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The Jan. 1, 1951, issue of LIFE magazine featured a number of articles that, today, feel very much of their own time. For instance, there was a cheerful portrait of an Atomic Energy Commission plant at Oak Ridge, Tenn., “where half of the nation’s A-bomb fuel is made”; a celebration of the GM Le Sabre as “the car of the 1960s”; and a photographic paean to “West Coast Youth” captured by LIFE’s Loomis Dean in an article subtitled, “Brawny and Buoyant, It Is a Bright Asset for the U.S. Future.”
Noting that “just as the West Coast tends to produce bigger and better fruits and vegetables, it is producing a healthier and statistically bigger crop of youngsters,” the article continued:
Anyone who makes it all the way through the photo gallery above, meanwhile, will surely notice that, with perhaps one or two hard-to-find exceptions, the youth pictured here are exclusively white. In the early 1950s, it seems, LIFE magazine—even after the cataclysmic, worldwide “fight for democracy” of the previous decade—didn’t feel compelled to acknowledge the millions of black, Asian and Latino kids living on the West Coast.
Seen in that light—and with the knowledge that the first rumblings of the nascent Civil Rights Movement were just a few years away—it’s tempting to view these pictures as historical artifacts of a specific type: namely, a quaint record of what so many in the media wished 1950s America to be, rather than a chronicle of what 1950s America really looked, acted and sounded like.