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

By Mary L. Dudziak | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

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

LEWIS ALLAN AND EARL ROBINSON,
“THE HOUSE I LIVE IN” (1942)1

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xi
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter 1 - Coming to Terms with Cold War Civil Rights 18
  • Chapter 2 - Telling Stories About Race and Democracy 47
  • Chapter 3 - Fighting the Cold War with Civil Rights Reform 79
  • Chapter 4 - Holding the Line in Little Rock 115
  • Chapter 5 - Losing Control in Camelot 152
  • Chapter 6 - Shifting the Focus of America's Image Abroad 203
  • Conclusion 249
  • Notes 255
  • Acknowledgments 311
  • Index 317
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