Legacy of the Second World War in the World

Legacy of the Second World War in the world. World War II is often referred to as the “Good War.” Evaluate that title for the war. Is it appropriate? Why, or why not?Typically, historians have not discussed the Civil Rights Movement for African-American freedom and equality in the context of the decades-long Cold War between America and the Soviet Union.[1] Historian Mary Dudziak challenged this scholarly convention in her 2002 book, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy, which changed our understanding of how the two events are connected. Dudziak’s goal in her book was to “explore the impact of Cold War foreign affairs on U.S. civil rights reform.”[2] This lecture will discuss the ways in which our understanding of the Civil Rights Movement can be enriched and deepened by considering it in the context of the Cold War.

Legacy of the Second World War in the World

            In an age of epic conflict with the Soviet Union, images of racial segregation and racial injustice in the United States were not helpful when international perceptions could determine the legitimacy of American democracy. Presidents and secretaries of state during the Cold War period “worried about the impact of race discrimination on U.S. prestige abroad.”[3] They had reason to worry. International reaction to postwar racial violence and race discrimination within the United States became increasingly pronounced. The Soviets picked up on this weakness and began regularly exploiting America’s race problem as a principal theme in their Cold War

[1] On approaches to civil rights historiography, see Armstead L. Robinson and Patricia Sullivan, New Directions in Civil Rights Studies (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991); Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); and David L. Chappell, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

[2] Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 14.

[3] Ibid., 6. See also Manning Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1984) and Gerald Horne, Communist Front?: The Civil Rights Congress, 1946-1956 (Rutherford, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988).

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