Winning Our Freedoms Together: African Americans and Apartheid, 1945-1960

Winning Our Freedoms Together: African Americans and Apartheid, 1945-1960

Winning Our Freedoms Together: African Americans and Apartheid, 1945-1960

Winning Our Freedoms Together: African Americans and Apartheid, 1945-1960


In this transnational account of black protest, Nicholas Grant examines how African Americans engaged with, supported, and were inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement. Bringing black activism into conversation with the foreign policy of both the U.S. and South African governments, this study questions the dominant perception that U.S.-centered anticommunism decimated black international activism. Instead, by tracing the considerable amount of time, money, and effort the state invested into responding to black international criticism, Grant outlines the extent to which the U.S. and South African governments were forced to reshape and occasionally reconsider their racial policies in the Cold War world.

This study shows how African Americans and black South Africans navigated transnationally organized state repression in ways that challenged white supremacy on both sides of the Atlantic. The political and cultural ties that they forged during the 1940s and 1950s are testament to the insistence of black activists in both countries that the struggle against apartheid and Jim Crow were intimately interconnected.


The October 1949 edition of New Africa, the monthly anti-imperial bulletin of the New York-based Council on African Affairs (CAA), featured a cartoon depiction of Eric Louw. the image shows Louw, a leading apartheid official and South African representative to the United Nations, dressed in a schoolmaster’s gown and mortarboard standing before a group of white South African students, declaring that “if it’s good enough for America, it’s good enough for us.” Looming behind him, scrawled across the blackboard, is the figure of a hooded Ku Klux Klan member clutching a cross.

This satirical drawing was a response to comments Louw had recently made to the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) citing the policies of the U.S. government as providing a precedent for National Party efforts to “register and supervise” all “ultraliberalistic and leftist organisations” in the country. a key figure in the Department of External Affairs and South African foreign minister between 1957 and 1964, Louw was one of the most visible defenders of apartheid on the international stage. Reflecting his suspicions of the language of human rights and decolonization, his comments show how apartheid policymakers regularly insisted that efforts to criticize South Africa, whether domestic or international, were in fact orchestrated by Soviet-inspired radicals.

Printed at a time when struggles for black self-determination collided with the politics of anticommunism, the cartoon reveals two interconnected networks that shaped anti-apartheid politics between the United States and South Africa in the late 1940s and 1950s. First, the image hints at how the transnational operation of state power was used to stifle movements for black liberation on both sides of the Atlantic. the idea that the National Party was directly inspired by the policies of the U.S. government when dealing with political dissent reveals the extent to which state repression was reinforced across national borders during the early Cold War. This era witnessed the development of a close political, military, and economic alliance between the United States and South African governments. Based around anticommunist beliefs and racist assumptions, this relationship had important implications for black protest movements on . . .

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