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Front Stoops in the Fifties

, 248 pages

11 halftones

September 2013



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Front Stoops in the Fifties

Baltimore Legends Come of Age


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 U.S. Supreme Court and rewrite race-relations law. Even the music changed. Olesker’s doo-wop portrait of Baltimore is nostalgic, but it has a hard edge.

Michael Olesker wrote a column for the Baltimore Sun for twenty-five years. He is the author of five previous books, including Michael Olesker's Baltimore: If You Live Here, You're Home, Journeys to the Heart of Baltimore, and The Colts' Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s.

"Front Stoops in the Fifties is a fascinating read; one which convincingly makes the case that what was happening in the Baltimore of the 1950s was a microcosm of the shift that was happening all across America. The shocking part is just how relevant these stories remain today."

"A highly readable local history lesson on the good, the bad, and the ugly of life here in the extremely edgy city of Baltimore, Maryland. Michael Olesker digs deep and his scathing, alarming, and sometimes hilarious reporting of our past asks the question—have we come a long way in fifty years or are our race and class issues still scarily the same?"

"As someone who lived those very years, growing up in Baltimore, Michael Olesker brought back so many precise memories—with that enameled wisdom of a fine reporter that made me understand better what I had only fondly remembered. He got that old town of mine pitch perfect."

"Through crisp writing and a careful synthesis of facts and events, Olesker makes a case that transformative changes in the American landscape were already taking place—and many of them had their origins amid the seeming innocence of Baltimore in the 1950s. From early rock 'n' roll to block-busting and urban flight, from the death of school prayer to the embrace of American youth culture, he chronicles a city at the brink. Front Stoops in the Fifties is a crisp, insightful dispatch from a skilled writer who knows his city and its history."

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