White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery

By Herbert Shapiro | Go to book overview

THIRTEEN
Victory without Peace

IF THE ONSET of American participation in World War II set a context for a new, nonviolent civil rights movement, victory over the Axis stimulated longer-established centers of the black movement to connect their activities with an appeal to world opinion. The establishment of the United Nations in 1945 provided a forum through which such an appeal could be directed. The defeat of fascism was a defeat for policies of racism and colonialism, and in this setting it was apparent that the position of Afro-Americans had international implications. Although the National Negro Congress and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were in sharp disagreement with regard to basic views of the black struggle, in the aftermath of the war both groups saw the usefulness of recourse to the United Nations. Whereas appeals against racist violence had often in the past been directed to officers of national government, now the issue was to be laid before a world authority.

The National Negro Congress presented its document, A Petition on Behalf of 13 Million Oppressed Negro Citizens of the United States of America, to the United Nations at Hunter College in New York on June 6, 1946. The appeal drew upon the contribution of blacks to the American democratic heritage. Max Yergan of the NNC declared: "We have fought to preserve the unity of our country within, and to defend it from enemies without. And when the fascist enemies of all mankind recently threatened to overrun the whole world, we joined hands with our country men and with freedom-loving peoples of other lands to crush the fascist monster and to lay the basis for a genuine 'Parliament of Man,' the United Nations." The petition was sharply critical of the Truman administration. Yergan wrote that "it is with genuine anger and disgust that the Negro people like all other friends of freedom, view the hypocrisy of our Government's professions to leadership in the promotion of 'freedom and democracy' throughout the world." Yergan asserted that Secretary of State James F. Byrnes subscribed to the same racist policies as did Adolph

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