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Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of…
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Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (2000)

by Mary L. Dudziak

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Mary L. Dudziak’s Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy begins with an international incident of U.S. race relations and its impact on anticommunism efforts. Her book is about how domestic concerns were managed and presented for international consumption. She demonstrates how Southerners used the perceived threat of communism to justify their actions as a defense of individual freedom. Dudziak argues, “During the Cold War years, when international perceptions of American democracy were thought to affect the nation’s ability to maintain its leadership role, and particularly to ensure that democracy would be appealing to newly independent nations in Asia and Africa, the diplomatic impact of race in America was especially stark” (pg. 6). Further, “Civil rights groups had to walk a fine line, making it clear that their reform efforts were meant to fill out the contours of American democracy, and not to challenge or undermine it. Organizations outside a narrowing sphere of civil rights politics found it difficult to survive the Cold War years. Under the strictures of Cold War politics, a broad, international critique of racial oppression was out of place” (pg. 11). In this way, “Cold War Civil Rights traces the emergence, the development, and the decline of Cold War foreign affairs as a factor in influencing civil rights policy by setting a U.S. history topic within the context of Cold War world history” (pg. 17).
Dudziak writes, “When nonwhite foreign dignitaries visited the United States and encountered discrimination, it led to serious diplomatic consequences. And as tension between the United States and the Soviet Union increased in the years after the war, the Soviets made effective use of U.S. failings in this area in anti-American propaganda” (pg. 27). She continues, “The best-developed presentation of the government position on race appeared in The Negro in American Life, a USIA pamphlet written in 1950 or 1951. This pamphlet revealed, rather than concealed, the nation’s past failings, and did so for the purpose of presenting American history as a story of redemption…Democracy, not totalitarian forms of government, it argued, provided a context that made reconciliation and redemption possible” (pg. 49). Describing the role of the Red Scare, Dudzia writes, “Senator [Richard B.] Russell [of Georgia] turned the Cold War argument on its head. In a political and cultural climate steeped in anticommunism, arguing that civil rights reform would be a capitulation to communists, who themselves must clearly be pursuing ulterior motives to undermine American society, proved to be a very effective strategy” (pg. 89).
Discussing integration, Dudziak writes, “It was a short step, in the consciousness of 1950s Americans, from international criticisms to Cold War implications. U.S. editorial writers and political figures regularly noted the negative impact Little Rock was thought to have on the nation’s standing in the Cold War. The Soviet Union’s extensive use of Little Rock in anti-American propaganda – often simply republishing facts disseminated by U.S. news sources – reinforced the concern that Little Rock redounded to the benefit of America’s opponents in the battle for the hearts and minds of people around the world” (pg. 121). She continues, “From the perspective of President Eisenhower, the core interests at stake in Little Rock had more to do with federal authority and foreign affairs than with racial equality” (pg. 151). Describing the impact of events on third-world nonaligned nations, Dudziak writes, “Africans were particularly tuned to U.S. racial problems. As a result, State Department officials were greatly troubled by the implications of discrimination for U.S. national security. One concern – a motivating issue since the late 1940s – was how race discrimination in the United States would affect Cold War alignments” (pg. 153). A particular embarrassment was the series of petty injustices visited upon foreign diplomats whose work in the United States took them through the South. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Jan 12, 2018 |
OUTSTANDING!
  Brightman | Feb 27, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0691095132, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:27 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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.… (more)

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