The political picture in the United States from the death of President Franklin Roosevelt to the end of the 1950s was dominated by the Red Scare, McCarthyism, and legitimate concerns regarding the potential threat posed to the United States and its allies in Europe and Asia from the Soviet Union. Roosevelt passed away on April 12, 1945, less than a month before the surrender of Germany and less than five months before the atomic bombings of Japan authorized by his successor in the White House, Harry S. Truman. While the emergence of the Cold War was evident during WWII's final years, U.S.-Soviet relations and the growing American presence in Southeast Asia became the defining characteristics of American politics during the post–World War II period. Fears of communist expansionism led to one of the saddest periods in American history when individuals suspected of communist affiliations or leanings were compelled to appear before congressional committees, mainly the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and many were blacklisted from their chosen professions, especially those in the entertainment industry. The Soviet detonation of its first atomic bomb in 1949, the victory by Mao Tse-Tung’s communist guerrillas over the Nationalist Chinese led by General Chiang Kai-Shek that same year, communist insurgencies in southern Europe and in Asia, the invasion of South Korea by the Soviet-supported communist regime in the north, the successful launch into orbit of the world’s first satellite in 1957 by the Soviet Union, and the French defeat in Indochina at the hands of Vietnam’s communist forces all contributed to the fears that permeated the American public. Such fears were manifested in the political processes that occurred throughout the decade and that favored the Republican ticket of former general Dwight Eisenhower and his vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon.
Domestically, the political picture was heavily influenced by the ongoing struggle among blacks for civil rights, a struggle that saw its first major legal and political victory with the landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down segregationist laws in the American South regarding public school admissions. While the court’s decision was extremely important, however, the country continued to move very slowly on civil rights, with President Eisenhower criticized by some for failing to demonstrate greater leadership on the issue of desegregation. For many Americans, the domestic stability that defined Eisenhower’s presidency was a welcome respite from the turbulence of the late 1940s, when then–President Truman struggled with the myriad challenges of guiding the nation through the uncertainties of the post-war era. That political stability, however, came at the expense of greater advancement on the issue of civil rights.