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In 1958, an African-American handyman named Jimmy Wilson was sentenced to die in Alabama for stealing two dollars. Shocking as this sentence was, it was overturned only after intense international attention and the interference of an embarrassed John Foster Dulles. Soon after the United States' segregated military defeated a racist regime in World War II, American racism was a major concern of U.S. allies, a chief Soviet propaganda theme, and an obstacle to American Cold War goals throughout Africa, Asia, and ...
In 1958, an African-American handyman named Jimmy Wilson was sentenced to die in Alabama for stealing two dollars. Shocking as this sentence was, it was overturned only after intense international attention and the interference of an embarrassed John Foster Dulles. Soon after the United States' segregated military defeated a racist regime in World War II, American racism was a major concern of U.S. allies, a chief Soviet propaganda theme, and an obstacle to American Cold War goals throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Each lynching harmed foreign relations, and "the Negro problem" became a central issue in every administration from Truman to Johnson.
In what may be the best analysis of how international relations affected any domestic issue, Mary Dudziak interprets postwar civil rights as a Cold War feature. She argues that the Cold War helped facilitate key social reforms, including desegregation. Civil rights activists gained tremendous advantage as the government sought to polish its international image. But improving the nation's reputation did not always require real change. This focus on image rather than substance--combined with constraints on McCarthy-era political activism and the triumph of law-and-order rhetoric--limited the nature and extent of progress.
Archival information, much of it newly available, supports Dudziak's argument that civil rights was Cold War policy. But the story is also one of people: an African-American veteran of World War II lynched in Georgia; an attorney general flooded by civil rights petitions from abroad; the teenagers who desegregated Little Rock's Central High; African diplomats denied restaurant service; black artists living in Europe and supporting the civil rights movement from overseas; conservative politicians viewing desegregation as a communist plot; and civil rights leaders who saw their struggle eclipsed by Vietnam.
Never before has any scholar so directly connected civil rights and the Cold War. Contributing mightily to our understanding of both, Dudziak advances--in clear and lively prose--a new wave of scholarship that corrects isolationist tendencies in American history by applying an international perspective to domestic affairs.
In her new preface, Dudziak discusses the way the Cold War figures into civil rights history, and details this book's origins, as one question about civil rights could not be answered without broadening her research from domestic to international influences on American history.
"This nuanced, scholarly appraisal of the relationship between foreign policy and the civil rights story offers a fresh and provocative perspective on twentieth-century American history."—Harvard Law Review
"Carefully reasoned, containing vivid accounts, and thoroughly documented with illustrations and 55 pages of explanatory notes, this work helps us rethink the familiar by analyzing the subject matter from a new perspective. It will have broad appeal to historians, other academicians and lay readers interested in American foreign policy and race relations . . ."—Library Journal
"Mary L. Dudziak . . . astutely explores the intimate relationship between the policy of communist containment and the civil rights movement. . . . Her book thoughtfully and thoroughly documents how ridiculous and hypocritical we appeared to the post-colonial, newly emerging nations of Africa and Asia by championing the ideals of freedom, democracy and economic equity around the world while at the same time shamelessly denying access to those very same principles to millions of Americans at home."—Edward C. Smith, The Washington Times
"Dudziak earns high praise for her superb work."—Choice
"[An] important book"—H.W. Brands, Reviews in American History
"Cold War Civil Rights challenges readers to think globally and locally about the relation between the Cold War and civil rights. It also provides food for thought on the post-Cold War era."—Laurie B. Green, Law and History Review
"A meticulously researched and eloquently composed study."—Desmond King, Education Supplement
"Dudziak has marshalled an impressive array of primary source material to substantiate her case, but is is never allowed to hinder the unfolding narrative of the civil rights movement in general or her thesis in particular. . . . [An] excellent study."—George Lewis, Ethnic & Racial Studies
"An intelligent and informative book that is sure to become a staple of both civil rights and Cold War historiography."—Steven F. Lawson, American Historical Review
"Civil rights activists' efforts were watched carefully by the nation and by the world, and now are described and analyzed for us all with masterful skill by Mary Dudziak in Cold War Civil Rights. Although the Cold War is over, race remains a critical feature of global politics. As recent events remind us so well, much appears to be tied loosely with the destiny of democracy in the United States and the way that the country is seen by a diverse and divided world. In understanding this process, the issues at stake, the roles that individuals play, and the implications for human rights, Cold War Civil Rights will provide enormous assistance."—Paul Gordon Lauren, Human Rights Quarterly
"Dudziak marvelously frames her discussion of the US civil rights movement in the international and Cold War context in such a way that raises, discusses, and illuminates larger issues that help us to understand how the struggle for human rights proceeds."—Carlo Krieger, Human Rights Quarterly
"Dudziak's argument is clearly written, prodigiously researched, and profoundly important. . . . Cold War Civil Rights . . . is the most comprehensively researched study of the connection between foreign and domestic racial politics in the post-World War II era. Dudziak's book will inspire a reconsideration of postwar civil rights history."—Alex Lubin, American Quarterly
Posted September 15, 2000
I've seen an advance copy of this book and it is remarkable. Dudziak shows the intimate connections between the civil rights movement and America's Cold War struggles. While others have made this claim, none have done so as thoroughly or convincingly. Her analysis will revolutionize thinking about the origins of the civil rights movement, making it required reading for all scholars of American race relations. More importantly, average readers who want a better understanding of America's fight for racial equality will enjoy and profit from it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.