Religion & Faith

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

His Holiness Pope Pius XII

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.

Image Credit: The Vatican

September 7, 1957 – Elvis Records His Christmas Album


On September 7, 1957, visions of sugar plums replaced palm trees as Elvis concluded three days at Radio Recorders studio in Hollywood recording the tracks for Elvis’ Christmas Album, to be released in October.  The collection of popular and sacred Christmas songs and four previously-released gospel favorites, Presley’s fourth recording for RCA Victor Records, would go on to multi-platinum status and be reissued in many different formats over the years.  Elvis stayed in a proper Christmas mood for most of the tracks – the gospel songs, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “Silent Night”, “Here Comes Santa Claus”, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, and “White Christmas” – but let loose a little on Ernest Tubbs’ “Blue Christmas” and gave a very merry spin to two songs commissioned specifically for the album.  The first was “Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me)”, by Aaron Schroeder and Claude Demetrius. The second was written on the spot in the studio at Elvis’ request by the team who wrote many of his biggest hits, including “Jailhouse Rock”: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.  Elvis choose Leiber and Stoller’s blues-y, rock-and-roll “Santa Claus is Back in Town” to lead off Side One of the album, which dedicated one side to the secular selections and the other side to the sacred.

Elvis’ Christmas Album spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, but was not without its share of controversy.  Irving Berlin, composer of “White Christmas”, attempted to have the song and the entire album banned from radio play.  Bing Crosby’s famous version of the almost-instant classic appeared on the Billboard charts every year from 1942 to 1962, and Berlin obviously much preferred der Bingle’s rendition.  Calling it “a profane parody of his cherished yuletide standard,” Berlin instructed his staff to call radio stations nationwide to demand Elvis’ off-White version be kept off the air.  Most radio stations, recognizing a good-for-business-hit when they heard one, refused to comply.  If teenage girls couldn’t have Elvis and a sprig of mistletoe for Christmas, the next best thing would be this album.  With its gospel favorites and classic carols, Mom and Dad might even want to listen, too.

Image Credit: RCA Victor Records

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.

Image Credit: American Broadcasting Company

1957 Books – Award-Winning Biographies

1957 was a banner year for biographers. Of the eighteen books honored with National Book Awards for non-fiction, nine volumes told the tale of lives lived in dramatic and historic ways.

American readers were interested in leaders. United States Presidents and Senators, and one English King were profiled in six books. Science was also a topic of interest. Two multi-talented men – a physicist and a naturalist – penned autobiographies. Finally, the only female biographer memorialized the only female subject – a nun.

The Presidents? Franklin D. Roosevelt – who the public still revered – two volumes. John Quincy Adams – one volume. The Senators – one volume exclusively dedicated to Thomas Hart Benton, and another volume covering a selection of eight iconoclastic legislators who defied their parties in memorable ways (including then-Senator John Quincy Adams and Thomas Hart Benton). The King? The embattled, possibly deformed “Son of York” – Richard III.

Physicist Arthur H. Compton recounted his contribution to the Manhattan Project. Naturalist Edwin W. Teale took readers on a cross-country autumn jaunt.

And Kathryn Hulme shared the early experiences of Belgian-born Sister Luke, still alive at the time The Nun’s Story was published. Hulme met Sister Xaverine (Marie Louise Habets’ real religious name) when they were both serving in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration after World War II. Sister Luke’s story was also made into a 1959 popular movie, starring Audrey Hepburn.

Americans were not only interested in leaders as subjects of biography, they were also interested in leaders as biographers. Then-Senator and future President John F. Kennedy penned the senatorial collection, Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer prize for biography in 1957. Profiles in Courage is also one of only two awarded volumes still in print. Professor Paul Murray Kendall’s Richard III (still considered the academic standard biography) is the other.

The list of award finalists (in alphabetical order by author):

  • John Quincy Adams and the Union, by Samuel F. Bemis
  • Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox, by James MacGregor Burns
  • Old Bullion Benton, by William Chambers
  • The Atomic Quest: A Personal Narrative, by Arthur H. Compton
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Triumph, by Frank Freidel
  • The Nun’s Story, by Kathryn Hulme
  • Richard III, by Paul Murray Kendall
  • Profiles in Courage, by John F. Kennedy
  • Autumn Across America, by Edwin W. Teale

Image Credits: Alfred A. Knopf; Harcourt, Brace & Co; Little, Brown & Co; Oxford University Press; Allen & Unwin; Harper & Brothers; Dodd, Mead & Co/abebooks.com

 

Where Were They Then? – Wisconsin High School Class of 1957

Wisconsin Longitudinal Study LogoMortarboards off to the Wisconsin high school Class of 1957! Thousands of graduates from across the state have participated throughout their lives in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, filling out questionnaires and giving interviews. These proto-boomers, born mostly in 1939, have provided extensive insight into (take a deep breath), “the life course, intergenerational transfers and relationships, family functioning, physical and mental health and well-being, morbidity and mortality . . . . social background, youthful aspirations, schooling, military service, labor market experiences, family characteristics and events, social participation, psychological characteristics and retirement.”

Initial surveys undertaken by the University of Wisconsin to prepare for the boomer generation languished for five years in a basement. In 1962, astute sociologist William Sewell recognized the potential treasure trove of student data and followed up by phone and postcard. The life outcomes for the student cohort and their family members have been studied right up to the present.

What did the researchers find over the years? Interviews with the graduates, their spouses and family members in this highly successful and respected study shows that “so much of everything that happened to these people later in their lives really depended on whether they went to college after high school.” Most of them stayed put in Wisconsin, enjoyed long, happy marriages, parented two or more children, and maintained productive work lives. Men earned significantly more than women, on average, and virtually all had access to health insurance coverage. They consume alcohol a bit more than the national average, and tend to be overweight, but are enjoying generally good health. They have lived active lives and many have volunteered in their communities, most frequently with faith-based or political organizations. A drawback? They are a fairly homogenous sample – mostly white high-school graduates of European ancestry, with only a few persons of African-American, Hispanic, or Asian background included.

Investigators have been impressed with the willingness of the graduates to participate in this decades-long study. “A lot of people in the study understand what they’re doing is contributing to something bigger,” Pam Herd, a co-principal investigator states. “This will help out future generations,” confirms Gregory Schill,  Madison East High School Class of ’57.

Image Credit: University of Wisconsin

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

Embed from Getty Images

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.