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American Forum – Should There Be Federal Aid To Education? – April 14, 1957 – NBC Radio – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Federal Aid To Education. An idea pitched by President Eisenhower at the start of his second term of office. At the time, schools around the country were becoming woefully out-dated and over-crowded. For one thing, the Baby Boomers were heading to school; by the millions. Overcrowding was rampant. Class sizes exploded from 10 to 50 pupils in some areas. Existing school buildings were dilapidated and school books were hopelessly inadequate.
The idea of the single-room school house of the 19th and early 20th century was long gone – something needed to be done to solve this problem before it got any worse, and it was getting worse by the day.
So when President Eisenhower proposed Federal Aid to Education; allocating government monies to build new schools, update existing ones, improve America’s Education system in general, in addition to improving infrastructure, it was met with wide ranging enthusiasm on Capitol Hill and seen as a major improvement to a decades-old problem. Everyone, except the Southern states – the Dixiecrats, the “states rights” advocates. They were emphatically opposed.
In this episode of American Forum, Senators Clifford Case (R-New Jersey) and Strom Thurmond (D-South Carolina) discuss the issue. Case is vehemently for Federal Aid while Thurmond is vehemently against it. The argument Strom Thurmond makes is that Federal Aid is a slippery slope to a dictatorship and a hotbed of Socialism, giving the government too much say in each State and interfering in the needs of those individual states.
The argument seems a little heavy on emphatic pronouncements of Communist underpinnings until you take a look at the extenuating circumstances surrounding those protests. For one thing – the Supreme Court upheld school desegregation in 1954 in the Brown v. Board of Education case. Also, complete desegregation was scheduled to be completed in 1957 – the year of this broadcast.
Thurmond is dead against Federal Aid to Schools because, to him, it would be an easy skip from pressure of individual school districts to issuing edicts and forcing desegregation, much to Strom Thurmond and the other Southern Senators proclaiming it was tantamount to a dictatorship. School segregation in the South was solidly in place in 1957, there was no intention of reversing that course – schools were racially separate and had been since before reconstruction. And it was no secret that schools in predominately communities of Color were in the worst and most cramped conditions of all – and that despite protests from Strom Thurmond and the other States Rights (White Supremacist) advocates, the mantra that schools were “separate but equal” rang very hollow on closer inspection.
But, armed with the perspective of history during this period of time, it’s easy to see why the protests are loud and dramatic and have nothing to do with the subject at hand, but the underlying issues are where the real controversies lay.
Fascinating stuff, and one more look at the 1950s in America during a time of domestic and social upheaval – all on the coattails of the Baby Boomers who were heading en masse to school for the first time.
Here is that broadcast as it originally aired on April 14, 1957 via the NBC Radio Network.