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Laura McEnaney on: Flaws in Civil Defense Plans
Laura McEnaney Q: Both government strategies of shelter and then of evacuation would only have protected a small part of American society. Can you talk about that?

LM: The shelter program of the Truman administration and later the shelter program of the Eisenhower administration, as well as the evacuation plan of the Eisenhower administration, were premised on the idea of home ownership and automobile ownership. And in the 1950s only about sixty percent of Americans owned, lived in owned structures.

So about forty percent of the American people did not live in structures that they owned...They lived in apartment buildings. There were of course people living in dormitories, incarcerated populations, people living in rental spaces in urban areas. Most of these people were on the lower end of the economic scale. The presumption that all Americans were middle class Americans who lived in single family homes that they owned did not bear out when one looked at the census data. So that was one of the reasons these plans were flawed because they didn't do their homework to understand what kinds of populations they were talking about, who they were pitching this too, who actually had the economic opportunity to exercise self-help.

Well, of course, if you look at the census data in the 1950s, the people who did not own their homes were mainly poor white people and people of color. Many African Americans, for example, did not live in owner-occupied dwellings. They were renters. And so they had to depend on public transportation to get to the evacuation site, which was not available. Or they had to depend on the owner of the apartment building, building a shelter which was rarely done. So that left them with very few options.

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