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Cold War Civil Rights:
Race and the Image of American Democracy
Mary L. Dudziak
With a new preface by the author

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2001

Paperback | 2011 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691152431
352 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 16 halftones. 1 map.
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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.

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.


"Groundbreaking."--American Lawyer

"[An] important book"--H. W. Brands, Reviews in American History

"A meticulously researched and eloquently composed study."--Desmond King, Times Higher Education Supplement

"In her long-awaited book, Mary Dudziak brilliantly demonstrates the interconnections between race relations and the American response to the early Cold War. . . . Dudziak sets a new standard for literature on race and Cold War foreign policy. . . . Her work deserves a wide audience."--Laura Belmonte, Journal of Cold War Studies

"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

"Mary Dudziak's sophisticated account of race, reform, and international relations in post-World War II America is an outstanding work that should help historians rethink the early Cold War era."--David Farber, H-Pol, H-Net Reviews

"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

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Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations xiii
Preface to the 2011 Edition xv
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
Notes 255
Acknowledgments 311
Index 317

Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Mary L. Dudziak:


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