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

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

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

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

Synopsis

"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." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

All races and religions, that's America to me.

LEWIS ALLAN AND EARL ROBINSON,
“THE HOUSE I LIVE IN” (1942)

Jimmy Wilson's name has not been remembered in the annals of Cold War history, but in 1958, this African American handyman was at the center of international attention. After he was sentenced to death in Alabama for stealing less than two dollars in change, Wilson's case was thought to epitomize the harsh consequences of American racism. It brought to the surface international anxiety about the state of American race relations. Because the United States was the presumptive leader of the free world, racism in the nation was a matter of international concern. How could American democracy be a beacon during the Cold War, and a model for those struggling against Soviet oppression, if the United States itself practiced brutal discrimination against minorities within its own borders?

Jimmy Wilson's unexpected entry into this international dilemma began on July 27, 1957. The facts of the unhappy events setting off his travails are unclear. Wilson had worked for Estelle Barker, an elderly white woman, in Marion, Alabama. He later told a Toronto reporter that he had simply wanted to borrow money from her against his future earnings, as he had in the past. As Wilson told the . . .

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