Mad Men and the missing Civil Rights Movement


Mad Men is about a lot of things in the 1960’s but one thing it is not about is the Civil Rights Movement. That is way off to the side, not apart of the life of any of the main characters. I think that is just brilliant.

It is hard to tell from this close, but I think that the most important, long lasting, earth shattering, thing that came out of the 1960’s was the Civil Rights Movement. When I was a child, the typical black person was Stepen Fetchet or Uncle Ramos, by the time I was twenty five, the typical black person became Bobby Seale or Eldridge Cleaver.

Bobby Seal Elridge Cleaver

There was no stopping in the middle. Between the 50s and the 70s – that is the 60s – blacks went from being friendly but powerless to scary but powerless. It is hard to overstate how marginalized blacks were. For example, Willie Wood , of USC,  was the Pac 8’s first black quarterback – now this is California, not the south – and he led USC to
a conference championship. In the pros, he could only play defense. Blacks weren’t considered good enough – although nobody said it, but I think they were not considered smart enough to boss around white guys – to play quarterback.

Another example, much closer to home (both figuratively and literally). We had a black – I so much wanted to type in colored – cleaning lady, Carrie, who came in once a week. Behind our home was a one way dirt alley and one day, as Carrie was coming to work, a white kid – driving the wrong way down the alley – hit her. The cops showed up, took one look at black Carrie and then the white kid and gave HER a ticket – now, this is still California. I tried to talk her into fighting the ticket, but, wisely I think now, she said No.

Now, back to Mad Men. What is so brilliant, I am sorry to say, is that Mad Men – by only showing a black maid and elevator operator – shows that the Civil Rights movement was not in most white people’s lives. Oh, sure, we felt superior because the papers all made it look like a southern thing. But, really, it was a white thing. The world was changing and most of us were too busy with our daily lives – just trying to keep one nostril above the water line – to do anything but – slightly – notice the world changing.


3 thoughts on “Mad Men and the missing Civil Rights Movement

  1. I am reading The Help which takes place in Mississippi in 1963. It is eerily like what I remember life like with Lena. Lena was warm and humorous, a great cook and won the pie contest at the state fair, had a child living with her mother who she only saw a couple of times a month. She was the unofficial mother of my world. But she was clearly The Maid. As three dimensional as she was, she was painted two dimensionally.

  2. I think that as three dimensional as Lena was – as Carla was in Mad Men, as any black person was in the 50s – their blackness was the over-riding and dimension removing characteristic.

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