Let Freedom Ring: A Documentary History of the Modern Civil Rights Movement

By Peter B. Levy | Go to book overview

Chapter One ANTICIPATING THE MOVEMENT

The eight selections in this chapter present a sense of the mood of America on the eve of the modern civil rights movement. Taken together, they suggest that the nation was on the verge of a major shift in race relations. Even the pieces by Paul and Eslanda Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois, which implicitly reveal the damage that the onset of the Cold War did to the cause of civil rights, are optimistic in their tone. The essays and speeches also anticipate many of the central issues and debates of the civil rights movement.

1.1 Gunnar Myrdal An American Dilemma, published in 1944, is a case in point. Commissioned by the Russell Sage Foundation, Myrdal, a Swedish sociologist, produced one of the most comprehensive studies on race relations in America ever written. The book, and the wide praise and attention that it received, exhibited the intellectual receptivity toward reform in America which existed at the time. Myrdal thesis, that the "Negro problem" in America was largely a moral one, that pitted the reality of racial discrimination against the American creed of equality for all, and that whites, not blacks, were at the center of this problem, would be repeated by many liberals, black and white, in the ensuing years. While nearly all blacks appreciated the sentiment of Myrdal's book, not all agreed with his thesis. A. Philip Randolph and John Henrik Clarke, as we will see, did not see the Negro problem in moral terms nor did they propose that reform depended on whites taking the lead.


1.1 Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modem Democracy (New York: Harper & Row, 1944), pp. lxix-lxxv.

There is a "Negro problem" in the United States and most Americans are aware of it, although it assumes varying forms and intensity in differ-

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