White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery

By Herbert Shapiro | Go to book overview

TWELVE
Wartime Violence

THE 1940s dramatically changed the context within which the struggle against white racist violence was fought out. A basic factor was war and its effect upon the internal dynamics of American society. First, the conditioning factor of war operated as World War II brought the United States into armed conflict with Fascist nations avowing theories of racial superiority and domination over so-called inferior races. Then, following 1945, American society was shaped by the context of the cold war, the years-long era of tension and conflict that saw the United States project itself as the champion of democracy against the assumed absolute evil of communism. The war society produced a rapid acceleration in the urban migration of blacks from the South's rural areas into the cities of the South, the North, and the Far West. Afro-Americans approached the point at which they would be the most urbanized of any ethnic group in American society. The world influence now exerted by the United States internationalized in a qualitatively new way the situation of American blacks. Out of the war would emerge the United Nations, and that international organization would provide a forum from which American racism could be indicted. The experience of fascism had convincingly demonstrated that there was not an absolute line between a nation's foreign policy and the structure of its society, and many would believe there was something profoundly wrong with a leader of world democracy that tolerated brutal treatment of minority people.

The war experience, in both its hot and cold versions, accustomed American society to greater reliance on force. A society now possessing incalculable means of destruction could convince itself that force was the efficacious method for resolving difficult issues. These years also institutionalized policies of repression on a scale and with consequences that we have only recently begun to comprehend with recourse to disclosures authorized by the Freedom of Information Act and the publication of congressional findings concerning governmental abuse of power.

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