The Cold War and the Color Line: Race Relations in the Global Arena

Article excerpt


Thomas Borstelmann

Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2002, xv, 369pp, US$35.00, ISBN 0-674-00597-X

One of the few positive, if unexpected, consequences to emerge from the Allied victory over fascism was the light it cast on the discrepancy between the high-gloss of presidential rhetoric (notably Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Four Freedoms) and the more mundane but still malignant racist practices which defined the American polity. In the emerging ideologically polarized cold war milieu, civil rights advocates and their supporters argued that America, as the globe's pre-eminent superpower, could no longer indulge in such antiquated racial governance.

With the luxury of hindsight, it is easy to conclude that the forces of segregation (domestically) and anti-colonialism (internationally) were historically foreordained to be vanquished. As Borstelmann usefully reminds us in his lucid study, this appeared anything but the case at the time. The proponents of racial equality had to contend with the formidable advantages that the apostles of segregation enjoyed - institutionally, the predominant control of three branches of government and publicly, especially in the south, the historically ingrained high degree of public support.

These obstacles were eventually overcome, largely by dint of 'bottoms up' sustained grass-roots activism. Careful to seek broad alliances at home and to forge coalitions abroad with embryonic like-minded Third World anti-colonial organizations in which the bonds of mutual sympathy and solidarity were ultimately created and sustained, this brand of activism, in tandem with the eventually more enlightened executive and judicial leadership that followed, was slowly able to alter the nature of American racial consciousness. …


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