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Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Politics and Society in Twentieth Century America) [Paperback]

by Mary L. Dudziak
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 28, 2002 0691095132 978-0691095134

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.

Editorial Reviews


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

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

Groundbreaking. -- American Lawyer

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

From the Inside Flap

This book reflects a growing interest among historians in the global significance of race. . . . It is accessible and will have multiple uses as an approach to civil rights history, as an examination of policy making, and as a model of how a study can be attentive to both foreign and domestic aspects of a particular issue. It is tightly argued, coherent, and polished, and it features some particularly fine writing. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Politics and Society in Twentieth Century America
  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 28, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691095132
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691095134
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #727,364 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mary L. Dudziak teaches legal history and constitutional law at Emory University School of Law. Her work sets American history in a global context. Cold War Civil Rights explores the relationship between civil rights and foreign relations during a time when American race discrimination undermined U.S. prestige around the world. Exporting American Dreams tells the story of Thurgood Marshall's work with Kenya's emerging leaders as they sought independence in the early 1960s. Dudziak's newest book, War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences, examines ideas about time that are embedded in the way we think about war, helping to explain why we persist in thinking that war is temporary when American military engagement seems to have no end point. More book information can be found at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Causes and Effects June 4, 2001
By A Customer
Upon first consideration one would think that the reciprocal influences of the Cold War and American civil rights activity would be self-evident. Perhaps, but Dudziak's book is full of surprises and details how galling the "American Dilemma" was to U.S. foreign policy-makers and various presidents and how each responded to the concerns of African, Asian, American, and European countries regarding the United States civil rights struggle over several decades. Why was civil rights legislation important to American foreign policy? How was Eisenhower's response to school desegregation in Little Rock influenced by foreign perceptions? How did the international attention to civil rights activity affect John Kennedy's domestic policies? Why was the State Department so concerned about Asian and African criticisms of the United States' record on civil rights? How was the Civil Rights Act of 1965 viewed by the international community? How did the views of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X affect United States foreign policy efforts? Was the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to an American activist also an international signal that worried a president and the State Department? These questions and many more are answered by Dudziak.
Dudziak deserves recognition and commendations for clearly demonstrating that the United States civil rights movement had a global as well as a national impact on America's foreign policy efforts and placed the United States squarely between the demands of a persecuted domestic minority and the scrutiny of the nations to which it declared itself the leader of human rights, liberty, and freedom in contrast to the totalitarian regimes of communist countries.
This book is well worth reading and an important addition to the growing number of books on the history of race relations that was not, and is not,taught in school. Kudos to Dudziak for an important job well done.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opening and Important -- A Great Read! January 10, 2001
By A Customer
Mary Dudziak revisits a familiar chapter in American history--the civil rights movement--but provides readers with a completely new perspective on it.
We know about the work that was being done in the streets. But now Dudziak helps us see the movement through the eyes of America's cold war policymakers. For them, civil rights was a foreign policy problem, and Dudziak helps us see how this explains many of the movements successes and (maybe more important) many of its defeats.
Essential reading for everyone interested in American history, civil rights, constitutional law (yes, even Brown v. Board of Education must be seen in light of this analysis), and foreign policy.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! January 7, 2001
By A Customer
This book is fabulous. Clear and articulate, it reads like a story and explores an aspect of the civil rights movement most authors and historians have neglected. It is meticulously researched and filled with information from sources ranging from presidential telephone conversations to news wires to official publications. The civil rights movement cannot be fully understood without reflecting upon the information contained in this book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and well researched April 13, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In her book published in 2000, legal historian Mary Dudziak, currently teaching at Emory Law school, focuses on the effects of the cold war on the civil rights movement. Her argument is that while in some ways the cold war era is one of repression, it is also an era of which the civil rights movement is a product. Furthermore, not only does it produce the civil rights movement, the cold war also acts to frame and limit the nations commitment to this movement. Finally, by addressing civil rights reform, the federal government engages in an effort to shape the story into one of triumph, a story of “good over evil, a story of U.S. moral superiority.” (5-6)

Dudziak uses a plethora of primary and secondary sources to craft her work, and these include State Department archives, the Congressional record and (amongst others) the presidential papers of Lyndon Johnson. In at least two ways her work represents a transnational approach, as she works hard to show the effects of international pressure and opinion on the civil rights movement and she shows how events in the US play overseas, thus making her work a fine example of transnational history.

Speaking of transnational history, Dudziak's work is a fine example of this, and goes a long way to helping understand the effect the cold war has on the civil rights movement. Her narrative style is easy to follow, something which is not always the case when written by legal historians, and this book is useful to both the specialist and the novice. One area of criticism is that she does not address why Moscow changes its tactics and seems to drop criticism of American racism. Russian criticism of the US is an important part of her book, so not addressing the change in strategy seems a bit odd.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was at first bored about the subject matter. I had to read it for a college class, and I had learned about civil rights and the cold war COUNTLESS times before. So I was immediately bored.


But, this book really opened up my eyes to how everything at this age connected together! I always learned about the cold war and civil rights differently. They were two different stages in history, two very different topics, that each had their own exams. But this book did an EXCELLENT job putting it all together! I now see history as a web of events, all of which effect one another. This book showed me how much civil rights and the cold war had to do with each other. I actually learned a lot, and it wasn't a dry read at all. I liked it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written
Dudziak provides a refreshing look at the early civil rights movement. Focusing on the international effects of racial tensions in the mid twentieth century. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Kenny
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Research, Great Scholar
This book is a must for people who want to understand the political motivations for the advancement of civil rights in the US. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Darrren12000
4.0 out of 5 stars Summer Reading Book
I purchased this book for my daughter who was required to read it for her summer reading.
She enjoyed the book.
Published 7 months ago by weigandgail
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye opening
I initially borrowed this book from a professor that I was working with on my honors thesis. After reading it, I had to purchase my own copy. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Alecia
5.0 out of 5 stars Empire & Civil Rights from above
Mary L. Dudziak argues that during the Cold War era, American empire -- cloaked in the false narrative of a plural, democratic, and capitalist America -- shaped and was shaped by... Read more
Published 9 months ago by jdesenso
2.0 out of 5 stars Could be better
I had to read this for a college course and it was just boring. If you're interested in the Cold War or Civil Rights, you may find this interesting, but otherwise you're going to... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Monica
I bought this book for a graduate history class. As I began to write my paper for the class and got to the first citation i noticed that there are no page numbers. Read more
Published on April 15, 2012 by Duncan Mcginnis
4.0 out of 5 stars An enlightening book on public diplomacy
If you think Las Vegas tourist ads and "listening tours" are components of public diplomacy and international relations, you need to read this book. Read more
Published on January 10, 2007 by MountainRunner
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