Originally created 07/24/99

A look at the 20th Century: 1956



The U.S. Supreme Court ruled bus segregation unconstitutional, Elvis rocked America and Augustans liked Ike.

It was 1956. The country and the world stood at the precipice of change.

As the Cold War continued between the United States and the Soviet Union, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles started 1956 by defending President Dwight D. Eisenhower's foreign policies.

In a Life magazine interview, Mr. Dulles described how the nation had been at the brink of war three times in three years.

"The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art," Mr. Dulles told the magazine. "If you try to run away from it, if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost."

And when it came to the Soviet Union and repressing Communism, Mr. Dulles advocated the threat of nuclear retaliation.

But in a rare moment, America and the Soviets agreed on a cease-fire in the Middle East. Egypt had been invaded by Israel, Britain and France in August 1956 after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser seized the Suez Canal. The United States opposed the invasion.

During one of his three visits to Augusta that year -- in April, November and December -- President Eisenhower released a policy statement that the United States would resist Mideast aggression.

He met with Mr. Dulles at Mamie's Cabin at Augusta National Golf Club to discuss the Suez crisis. The visits put the spotlight on Augusta, where the 66-year-old president enjoyed tremendous support.

Richmond County voters supported him when neighboring counties didn't. And in the Nov. 6 election, the Republican president won a landslide re-election over Democrat Adlai Stevenson.

Meanwhile, politics heated up the South as violence marred an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision to end racial segregation in public schools.

On Jan. 9, Virginia passed legislation to provide public money for private schools to get around desegregation requirements. Georgia, South Carolina and other Southern states passed legislation to thwart desegregation.

Georgia proposed privatizing public schools to preserve segregation, and state legislators applauded segregation efforts by Gov. Marvin Griffin.

But on April 13, the Georgia Teachers and Education Association -- representing 9,000 black teachers in 1956 -- met in Augusta and endorsed public schools integration and asked for abandonment of the governor's private schools bill.

Desegregation efforts were accompanied by riots on college campuses. At the University of Alabama, white students rioted Feb. 7 -- one day after the enrollment of a black woman, Autherine Lucy. The NAACP filed a discrimination lawsuit after she was suspended.

A yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., ended after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Nov. 13 that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional. The boycott -- organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. -- started after Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man.

In Augusta, racial integration at Union Terminal began quietly as Georgia Railroad officials removed "white" and "colored" signs from waiting rooms. Overall, Augusta officials were quiet after the Supreme Court ruling.

But Augustans weren't quiet on March 21 after receiving news that Camp Gordon would officially become Fort Gordon.

The opening of 800-bed Eugene Talmadge Memorial Hospital -- named after the three-term Georgia governor and built at a cost of $12.3 million -- opened March 15 as the teaching arm of Medical College of Georgia.

Other medical news in 1956 included Dr. Jonas Salk and Surgeon General Leonard A. Scheele predicting that the crippling disease polio would be eradicated as a threat within three years with use of the Salk vaccine.

In elections that year, former Georgia Gov. Herman Talmadge defeated former Gov. Melvin E. Thompson for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by longtime Sen. Walter George.

Augusta lawyer Carl Sanders -- a member of the Georgia House of Representatives -- was elected unopposed to the state Senate. Mr. Sanders took over the governor's office a few years later.

Fidel Castro began his rebellion in southeastern Cuba and with Ernesto "Che" Guevara, hid in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, fighting a guerrilla campaign that would eventually topple the regime of Fulgencio Batista.

In Hungary, the Soviets squashed an anti-Communist rebellion. The United States offered only moral support to Hungarians out of fear of a European land war and possible nuclear showdown.

Drive-in theaters boomed in America -- their number tripling since 1950. Still, many people preferred to stay home because of the high cost of theaters -- $1.50 to $2 a ticket in major cities.

New highway construction opened travel options. The Interstate Highway Act allocated roughly $30 billion for 42,500 miles of interstate highway to connect major cities, a move that set off suburban growth. In Augusta, city officials announced plans for the Washington Road superhighway.

A 21-year-old from Memphis, Tenn., gyrated his way to the top of the music charts with hits such as Heartbreak Hotel, Don't Be Cruel and Blue Suede Shoes. Young American girls were in love with Elvis Presley, and 54 million people watched him perform Sept. 9 on television's The Ed Sullivan Show. However, the King's pelvic gyrations put television censors on guard, and his next televised performance showed just his face.

My Fair Lady opened on Broadway featuring Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. Eugene O'Neill's family drama Long Day's Journey Into Night had its posthumous premiere. Operas grew in popularity in America, with 162 performances of Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme during 1956.

Allen Ginsberg published his long poem Howl, which became a classic of the "beat generation" of the 1950s. The Last Hurrah by Edwin O'Connor, Seize the Day by Saul Bellow and Peyton Place by Grace Metalious were among published books.

Time line

Jan. 9:Virginia amends a state prohibition against using public money for private schools in what was seen as a vote for segregation. Other Southern states -- including Georgia and South Carolina -- would follow Virginia's lead.

Jan. 30:The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s home in Montgomery, Ala., is bombed.

March 27:The Communist newspaper Daily Worker is seized by the Internal Revenue Service for nonpayment of income taxes. The IRS returns the newspaper's New York, Chicago and Detroit offices in April after $4,500 is posted against the tax bill.

April 5:Labor columnist Victor Riesel -- a crusader against labor racketeering -- is blinded in both eyes after someone throws acid in his face as he leaves a New York restaurant. In September, racketeer Johnny Dio and six others are indicted on conspiracy charges by a federal grand jury.

April 7:Augusta City Council raises the property tax rate by six mills to support a record $5.2 million budget.

April 25:Rocky Marciano retires from boxing as the undefeated world heavyweight champion.

May 2:The General Conference of the Methodist Church in Minneapolis orders racial segregation abolished in Methodist churches.

June 6:Augusta City Council formally calls for a voter referendum on a proposed city manager form of government.

July 26:The Italian vessel Andrea Doria sinks 60 miles south of Nantucket, Mass., after a collision with a Swedish ship, the Stockholm. Fifty people were killed.

Aug. 24:The first transcontinental helicopter flight, nonstop from San Diego to Washington, takes 37 hours.

Oct. 8:In Game 5 of the 53rd World Series, New York Yankees right-hander Don Larsen pitches a perfect game -- the first no-hitter in World Series history. The Yankees defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers four games to three.

Nov. 6:Richmond County voters support a $950,000 bond issue for a new library.

Nov. 13:Segregation on public buses is ruled unconstitutional by U.S. Supreme Court.

Dec. 22:The first gorilla is born in captivity at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio.

Peggy Ussery can be reached at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 112, or ussery@augustachronicle.com.