Young people screamed for more. They could not get enough rock-and-roll. They played it on records. They heard it on the radio. And they listened to it on the television program "American Bandstand."

This program became the most popular dance party in America. Every week, young men and women danced to the latest songs in front of the television cameras.

During the 1940s, there were only a few television receivers in American homes. Some called television an invention for stupid people to watch. By the end of the 1950s, however, television was here to stay. The average family watched six hours a day.

Americans especially liked games shows and funny shows with comedians such as Milton Berle and Lucille Ball. They also liked shows that offered a mix of entertainment, such as those presented by Arthur Godfrey and Ed Sullivan.

Comedian Milton Berle

People from other countries watching American television in the 1950s might have thought that all Americans were white Christians. At that time, television failed to recognize that America was a great mix of races and religions.

Few members of racial or religious minorities were represented on television. Those who appeared usually were shown working for white people.

A movement for civil rights for black Americans was beginning to gather strength in the 1950s. Many legal battles were fought to end racial separation, especially in America's schools. By the 1960s, the civil rights movement would shake the nation.

Dwight Eisenhower was president for most of the 1950s. He faced the problems of communism, the threat of nuclear war, and racial tensions. He had a calm way of speaking. And he always seemed to deal with problems in the same calm way. Some citizens felt he was like a father to the nation.

With Mr. Eisenhower in the White House, they believed that even in a dark and dangerous world, everything would be all right.

This program of THE MAKING OF A NATION was written by Jeri Watson and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Phil Murray. And this is Rich Kleinfeldt. Join us again next week for another VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.


1. The enormous growth in the number of babies born after the war became known as the "_____________________ ".
a: population blowout
b: hydrogen bomb
c: baby boom
d: stork congestion

2. The business that probably benefitted the most from the increase in population was ________________ .
a: television
b: house construction and sales
c: agriculture
d: advertising

3. One fear that didn't particularly concern Americans during the 1950s was ___________________.
a: nuclear war
b: relations with the Soviet Union
c: economic downturn
d: communist expansion

4. I wouldn't call ________________ a fad, would you? Gee, I hope not!
a: getting married
b: the hula hoop
c: the poodle haircut
d: polka dotted pant suits

5. What would happen to the hula hoop if you stopped moving your hips in a circular direction?
a: It would continue to spin
b: It would drop to the ground
c: It would begin to circle your neck
d: It would change color

6. The United States thought that it alone had the Atom Bomb until the year _________________ .
a: 1945
b: 1949
c: 1960
d: 1955

7. Poets and writers of the beat generation including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg felt that the prosperous life people were experiencing in the 1950s ____________________ .
a: wouldn't last
b: was a sharp contrast to the poverty of the 1930s
c: was in reality very empty spiritually and mentally
d: was a remarkable demonstration of American togetherness

8. During World War Two, the United States and the Soviet Union were ________________ .
a: fighting with each other
b: enemies
c: both neutral
d: allies

9. Two famous actors in the 1950s who unfortunately died young were __________________ .
a: James Dean and Marilyn Monroe
b: Marilyn Monroe and Mary Martin
c: James Dean and Elvis Presley
d: Mary Martin and Elvis Prestley

10. American Bandstand, Rock-and-Roll, and Elvis Presley were especially popular during the 1950s, only not with ___________________ .
a: most conservative religious leaders
b: young people trying to get ahead
c: music promoters in New York and Los Angeles
d: Disc Jockeys

Friday, March 1, 2013

"Native Americans Fight for Their Lands" from VOA

THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.

The American nation began to expand west during the middle 1800s. People settled in the great open areas of the Dakotas, Utah, Wyoming, and California. The movement forced the nation to deal with great tribes of native American Indians. The Indians had lived in the western territories for hundreds of years.

Settlers and cattle ranchers pushed the Indians out of their homelands. The result was a series of wars between the tribes and the federal government.

I'm Sarah Long. Today, Steve Ember and I tell this story.

At first, the United States government had just one policy to deal with the Indians. It was brutal. Whenever white men wanted Indian land, the tribes were pushed farther west. If the Indians protested, or tried to defend their land, they were destroyed with crushing force.

The "Trail of Tears" was the
route eastern Indians took to
their new home in Oklahoma

By the middle 1800s, almost all the eastern Indians had been moved west of the Mississippi River. They were given land in Indian territory in what is now the state of Oklahoma. The government described these Indians as "civilized." This meant they were too weak to cause more trouble. Many agreed to follow the ways of the white men.

The Indians of the western grasslands were different. They refused to give up their way of life. These plains Indians were always on the move, because they hunted buffalo -- the American bison. They followed great groups of the animals across the grassy plains. At that time, there were millions of these animals in the American west.

The Indians of the plains depended on the buffalo for almost everything they needed. Many of them were fierce fighters. The plains Indians did not want white men crossing their hunting lands. They often tried to destroy the wagon trains carrying settlers to California and Oregon.

Fort Pierre, Dakota Territory, 1855
The United States army was given the job of keeping peace. Soldiers were sent to build roads and forts in the western plains. They tried to protect the wagon trains from Indian attacks. They tried to keep white settlers from invading Indian lands. There were many fights between the soldiers and the plains Indians. The soldiers had more powerful weapons. They usually won.

Some plains Indians tried to live peacefully with the white men. One such group was part of the Sioux tribe, called Santee Sioux. It was the largest and most powerful group in the west.

The Santee Sioux lived along the northeastern edge of the great plains in what is now the state of Minnesota. They signed treaties with the government giving up ninety percent of their land. The Santee agreed to live in a small area. In exchange, the United States agreed to make yearly payments to the tribe. This made it possible for the Indians to buy food and other things from white traders.

Trouble started, however, in the summer of 1862. The government was late giving the Indians their yearly payment. As a result, the Indians lacked the money to buy food. The white traders refused to give the Indians credit to buy food. One trader said: "If they are hungry, let them eat grass."

The Indians were hungry. Soon, their hunger turned to anger. Finally, the local Indian chief called his men together. He gave the orders for war.

Early the next morning, the tribe attacked the trading stores. Most of the traders were killed, including the man who had insulted the Indians. He was found with his mouth filled with grass.

The governor of Minnesota sent a force of state soldiers to stop the Indian revolt. The soldiers had artillery. They killed several hundred Indians in battle. They hanged several others. Soon, the revolt was over.

Santee Sioux Warriors

Trouble came next to parts of Colorado and Wyoming. This is where the Sioux Indians and the Cheyenne Indians lived. The chief of the Lakota Sioux tribe was named Red Cloud. The Indians fought bitterly to keep white men out of their hunting grounds. After two years of fighting, with many deaths on both sides, the government decided the struggle was too costly. It asked for peace.

The Sioux and the Cheyenne agreed. They were given a large area of land north of Wyoming in the Dakota territory. They also were given the right to use their old hunting lands farther north. The government agreed to close a road used by whites to cross the hunting grounds. And all soldiers were withdrawn from Sioux country.

The war ended and peace came to the Sioux and the Cheyenne. With peace came a new United States policy toward other Indians of the west. The government decided to put aside an area of land for each tribe. The land was called a "reservation." Each tribe would live on its own reservation.

Most of the reservations were in Indian territory in what is now the state of Oklahoma. Other reservations were in Dakota near the land of the Sioux.

A reservation in Oklahoma, around 1900
The government believed it would cost less money and fewer lives to keep Indians on reservations. The Indians would be away from possible trouble with white settlers. Instead of moving freely over the plains to hunt buffalo, the Indians would live in one place. They would receive food and money from the government.

Officials came from Washington to explain this new policy to the Indians. A big meeting was held. Chiefs representing many tribes attended. The chiefs spoke, one after another, to the government officials.

All of the chiefs said they, too, wished to live in peace with the white men. But many questioned the decision to move to reservations. One who did so was Chief Ten Bears of the Comanche tribe. He said:

"There are things which you have said to me that I do not like. You said you wanted to put us on a reservation. You said you would build houses for us. I do not want your houses. I was born on the plains where the wind blows free, and there is nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where everything breathed a free breath. I want to die there. . .not within walls."

So the government and the Indians reached a compromise. The tribes were given reservations in Indian territory. But they were also given permission to hunt buffalo in a wide area south of the reservations. The Indians agreed to give up all their old lands. They agreed to live in peace on the reservations.

In exchange, the United States promised to give the Indians all the food, clothing, and other things they needed. It also promised to give them schools and medical care.

The Indians were not happy with this agreement. They did not want to give up their old ways of living. However, they saw they had no choice. The government was too strong.

They waited weeks, then months, for help to move to the new reservations. They could not understand the delay in carrying out the agreement. The delay was in Washington, D.C. Congress could not agree on how much money to spend on the Indians. So the lawmakers refused to approve the agreement. They left the situation unsettled.

Again, Indians were forced to watch angrily as white settlers began moving onto lands they had agreed to give up. As the whites moved in, the buffalo and other animals left. The Indians had difficulty finding food.

A Sioux War Cry

Soldiers shared their food with the Indians. It was not enough. Western officials sent urgent messages to Washington asking for supplies for the Indians. No supplies could be sent until Congress approved the money to buy them.

As before, some of the Indians became angry and refused to wait any longer. Their anger led to new fighting. In the end, it was a fight that failed to win back their land.

That will be our story in the next program of THE MAKING OF A NATION.

You have been listening to the Special English program, THE MAKING OF A NATION. Your narrators were Sarah Long and Steve Ember. Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. Join us again next week at this time for another report about the history of the United States.


1. The Plains Indians refused to _____________________ .
a: hunt the buffalo
b: give up their way of life
c: attack wagon trains
d: be fierce fighters

2. The Santee Sioux agreed to give up 90 percent of their land in exchange for ________________ .
a: peace with the white settlers
b: education for their children
c: payments so they could buy food and other goods
d: better farming land in Oklahoma

3. Trouble started with the Santee Sioux in 1862 because the government ___________________.
a: began to kill Indians
b: was late giving Indians their yearly payment
c: instructed white traders to give credit to the Indians
d: stuffed the mouth of one dead Indian with grass

4. Most of the Indian reservations were located ____________________________ .
a: east of the Mississippi River
b: in the state of Oklahoma
c: in the Dakota Territoy
d: near the border of Minnesota and Canada

5. By the middle 1800s, all the eastern Indians _______________ west of the Mississippi.
a: had been moved
b: have moved
c: have been moving
d: had moved

6. After two years of fighting between U.S. Soldiers and the Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne, peace finally came when the Indians _______________________ .
a: were given land in the Dakota Territory
b: agreed to abandon their hunting grounds
c: when troops left the Dakota Territory
d: the Indians agreed to settle in Oklahoma

7. Chief Ten Bears of the Comanche Indians didn't like the idea of the reservation mostly because he didn't want to ________________________ .
a: breathe fresh air
b: feel too much wind
c: get a sunburn
d: live inside walls

8. The government believed it would be cheaper and cost fewer lives if _____________________ .
a: all the buffalo were killed
b: fewer wagons journeyed to California or Oregon
c: the Indians lived on reservations away from white settlers
d: a peace agreement could be reached between the Cheyenne and the Lakota Sioux

9. The government soldiers were usually victorious in wars with the Indians because ________________________ .
a: the government soldiers were more fierce
b: the government soldiers had better weapons
c: the Indians were poorly organized
d: the Indians didn't have much experience in warfare

10. One difference between Plains Indians and eastern Indians was that __________________________ .
a: eastern Indians were more dependent on the buffalo
b: Plains Indians liked the idea of reservations more than eastern Indians
c: Plains Indians were more reluctant to give up their lands than eastern Indians
d: Plains Indians had a better relationship with white settlers than eastern Indians

Thursday, February 7, 2013

"The Disability Rights Movement" from VOA

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

New estimates show that more than one billion people have a physical or mental disability. Experts say almost one-fifth of them experience serious difficulties in their daily lives as a result of their disability. And disability rates are increasing as populations get older and more people get long-term conditions, like heart disease and diabetes.

The estimates are in a report from the World Health Organization and the World Bank. The World Report on Disability says few countries do enough to meet the needs of the disabled.

They face problems like discrimination and a lack of health care and other services. They have higher poverty rates and lower education levels than other people. This is true in both rich and poor countries.

Cindy Lewis is the director of programs for an organization called Mobility International USA. Ms. Lewis says people with disabilities helped write the new report. One of its messages is that people with disabilities should not only receive services -- they should also help design and provide them.

Ms. Lewis says that way they can become decision makers and policy makers.

CINDY LEWIS: "People with disabilities are a huge and untapped resource for governments, communities, for development programs. And that is a big problem that we are working on addressing."

Ms. Lewis says in many countries, people with disabilities are organizing to support disability rights.

CINDY LEWIS: "It’s a very incorrect assumption that people with disabilities are in their community sitting around passively waiting for something good to happen. People with disabilities around the world are getting together and mobilizing and speaking out."

Her group is working with the United States Agency for International Development. The projects bring together disability groups and development organizations in Colombia, Jordan and Ethiopia.

For example, Fundamental is an organization in Colombia for people with mental illness. This group is training its members to become leaders in explaining their problems and urging their communities to treat them fairly.

The Ethiopian National Association of the Blind helped write a training document on how to include blind people in education projects.

The United Nations has a human rights treaty called the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Almost one hundred fifty governments and regional organizations have signed it.

The World Health Organization and the World Bank say people with disabilities should be able to use the same services as everyone else. They call for more laws to give the disabled the same rights and chances to succeed as everyone else. These laws, they say, will help the public understand that people with disabilities also have abilities.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Karen Leggett. I'm Barbara Klein.