"Front Stoops in the Fifties" recounts the stories of some of
Baltimore's most famous personalities as they grew up during the
"decade of conformity." Such familiar names as Jerry Leiber, Nancy
Pelosi, Thurgood Marshall, and Barry Levinson figure prominently in
Michael Olesker's gripping account, which draws on personal
interviews and journalistic digging.
Olesker marks the end of the fifties with the assassination of
President John F. Kennedy. "It's as if millions will suddenly
decide to act out their anxieties and their rage, as if Kennedy's
murder exposed some hypocrisy at the heart of the American dream,"
he writes. Focusing on the period leading up to this turning point
in U.S. history, Olesker looks to the individuals living through
the changes that were just beginning to surface and would later
come to prominence in the sixties.
The fifties are often remembered with longing as a more innocent
time. But it was also a suffocating time for many. Alongside
innocence was ignorance. Olesker tells the story of Nancy
D'Alesandro Pelosi, daughter of the mayor, who grew up in a
political home and eventually became the first woman Speaker of the
House. Thurgood Marshall, schooled in a racially segregated
classroom, went on to argue "Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka"
before the Supreme Court and rewrite U.S. race-relations law. Even
the music changed. Olesker's doo-wop portrait of Baltimore is
nostalgic, but it has a hard edge.
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