Selma to Saigon: The Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War

By Sturdevant, Rick W. | Air Power History, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Selma to Saigon: The Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War


Sturdevant, Rick W., Air Power History


Selma to Saigon: The Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. By Daniel S. Lucks. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2014. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. viii, 366. $35.00 ISBN: 978-0-8131-4507-5

Since the 1960s, historians and specialists in other disciplines have written much about the Vietnam War and much, if not more, about the civil rights movement. Fewer, such as Lawrence Eldridge and Simon Hall, have focused on interrelated aspects of the conflict in Southeast Asia and the civil rights struggle in the United States. Now, in Selma to Saigon, Daniel Lucks drills deeply into how leaders of the civil rights movement responded to rising antiwar sentiment during the 1960s. He concludes that the Vietnam War supplanted civil rights as the most pressing issue and polarized the struggle for racial justice at home, ultimately derailing prospects for further advances in civil rights after passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

A refinement of Lucks's doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley, Selma to Saigon begins with an explanation of how leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sought self-preservation dining the early 1950s: they abandoned left-wing opposition to racism and anti-colonialism and pragmatically adopted Cold War liberalism. The organization purged itself of ties to communism and other left-wing ideologies. As American military activity in Vietnam intensified during the latter half of the 1960s, NAACP leader Roy Wilkins and the organization's hierarchy refused to criticize President Lyndon Johnson's conduct of the war.

More than anything else, the emergence of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the early 1960s "emboldened and reoriented the civil rights movement, giving it an anti-imperialist and pacifist sensibility." Its fidelity to nonviolence shaped SNCC's opposition to U.S. military action abroad, and its identification with foreign anticolonial struggles left the organization's membership open to communists and other left-wing thinkers. …

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