Religion & Faith

Vintage 1957 – Church Membership Growing

Harrisena Community Church, Queensbury, New York, 1957. Photo: Harrisena Community Church

Harrisena Community Church, Queensbury, New York, 1957. Photo: Harrisena Community Church

On this autumn Sunday in 1950s America, church attendance was increasing steadily. The newly-published 1958 Yearbook of American Churches presented the most recent church membership statistics for the major faith traditions across the land. Three hundred million new members had joined a local congregation over the past year, expanding enrollments to a record-high 103,224,954 adults. Sixty-two percent of Americans claimed church affiliation, a booming post-World War II trend.

The change in membership figures from 1955 to 1956:

Protestant: 58, 448, 567 to 60, 148,980 (2.9% increase, 36% of US population)
Roman Catholic: 33,396, 647 to 34,563,851 (3.5% increase, 21% of US population)
Jewish: 5,500,000 to 5,500,000 (unchanged, 3.3 % of US population)
Eastern Orthodox: 2,754,315 to 2,949,123 (7.1% increase, 1.8% of US population)
Buddhist: 63,000 to 63,000 (unchanged, 0.04% of US population)

In 1957, Islam was not a major religion in America. Between the 1870s and 1924, a large number of Muslim immigrants arrived from the Middle East looking for greater economic opportunity. They settled predominantly in the Midwestern states. Detroit’s Ford Motor Company hired a great many of these early Muslim immigrants. The US essentially closed the country to immigration from 1924 until 1952. During this time, the US-resident Muslims built numerous communities and mosques. When immigration began again, a new wave of Muslims began to arrive from Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq. As of 1956, their numbers were too small to appear on the Yearbook of American Churches’ roster of major denominations.

October 22, 1957 – Francois Duvalier Haiti’s New President

Haitian President Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier in 1965

On October 22, 1957, a second ominous October launch occurred; Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier was sworn in as President of Haiti.  Although Sputnik 1 would fall out of orbit in three months, Duvalier became President for Life, “serving” the unfortunate populace of the Caribbean island nation until his death in 1971.

Born the son of a justice of the peace (father) and a baker (mother), and with a university degree in medicine, Duvalier was the rare educated man in a country where rampant illiteracy and repression of the Afro-Haitian majority by a small, mulatto elite were facts of life.  Rampant and devastating tropical diseases were also facts of life during Duvalier’s early years, and he earned his “Papa Doc” nickname for his work through a United States-sponsored campaign to control the spread of typhus, malaria, and yaws (a destructive bacterial infection of the skin, bones, and joints).  Also, early in his career, Duvalier began pursuing political and spiritual agendas: the negritude movement of Dr. Jean Price-Mars (a literary, Marxist-style movement promoting Afro-Haitian solidarity to fight French colonial racism and domination); and vodou (the island’s syncretic religion combining elements of West African beliefs and practices and Roman Catholicism).

In 1946, Papa Doc began serving as Haiti’s Director of National Public Health under the government of President Dumarsais Estime, but when Estime was ousted in a coup by General Paul Magloire, Duvalier went into hiding until amnesty was declared in 1956.  Magloire’s rule ended in December of that year, and a series of provisional governments controlled Haiti until September 22, 1957, when Papa Doc was elected President over Louis Dejoie, a mulatto landowner and industrialist.  Duvalier’s populist campaign called on Haiti’s rural Afro-Haitian majority to throw off control by the mulatto elite.  After his landslide victory, he exiled Dejoie’s supporters and established a new constitution.

Over the following years, Papa Doc would consolidate his power base in the military, take control of Haiti’s Catholic churches, revise and then ignore the 1957 constitution, commit massive voter fraud to install himself as “President for Life”, use murder and expulsion to repress political opposition, decimate Haiti’s businesses with extortion, bribery, and theft, intimidate educated leaders to abandon the island, misappropriate millions of dollars in international foreign aid, and create a vodou-laced personality cult for himself to further consolidate his power.

Was Papa Doc sane?  A massive heart attack in 1959, possibly due to an insulin overdose (Duvalier suffered from heart disease and adult-onset diabetes), left him unconscious for nine hours.  Associates speculated that his mental health was affected by neurological damage resulting from this period.  Over the following years, Duvalier’s life was increasingly marked by paranoia and delusions.  He once ordered the head of an executed rebel to be delivered to him packed in ice (so that he could commune with the dead man’s spirit), and also portrayed himself as personally chosen by Jesus Christ to lead the Haitian people.

October 14, 1957 – Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Photo: White House, Pubic Domain

On October 14, 1957, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower celebrated his 67th birthday with his loving wife, Mamie, by his side.  Possibly their son John and daughter-in-law Barbara, and grandchildren David, Barbara, Susan, and Mary were able to join in the festivities.  Dwight and Mamie’s first son, Doud (Mamie’s maiden name), had died of scarlet fever in 1921 at age 3.

Born David Dwight Eisenhower in 1890 in Denison, Texas, President Eisenhower was the third of seven sons for David  and Ida Eisenhower.  Finances were always tight for David, a college-educated engineer, and Ida, a homemaker and deeply religious woman.   The Eisenhowers moved to Abilene, Kansas early in the future President’s life and he worked for two years after graduating from Abilene High to help pay for his brother Edgar’s college education.  When it came time for Dwight, as he was called, to attend college, he chose West Point, and changed his name to “Dwight David” when he entered the prestigious Army academy in the fall of 1911.  Eisenhower enjoyed sports and was a good athlete.  While he didn’t make the academy baseball team (“one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe my greatest”), he played football and was a starting running back and linebacker from his sophomore year onward.  Eisenhower graduated in 1915 and served in a wide variety of roles and theaters during his Army career.

Eisenhower trained early in tank warfare, served in the Panama Canal Zone, marked time during the 1920’s and early ’30s, then served in the Philipines before assignment to high commands during World War II.  He was ultimately named Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, planning and carrying out Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of Normandy.  His ability to work with difficult personalities and maintain strong relationships gained him respect and greater responsibility.  Eisenhower found a way to stay on positive and constructive terms with such military and political luminaries as Gen. George Patton, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, French Gen. Charles de Gaulle, Soviet Marshall Georgy Zhukov and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin.

In 1948, after the conclusion of the war and the occupation of Europe, Eisenhower revealed the depth of his commitment to God, calling himself  “one of the most deeply religious men I know”, although he remained unattached to any “sect or organization”.

Prior to his election in 1952, President Eisenhower served briefly as the President of New York’s Columbia University, and as Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  He and his 1952 running mate, Richard M. Nixon, beat Democrats Adlai Stevenson and John Sparkman to gain the White House in a landslide victory.  His philosophy was one of “dynamic conservatism”.  He retained New Deal programs, created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, championed the creation of the Interstate Highway System, crafted the Eisenhower Doctrine after the Suez Crisis in 1956, and spearheaded the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, declaring racial discrimination a national security issue.

President Eisenhower’s health became a troubling issue while in office.  He was hospitalized for several weeks in 1955 following a heart attack, and suffered from Crohn’s disease, which required more surgery and hospitalization in 1956 to relieve a bowel obstruction.  Fortunately, he recovered his health and continued to ably lead the country he loved.

Some quotes from this great American:

“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

“Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels – men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine.  As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”

“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”

“Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.”

“I can think of nothing more boring for the American people than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens.”

“I have only one yardstick by which I test every major problem – and that yardstick is: Is it good for America?”

October 1, 1957 – “In God We Trust” First Appears on Paper Currency

Series 1957 A $1 Silver Certificate

 

On October 1, 1957, new one-dollar silver certificates were issued inscribed with “In God We Trust”, the first United States paper currency to bear the motto declaring the nation’s faith in a providential God.  Coins of several denominations had borne the motto since Civil War times, when Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received numerous requests from citizens for such a recognition of the Deity.  He requested James Pollack, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to “cause such a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition”, because “No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense.  The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.”  Pollock proposed “Our Country; Our God”, or “God, Our Trust”; Chase modified them to “Our God and Our Country” and “In God We Trust” before recommending them to Congress, which passed legislation adopting the mottoes on April 22, 1864.  Later that year, “In God We Trust” made its first appearance on the two-cent coin.

Over the years, the motto appeared on the gold double-eagle coin, the gold eagle coin, the gold half-eagle coin, the silver dollar coin, the half-dollar coin, the quarter-dollar coin, the three-cent coin, the five-cent coin, the one-cent coin, and the ten-cent coin.  The motto was removed from some coins around the turn of the century, prompting public demand that it be restored.  Congress passed an act on May 18, 1908 requiring the motto to be restored to all coins which had originally borne the device.  “In God We Trust” has appeared consistently on all of America’s coins since that time.

It was not until the 1950’s that a joint resolution by the 84th Congress, approved by President Dwight Eisenhower on July 30, 1956, adopted “In God We Trust” as the national motto of the United States.  Then, in 1957, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began converting its paper money production from the wet intaglio to the dry intaglio printing process.  Dry intaglio printing used high-speed rotary presses which could turn out new bills much faster than the old flat-bed presses used in wet intaglio printing.  During the conversion, as it gradually created the costly new printing plates, the Bureau began including the newly-adopted national motto on all paper currency.  The first bills to be printed using the new process were one-dollar silver certificates.  Federal Reserve notes in one-dollar, five-dollar, ten-dollar, and twenty-dollar denominations began to bear the motto in 1964.  Fifty and one-hundred dollar bills were first printed with “In God We Trust” in 1966.

September 28, 1957 – Mike Wallace Interviews Frank Lloyd Wright

 

Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957. Photo: Ed Ford, New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection

Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957. Photo: Ed Ford, New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection

On September 28, 1957, the Mike Wallace Interview show aired the second half of a two-part interview with visionary architect and iconoclast Frank Lloyd Wright.  Mike introduced Wright as “perhaps the greatest architect of the twentieth century . . . and in the opinion of some, America’s foremost social rebel.  Fellow architects have called him everything, from a great poet to an insupportable windbag.  The clergy has deplored his morals, creditors have deplored his financial habits, politicians, his opinions.”  Wallace’s questions ranged over a variety of topics – from politics, to religion, to morality, to architecture – seeking Wright’s opinions and at the same time hoping to provoke him into outrageous statements.  Wright displayed a witty, canny intelligence.  He was well up to the task of  handling “fishing” questions, revealing just as much as he wanted to and no more, while actually getting Mike to laugh at himself once or twice.  The following are some gems from an entertaining interview which may have intrigued, irritated, and amused the American viewing audience.

Wallace: “I’d like to chart your attitudes specifically . . . first of all, organized religion.”
Wright: “Why organize it?  Christianity doesn’t need organizing according to the Master of it, the great master poet of all time didn’t want it organized, did he?  Didn’t Jesus say that wherever a few are gathered in my name, there is my Church?  I’ve always considered myself deeply religious.”

Wallace: “Do you go to any specific church?”
Wright: “Yes, I go occasionally to this one, and then sometimes to that one, but my church I put a capital N on nature and go there.  You spell God with a capital G, don’t you?  I spell Nature with an N, capital.”

Wright: “I’m against war.  Always have been, always will be.  And everything connected with it, is anathema to me.  I have never considered it necessary.  And I think that one war only breeds another.”

Wright: “I think the common man is responsible for the drift toward conformity now.  It’s going to ruin our democracy, and is not according to our democratic faith.  I believe our democracy was Thomas Jefferson’s idea.  I mean I think Thomas Jefferson’s idea was the right idea, but we were headed for a genuine aristocracy.  An aristocracy that was innate, on the man, not of him, not his by privilege, but his by virtue of his own virtue, his own conscience, his own quality, and that by that we were going to have the rule of the bravest and the best.  But now that common man is becoming a little jealous of the uncommon man . . . .  He’s a block to progress.”

Wallace: “I understand that last week in all seriousness you said, ‘If I had another fifteen years to work I could rebuild this entire country, I could change the nation.”
Wright: “I did say that.  And it’s true.  Having had now the experience of going with the building of seven hundred and sixty-nine buildings, it’s quite easy for me to shake them out of my sleeve, and it’s amazing what I could do for this country. . . . I don’t think the mob knows anything about architecture, cares anything about it.”

Wallace: “Is the nation’s youth a mob?”
Wright: “No.  I believe that a teenager is a teenager, and I think that with him lies the hope of the future.  Now architecture with us is a matter of the future.”

Wright’s sharp humor came out regarding his recently published book (which Wallace had a copy of and Wright claimed not to have seen), self-exiled Charlie Chaplin, intellectuals, his voting record in the last Presidential election, and Marilyn Monroe’s acting ability.  He waxed eloquent on the role of architecture to “grace the landscape” and change the character of individual lives.  He lamented that American culture had become “drenched” in sex “from the bottom up”.  He loved the “Russian spirit” of the Soviet people but hated their communist government.  He felt strongly about the principles enumerated in our Declaration of Independence.

Wallace asked Wright to share the “something” he lived by. Wright replied, “The answer is within yourself . . . . And Jesus said it, I think, when he said, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ . . . . That’s where humanity lies, that’s where the future we’re going to have lies. If we are ever going to amount to anything it’s there now, and all we have to do is develop it.”

Brandes Residence, by Frank Lloyd Wright; Sammamish, Washington. Photo: Dan DeLong, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

 

September 8, 1957 – Pope Pius XII on the New Media, a “Wonderful Invention”

His Holiness Pope Pius XII. Photo: The Vatican

On September 8, 1957, Pope Pius XII issued the 39th of his 41 encyclicals, or circular letters, on that cultural doppelganger, the media.  At the age of 81 and midway through year eighteen of his almost twenty-year pontificate, Pius XII saw the need to give direction to church authorities and the Catholic faithful about motion pictures, radio and television – technologies that were entirely new creations during his lifetime.  Miranda Prorsus, which is Latin for “wonderful invention”, begins by claiming that television, movies, and radio “spring from human intelligence and industry”, but “are nevertheless gifts from God, Our Creator, from Whom all good gifts proceed”.  His Holiness continued with his reasons for writing his letter:

“Just as very great advantages can arise from the wonderful advances which have been made in our day, in technical knowledge concerning Motion Pictures, Radio and Television, so too can very great dangers.

“For these new possessions and new instruments which are within almost everyone’s grasp, introduce a most powerful influence into men’s minds, both because they can flood them with light, raise them to nobility, adorn them with beauty, and because they can disfigure them by dimming their lustre,  dishonour them by a process of corruption, and make them subject to uncontrolled passions, according as the subjects presented to the senses in these shows are praiseworthy or reprehensible.

“In the past century, advancing technical skill in the field of business frequently had this result: machines, which ought to serve men, when brought into use, rather reduced them to a state of slavery and caused grievous harm.  Likewise today, unless the mounting development of technical skill, applied to the diffusion of pictures, sounds and ideas, is subjected to the sweet yoke of the law of Christ, it can be the source of countless evils, which appear to be all the more serious, because not only material forces but also the mind are unhappily enslaved, and man’s inventions are, to that extent, deprived of those advantages which, in the design of God’s Providence, ought to be their primary purpose.”

Pius went on to declare that the Church had the sacred right and duty to further its mission to sanctify souls by using the new media to spread truth and virtue.  He acknowledged that governments had the responsibility to spread news and teachings for the common good of society.  Individual citizens could also use media to enrich their own and others’ intellectual and spiritual culture.  But Pius denounced people who used these new avenues of communication “exclusively for the advancement and propagation of political measures or to achieve economic ends”, or for anything “contrary to sound morals” that would put souls in danger.

Following specific sections addressed to both makers and consumers of television shows, movies, and radio programs, Pope Pius XII entrusted his new precepts and instructions to the Pontifical Commission for Motion Pictures, Radio and Television.  He expressed his “firm confidence in the ultimate triumph of God’s cause” and imparted his Apostolic Benediction on all within the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

September 2, 1957 – The Final Rally of Billy Graham’s New York City Summer Crusade

On September 2, 1957, the Reverend Billy Graham concluded his summer crusade in New York City with a massive rally in Times Square.  Crowds in excess of one hundred thousand jammed the streets to hear Graham on the final night of an outreach for Christ that began in Madison Square Garden on May 15th.  Hundreds of thousands of people heard Billy at the Garden through the summer.  He packed Yankee Stadium on July 20th with an overflow crowd of one hundred thousand-plus which included Vice President Richard Nixon, who brought greetings from President Eisenhower.  Graham also invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to join him on stage the night of July 18th, acknowledging Dr. King as a leader of the “great social revolution going on in the United States today”.

Newspapers in New York City gave the crusade a lot of coverage.  ABC decided to sell air time to broadcast crusade services, inaugurating a new approach to evangelism.  More people were able to hear and watch Graham’s appeal over the airwaves than in person.  Letters and money from viewers across the nation poured in supporting Graham’s cause.  Support also came from local Protestant churches and prayer teams formed by Billy’s organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  The association claimed at its conclusion that the revival had drawn over 2 million attendees and received over 1.5 million letters.