Title: Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy
Author: Mary Dudziak
Year: 2000
Categories: Foreign Policy, Civil Rights, Cold War, Democracy, Ideology, International History
Place: International
Time Period: 1946-1965

Argument Synopsis
Mary Dudziak removes the Civil Rights movement and places it within an international context, arguing that foreign affairs simultaneously facilitated and constrained the movement. American officials increasingly saw the country's racial problems as tarnishing its image abroad, particularly among newly-independent African and Asian nations. On the other hand, Dudziak argues that the need to maintain a pristine image abroad contributed to a silencing of more radical dissent that lobbied for deeper structural change at home (restricting travel by radical leaders such as Paul Robeson, for instance). In order to repair its image, government officials became more open to supporting racial reform while simultaneously attempting to craft a counter-narrative of race and democracy that emphasized ongoing social progress - especially in how far America had come since slavery. Although grassroots activists were the ones to apply direct pressure for change, Dudziak argues that the reception by the international community gave them even more power to enact reform.

Dudziak's narrative begins with the Truman administration, which portrayed civil rights as a national security issue. The administration first desegregated the military in 1948, then filed "friends of the court" briefs on court cases leading up to Brown v. Board. The Eisenhower administration, meanwhile, faced a crisis when violent resistance to desegregation in Little Rock became an ugly and prominent symbol in the international press of America's social inequity. Although not personally committed to racial equality, Eisenhower threw his weight behind enforcing desegregation partially at the urging of foreign policy officials like Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. The Kennedy administration was marked during its first two years with only hesitant interest in civil rights, but this changed in 1963 when race riots in Birmingham and George Wallace blocking integration of the University of Alabama deals a blow to the international American image. This was compounded when newly independent African nations sent diplomats to the US after 1960 and were met with on-the-ground reality of Jim Crow (getting turned away from restaurants in Maryland). Finally, Lyndon Johnson adopts Civil Rights as Kennedy's legacy and oversees a victory in the image of the United States abroad with the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965). Meanwhile, the outbreak of the Vietnam War displaced the "Negro problem" by 1966 as the point of emphasis for international opprobrium and, Dudziak cautiously argues, may have contributed to the lagging in domestic support for more substantive social reform.

Key Themes and Concepts
- Places Civil Rights movement in an international context
- High-level government efforts to improve image abroad (particularly for newly independent nations in Asia and Africa) opens them towards more reform
- Foreign policy both FACILITATED and CONSTRAINED Civil Rights movement
- Facilitated: federal government wanting to maintain positive image of democracy abroad, especially in third-world countries
- Constrained: wanted to reign in more radical reform movements, especially those that linked class and race in posing fundamental structural challenges to American society
- US government tries to build a narrative framework of race and democracy based on progress in social equality engendered by a democracy - USIA's optimistc pamphlet The Negro in American Life
- Vietnam as an important factor in domestic faltering commitment to racial reform - took away the international image impetus for government officials 

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U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries by Cameron Blevins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.