African-American Studies

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African-American Studies U.S. race discrimination, widely considered to be an American "Achilles heel,"� was under increasing international scrutiny following World War II. The U.S. argued that democracy was a more moral form of government than communism. Yet as news of postwar lynchings and segregation blanketed the world press, U.S. allies as well as critics questioned whether democracy had any meaning in a nation that so mistreated people of color. Racism threatened to undermine the moral force of U.S. cold war arguments, and it led other nations to question the ability of the U.S. to lead the world through the cold war. The relentless use of U.S. racism in Soviet and later Chinese propaganda reinforced the cold war consequences of discrimination.1 The impact of discrimination on cold war foreign relations meant that civil rights reform, from 1946 through at least 1965, aided U.S. foreign affairs. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson took steps to promote racial equality in part because discrimination harmed U.S.

cold war diplomacy. In this sense, equality was, for the federal government, a cold war policy.2 The impact of discrimination on foreign relations gave the civil rights movement an important source of leverage. Martin Luther King, Jr., commented following a trip to India in 1959 that the Indian press had given more sustained coverage to the Montgomery Bus Boycott than had most American papers. The movement capitalized on this leverage in different ways at different times. During the late 1940s and early 50s the National Negro Congress, the NAACP and the Civil Rights Congress appealed to the new United Nations, a strategy SNCC and other groups would return to in the 1960s. As the civil rights movement gained international prominence, a long list of civil rights leaders traveled overseas, spreading the message of the.2 movement and enlisting...