Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy

Princeton University Press
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In 1958, an African-American handyman named Jimmy Wilson was sentenced to die in Alabama for stealing two dollars. Shocking as this sentence was, it was overturned only after intense international attention and the interference of an embarrassed John Foster Dulles. Soon after the United States' segregated military defeated a racist regime in World War II, American racism was a major concern of U.S. allies, a chief Soviet propaganda theme, and an obstacle to American Cold War goals throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Each lynching harmed foreign relations, and "the Negro problem" became a central issue in every administration from Truman to Johnson.

In what may be the best analysis of how international relations affected any domestic issue, Mary Dudziak interprets postwar civil rights as a Cold War feature. She argues that the Cold War helped facilitate key social reforms, including desegregation. Civil rights activists gained tremendous advantage as the government sought to polish its international image. But improving the nation's reputation did not always require real change. This focus on image rather than substance--combined with constraints on McCarthy-era political activism and the triumph of law-and-order rhetoric--limited the nature and extent of progress.


Archival information, much of it newly available, supports Dudziak's argument that civil rights was Cold War policy. But the story is also one of people: an African-American veteran of World War II lynched in Georgia; an attorney general flooded by civil rights petitions from abroad; the teenagers who desegregated Little Rock's Central High; African diplomats denied restaurant service; black artists living in Europe and supporting the civil rights movement from overseas; conservative politicians viewing desegregation as a communist plot; and civil rights leaders who saw their struggle eclipsed by Vietnam.


Never before has any scholar so directly connected civil rights and the Cold War. Contributing mightily to our understanding of both, Dudziak advances--in clear and lively prose--a new wave of scholarship that corrects isolationist tendencies in American history by applying an international perspective to domestic affairs.


In her new preface, Dudziak discusses the way the Cold War figures into civil rights history, and details this book's origins, as one question about civil rights could not be answered without broadening her research from domestic to international influences on American history.

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About the author

Mary L. Dudziak is professor of law, history, and political science at the University of Southern California. Her books include Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall's African Journey, September 11 in History, and Legal Borderlands.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jul 11, 2011
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9781400839889
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Modern / 20th Century
History / United States / 20th Century
History / World
Political Science / International Relations / Diplomacy
Political Science / International Relations / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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After World War II the United States faced two preeminent challenges: how to administer its responsibilities abroad as the world's strongest power, and how to manage the rising movement at home for racial justice and civil rights. The effort to contain the growing influence of the Soviet Union resulted in the Cold War, a conflict that emphasized the American commitment to freedom. The absence of that freedom for nonwhite American citizens confronted the nation's leaders with an embarrassing contradiction.

Racial discrimination after 1945 was a foreign as well as a domestic problem. World War II opened the door to both the U.S. civil rights movement and the struggle of Asians and Africans abroad for independence from colonial rule. America's closest allies against the Soviet Union, however, were colonial powers whose interests had to be balanced against those of the emerging independent Third World in a multiracial, anticommunist alliance. At the same time, U.S. racial reform was essential to preserve the domestic consensus needed to sustain the Cold War struggle.

The Cold War and the Color Line is the first comprehensive examination of how the Cold War intersected with the final destruction of global white supremacy. Thomas Borstelmann pays close attention to the two Souths--Southern Africa and the American South--as the primary sites of white authority's last stand. He reveals America's efforts to contain the racial polarization that threatened to unravel the anticommunist western alliance. In so doing, he recasts the history of American race relations in its true international context, one that is meaningful and relevant for our own era of globalization.



Table of Contents:

Preface

Prologue

1. Race and Foreign Relations before 1945
2. Jim Crow's Coming Out
3. The Last Hurrah of the Old Color Line
4. Revolutions in the American South and Southern Africa
5. The Perilous Path to Equality
6. The End of the Cold War and White Supremacy

Epilogue

Notes
Archives and Manuscript Collections
Index



Reviews of this book:
In rich, informing detail enlivened with telling anecdote, Cornell historian Borstelmann unites under one umbrella two commonly separated strains of the U.S. post-WWII experience: our domestic political and cultural history, where the Civil Rights movement holds center stage, and our foreign policy, where the Cold War looms largest...No history could be more timely or more cogent. This densely detailed book, wide ranging in its sources, contains lessons that could play a vital role in reshaping American foreign and domestic policy.
--Publishers Weekly

Reviews of this book:
[Borstelmann traces] the constellation of racial challenges each administration faced (focusing particularly on African affairs abroad and African American civil rights at home), rather than highlighting the crises that made headlines...By avoiding the crutch of "turning points" for storytelling convenience, he makes a convincing case that no single event can be untied from a constantly thickening web of connections among civil rights, American foreign policy, and world affairs.
--Jesse Berrett, Village Voice

Reviews of this book:
Borstelmann...analyzes the history of white supremacy in relation to the history of the Cold War, with particular emphasis on both African Americans and Africa. In a book that makes a good supplement to Mary Dudziak's Cold War Civil Rights, he dissects the history of U.S. domestic race relations and foreign relations over the past half-century...This book provides new insights into the dynamics of American foreign policy and international affairs and will undoubtedly be a useful and welcome addition to the literature on U.S. foreign policy and race relations. Recommended.
--Edward G. McCormack, Library Journal
Hours after the collapse of the Twin Towers, the idea that the September 11 attacks had “changed everything” permeated American popular and political discussion. In the period since then, the events of September 11 have been used to justify profound changes in U.S. public policy and foreign relations. Bringing together leading scholars of history, law, literature, and Islam, September 11 in History asks whether the attacks and their aftermath truly marked a transition in U.S. and world history or whether they are best understood in the context of pre-existing historical trajectories.

From a variety of perspectives, the contributors to this collection scrutinize claims about September 11, in terms of both their historical validity and their consequences. Essays range from an analysis of terms like “ground zero,” “homeland,” and “the axis of evil” to an argument that the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay has become a site for acting out a repressed imperial history. Examining the effect of the attacks on Islamic self-identity, one contributor argues that Osama bin Laden enacted an interpretation of Islam on September 11 and asserts that progressive Muslims must respond to it. Other essays focus on the deployment of Orientalist tropes in categorizations of those who “look Middle Eastern,” the blurring of domestic and international law evident in a number of legal developments including the use of military tribunals to prosecute suspected terrorists, and the justifications for and consequences of American unilateralism. This collection ultimately reveals that everything did not change on September 11, 2001, but that some foundations of democratic legitimacy have been significantly eroded by claims that it did.

Contributors
Khaled Abou el Fadl
Mary L. Dudziak
Christopher L. Eisgruber
Laurence R. Helfer
Sherman A. Jackson
Amy B. Kaplan
Elaine Tyler May
Lawrence G. Sager
Ruti G. Teitel
Leti Volpp
Marilyn B. Young

Thurgood Marshall became a living icon of civil rights when he argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court in 1954. Six years later, he was at a crossroads. A rising generation of activists were making sit-ins and demonstrations rather than lawsuits the hallmark of the civil rights movement. What role, he wondered, could he now play? When in 1960 Kenyan independence leaders asked him to help write their constitution, Marshall threw himself into their cause. Here was a new arena in which law might serve as the tool with which to forge a just society. In Exporting American Dreams , Mary Dudziak recounts with poignancy and power the untold story of Marshall's journey to Africa. African Americans were enslaved when the U.S. constitution was written. In Kenya, Marshall could become something that had not existed in his own country: a black man helping to found a nation. He became friends with Kenyan leaders Tom Mboya and Jomo Kenyatta, serving as advisor to the Kenyans, who needed to demonstrate to Great Britain and to the world that they would treat minority races (whites and Asians) fairly once Africans took power. He crafted a bill of rights, aiding constitutional negotiations that helped enable peaceful regime change, rather than violent resistance. Marshall's involvement with Kenya's foundation affirmed his faith in law, while also forcing him to understand how the struggle for justice could be compromised by the imperatives of sovereignty. Marshall's beliefs were most sorely tested later in the decade when he became a Supreme Court Justice, even as American cities erupted in flames and civil rights progress stalled. Kenya's first attempt at democracy faltered, but Marshall's African journey remained a cherished memory of a time and a place when all things seemed possible.
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