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"Looking back on this year will probably be with regret that integration could not have been accomplished peacefully" -- editors of the 1957 Little Rock Central High Yearbook
In 1957, the United States and Soviet Union were clearly the two “super powers” and it was widely accepted (at least in the U.S.) that America was the “superest.” We considered our way of life superior-- for proof you only needed to look at our technological advances and high standard of living. By the end of the year those assumptions would be seriously challenged.

On October 4th the Soviets astounded the world by putting the first artificial satellite into orbit around the earth. On November 3rd they would better themselves by actually sending the first animal into space, a dog named Laika. The nation was shocked that the Soviets could do this and we could not. The first U.S. attempt came on December 6th and resulted in what would become a common image on television and in the newsreels -- a U.S. rocket failing to get off the launch pad and dissolving into a brilliant fireball. From 1957, well into the 1960’s the U.S.. would be playing “catch-up” in the space race. The government would issue the Gaither Report which would call for more missile production and building of more bomb shelters.

Further flaws in the American dream were exemplified by the continuing struggle of minorities for equal rights. On the plus side, the federal government passed the first significant civil rights law, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 which made it a federal offense to interfere with voting rights. But the law went largely ignored.

It had been three years since the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case had declared separate school systems to be unequal. In the summer of 1957 the school board of Little Rock, Arkansas put together a desegregation plan for its school system in an attempt to comply with the court’s decision. When school was to start on September 2nd, Governor Orvel Faubus called out the National Guard of Arkansas to block the door of Central High School and keep black students from attending. On September 20th the troops were forced to withdraw by a federal court injunction. On the 23rd, nine black students were brought in a side door as a violent mob gathered outside the school with the only “protection” being provided by the local police force. Under pressure from civil rights leaders, President Eisenhower ordered the Army into Little Rock on September 24th and he put the Arkansas National Guard under federal command. On September 25th, the “Little Rock Nine” entered Central High School.

While the civil rights conflicts continued to raise the possibility of violence on the home front and the Cold War kept Americans looking to the sky for signs of an imminent Soviet attack, in 1957 the United States was “at peace.” We had been out of the Korean conflict for several years and the first military commitment to Vietnam had yet to be made. The Eisenhower Doctrine was articulated, declaring that the U.S. would defend Middle Eastern countries from Communist takeover. It was obvious that our focus was still on “anti-communism.” But the Middle East crisis of 1956 appeared to be abetting as Israel withdrew from the Sinai and Egypt reopened the Suez Canal.

Television had become the entertainment medium of choice by 1957 and the situation comedy was becoming a prominent format as “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It to Beaver” exemplified. The wave of the future would be the “Western” -- “Wagon Train” and “Have gun Will Travel” became popular. But television could not replace the movies -- Americans still liked the cinema for an evening out. One of the most popular movies was “Bridge on the River Kwai,” a World War II drama about British prisoners building a bridge for their Japanese captors. The spicy novel of 1956, “Peyton Place” was brought to the big screen, but fell far short of the novel’s explicitness. For real titillation, “And God Created Woman” was the choice as it starred the newest sex symbol, French actress Bridgette Bardot. For readers there was Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” which would spur a whole new counterculture -- the “beatnik.” “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss was first published. On Broadway, “The Music Man” and “West Side Story” began their long runs.

In music the rock and roll “fad” of 1956 didn’t seem to be diminishing as record labels scrambled to find their own Elvis. Philadelphia became a center for the new music as American Bandstand became a national broadcast for ABC on August 5, 1957. Hosted by 26-year-old Dick Clark, Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” was the first song played and Billy Williams and The Chordettes were the first guests to lip-synch their songs. Bandstand would become one of the most popular shows of the year and Dick Clark one of the most powerful forces in the music business as appearances on Bandstand gave record sales a boost. The rate-a-record feature gave new records a chance as they were rated by teens chosen from the audience. The rating scale was from 35 to 98 -- Dick Clark didn’t think any record could be lower than a 35 and there was no “perfect” record.

John F. Kennedy received the Pulitzer prize for “Profiles in Courage.” Jimmy Hoffa was arrested by the F.B.I. The Dodgers left Brooklyn, the Giants left New York, Frankie Lyman left the Teenagers, Jackie Wilson left the Dominoes. Jack Parr joined the Tonight Show, Tom joined Jerry to produce their first top 40 record, “Hey School Girl.” (You might know them better as Simon and Garfunkel.) Playing “skiffle” music in Liverpool, 14-year-old Paul McCartney met 16-year-old John Lennon. Berry Gordy founded Motown Records. Osama bin Laden and Gloria Estefen were born. Humphrey Bogart and Oliver Hardy died.

Some of us, but not many, bought an Edsel (one of the automobile industry’s biggest failures). We threw a "Frisbee" for the first time. We hoisted an A & W root beer mug. We were encouraged by Greyhound to “leave the driving to us.” We'd "Drop the coin right into the slot You gotta hear something that's really hot." (Chuck Berry). It was 1957.
1957 Atlas missile launch from Cape Caneveral
Elizabeth Eckford enters Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in September 1957
Raymond Burr as Perry Mason
Jack Kerouac -- author of
"On The Road"
A & W Root Beer Drive-in, 1957

Theodore Geisel wrote "The Cat in the Hat" in 1957 in response to complaints about children literacy and the standard "Dick and Jane" books. It was received with both critical acclaim and popularity.
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