Cover image for Cold War civil rights : race and the image of American democracy
Cold War civil rights : race and the image of American democracy
Dudziak, Mary L., 1956-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xii, 330 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Format :


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Material Type
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E185.61 .D85 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E185.61 .D85 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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 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.

Author Notes

Mary L. Dudziak is Professor of Law at the University of Southern California, where she teaches civil rights history and constitutional law. She has published widely on twentieth-century legal history and civil rights history.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Analyzing the impact of Cold War foreign affairs on U.S. civil rights reform, Dudziak (law and civil rights history, Univ. of Southern California) contends that civil rights crises became foreign affairs crises and that continuing racial injustice in the United States was not in America's best interest because the Soviet Union used the race issue prominently in anti-American propaganda. Dudziak draws upon a variety of primary sources, particularly newly available archival resources, as well as secondary sources to demonstrate that the Cold War instituted a constraining environment for domestic politics and thereby facilitated some major social reforms, such as desegregation. The strength of the book is in its details and in the sensitive discussions of victims of American post-World War II racism. Carefully reasoned, containing vivid accounts, and thoroughly documented with illustrations and 55 pages of explanatory notes, this work helps us to 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 and is a useful supplement to Michael L. Krenn's The Impact of Race on U.S. Foreign Policy (Garland, 1999).DEdward G. McCormack, Univ. of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Lib., Long Beach (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

It is a genuine pleasure to read a truly scholarly study that evokes the reviewer's personal memories of events and sense of the weltanschauung of the era under consideration. Dudziak earns high praise for her superb work, which focuses on 1945 through 1968. Linkages between US domestic politics and US foreign policy, not widely acknowledged 35 years ago, are now well recognized, although still subject to considerable contention as to the strength of forces and relationships. However, this book should put to rest arguments about its theme, as it extends the perspective beyond official actions to embrace social change. This fine volume is a reminder, for example, that the Good War for democracy against the Axis awakened in at least some citizens the need for keen attention to racial justice at home. Even more forcefully, it explains coherently how international reactions, from allies and the Soviet Union alike, to American civil rights hypocrisy, both governmental and social, "gave new leverage to the [Civil Rights] movement while restricting the state's options." All collections. R. N. Seidel emeritus, SUNY Empire State College