Window on Freedom: Race, Civil Rights, and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1988

By Brenda Gayle Plummer | Go to book overview
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Bleached Souls and Red Negroes
The NAACP and Black Communists
in the Early Cold War, 1948–1952
CAROL ANDERSON

Almost a century ago, W. E. B. Du Bois observed “that one ever feels his twoness, an American, a Negro; two warring ideals in one dark body.” 1 During the early years of the Cold War, “two-ness” took on an even more complicated dimension as the American Negro and the Red Negro waged war against each other. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leadership declared its refusal to let the communists “capture split and wreck the NAACP” and went after suspected communists with a vengeance. Walter White, the association's executive secretary, and Roy Wilkins, its chief administrator, vowed to be “utterly ruthless in clean[ing] out the NAACP, and, mak[ing] sure that the Communists were not running it.” 2 While the literature on the complex relationship between African Americans and American socialists and communists continues to grow, few scholars have come to terms with the rancor that the ideological conflicts of the early postwar years engendered among blacks, and the significance of these fratricidal tensions for the character of future black insurgency. 3

In the early 1950s the NAACP leadership was determined to put its resources, expertise, and valued name in the hands of the Truman administration and State Department to beat back damaging Soviet charges of racial discrimination in the United States. Walter White, the NAACP's executive secretary, was outraged that the U.S. government appeared impotent in countering Soviet taunts about American racism. He blasted members of the Senate for allowing the Kremlin to pump the “Third World” with “tragic distortions” about the Roman holiday lynchings and terror-filled elections in the United States. 4

On multiple occasions, White made sure that the Truman administration knew that he was willing to refute “Soviet propaganda” about the oppressive conditions under which black Americans lived. In short, the head of the NAACP was so intent on defending his nation's honor that he was ready to misrepresent the sad state of affairs in black America. In 1951 White published a “Progress Report” on civil rights, which he encouraged Eleanor Roo

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