Originally created 07/04/99

A look at the 20th Century: 1951



As 1951 began, Americans who had not forgotten the recent nightmare of World War II were embroiled in another conflict in Asia -- this time in Korea.

For the second year, U.S. troops fought on Korean soil, trying to push Communist North Korean forces out of South Korea.

The war began in the summer of 1950 and raged for three years. More than 54,000 Americans perished in the battles, along with three million Koreans and a million Chinese.

Much of the fighting in 1951 was along the 38th parallel, with armies battling for control of the dividing line. Peace talks started and stalled several times.

Newspapers kept readers informed of progress in the Asian peninsula with daily front-page stories.

"Entire Allied Front Hurled Back By Relentless Offensive of Reds," screamed an Augusta Chronicle headline on Jan. 7. A week later, "50 Nations Approve New Plans for Halting War Immediately." But the plans fell through and fighting continued.

On April 10, President Harry S. Truman relieved Gen. Douglas MacArthur of his command duties in the conflict, citing the outspoken general's inability to give "his wholehearted support" to U.S. policy in Korea. In a speech to Congress later that month, Gen. MacArthur attested to troops' defeatist attitude.

But war, though it overshadowed much of American life, wasn't the only thing to which Americans were tuned in.

A lovable, spunky redhead named Lucille Ball debuted a television comedy show called I Love Lucy, which featured the madcap antics of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and their neighbors Ethel and Fred Mertz. One and a half million Americans had televisions in their homes by 1951 -- 10 times the number of the previous year.

An American In Paris, starring Gene Kelly and featuring music by George and Ira Gershwin, won the Academy Award for best picture along with seven other Oscars. Marlon Brando starred in the screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, and Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn relived World War I in The African Queen.

Crooners like Perry Como, Rosemary Clooney and Nat King Cole dominated the airwaves. Rock music's big explosion was a few years away, but many rhythm and blues artists were beginning to use more powerful beats and "rocking blues" was born. A Cleveland disc jockey, Alan Freed, started giving this music -- by mostly black artists -- more airplay and coined the term "rock 'n' roll."

The trend toward freeing housewives from the kitchen -- kicked off in 1947 with the introduction of Reddi-Whip, the first mass-marketed convenience food -- continued with the invention of Tupperware, the ubiquitous plastic containers for storing leftovers.

Also this year, teen angst was personified and given a name: Holden Caulfield.

The anti-hero of J.D. Salinger's enduring novel The Catcher in the Rye, Holden -- just kicked out of yet another prep school -- decides to leave school early and take a little vacation before returning to his parents' home. His observations on the "phoniness" of American society and his own downward spiral into a nervous breakdown struck a deep chord with readers. Many people considered Holden an offensive character and didn't appreciate his brutal honesty and coarse language, leading to the book's banning from schools and libraries across the country.

In sports, "Joltin"' Joe DiMaggio retired after the season, ending his career with the New York Yankees. A young player, Micky Mantle, had been added to the Yankees' roster and helped the team win the American League pennant. Willie Mays, a new player for the New York Giants, was named Rookie of the Year after his team defeated the Yankees in the World Series.

At 16, Maureen Connolly became the youngest female tennis player to win the U.S. Open. She would go on to win the Grand Slam in 1953, the first woman to do so.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, convicted of espionage and treason against the United States for providing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, were sentenced to death by a federal court. The sentencing judge, Irving Kaufman, said he believed the Rosenbergs' treason led to the war in Korea and "altered the course of history to the disadvantage of our country."

Augustans were shocked by two high-profile murders.

In late April, the body of 7-year-old Lois Janes, who had been missing for days, was discovered floating in Augusta Canal. Her left ear had been sliced off and two deep gashes were found in her left cheek. An autopsy ruled out accidental drowning and detectives investigating the case as a murder.

By the beginning of June, three people were indicted in the slaying, which appeared motivated by an insurance policy on the child's life. Her grandmother Mamie Price, her uncle Elmer Price and Lovey Ivey, the fisherman who claimed to have found the body, were indicted and tried. Only the grandmother was convicted, and the case against her was later overturned.

On the night of June 30, 1950, Margie Kennedy shot her husband, John, six times with a .22-caliber pistol. Mr. Kennedy, Augusta's former public safety commissioner, was well-known and well-liked throughout the community and news of the shooting traveled quickly. He was in critical condition at University Hospital for a week before he died and the charge against his wife was upgraded to murder.

But during Mrs. Kennedy's trial, another side of the popular politician became public. She shot him in self-defense, she said. He had threatened to kill her that night, the culmination of two decades of beatings and brutality. The couple's 21-year-old daughter testified on her mother's behalf, saying her father had beat her mother for years "because he said she wouldn't mind him."

Mrs. Kennedy's defense team -- which included former South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, who today is the nation's senior U.S. senator -- was successful and she was cleared of the charges.

Near the end of 1951, as Augustans prepared for Christmas, an explosion at the local Atlanta Gas Light Co. facility injured six people and left most of Augusta and North Augusta without gas for nearly a week. With no heat in their homes and no way to cook, citizens banded together to help each other. One resident called a radio station to offer her home as a warm shelter for mothers with young children. University Hospital opened an emergency clinic and arranged bottle-warming facilities for babies.

Time line

Jan. 4:

Communist Chinese and North Korean forces capture Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and begin moving southward to the Allied defense line.

Jan. 18:

Thousands of New Guineans are killed when the volcano known as Spirit Mountain begins to erupt, searing a 10-mile radius with six separate explosions over four days.

Feb. 26:

The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, limiting presidents to two terms, becomes law.

April 5:

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, convicted of espionage and treason, are sentenced to death.

April 11:

President Harry S. Truman fires Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of U.S. forces in Korea, for failure "to give his wholehearted support" to government policies.

April 27:

The body of Lois Janes, a 7-year-old Augusta girl who had been missing for nearly a week, is found in Augusta Canal. Authorities later declared her death a murder and convicted her grandmother, Mamie Price. The conviction was overturned.

May 3:

Japan regains its autonomy after more than five years of Allied control after World War II.

June 30:

Augusta's former commissioner of public safety, John B. Kennedy, is shot six times by his wife, Margie. He was in critical condition for seven days before dying at University Hospital.

July 13:

Floods ravage the Midwestern twin cities of Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan. The worst flooding in the cities' history virtually paralyzes the population of 900,000 people, closing all nonessential businesses and keeping people housebound.

July 20:

Jordan's King Abdullah is assassinated in Jerusalem.

Oct. 17:

Mrs. Kennedy is acquitted of murder in her husband's death. Though the facts of the case were undisputed -- Mrs. Kennedy admitted killing her husband -- she claimed self-defense, explaining that he had beat her during their 20-year marriage and that he had threatened to kill her the night she shot him.

Emily Sollie can be reached at (706) 823-3340 or esollie@augustachronicle.com.