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mary dudziak @marydudziak
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Powerful @Sifill_LDF interview on @allinwithchris @chrislhayes refs Cold War history of Soviet propaganda on US racism. Crucial difference: in ColdWar, Soviets sought to undermine US relations w/ other countries. Now: Russian efforts targeted democracy *in the USA.*Thread 1/30
Reconnecting this thread. Obv @KevinMKruse is better at this!
International criticism of US racism predated the Cold War. Prominent Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal argued in 1944 that global awareness of US race discrimination threatened the country's ability to be a world leader. 2/
In spite of the ideology that American democracy was protective of rights, African Americans & other people of color experienced brutal racism, including veterans. E.g. Sgt Isaac Woodard was beaten & blinded by police when on his way home from service in WWII. 3/
It was an era of segregation, denial of voting rights, lynching an more. Other countries noticed. Sometimes the discrimination was against foreign nationals, including diplomats and foreign gov't officials, which created a scandal in the foreign country. 4/
Meanwhile, the US emerged from WWII as a world power and the world's leading democracy. The US and the Soviet Union became adversaries, competing for power and alliances. In this context, the US had a vulnerability: the leading democracy denied rights to its own people. 5/
Ground zero for this issue was Asian & African countries as they gained independence. American presidents & diplomats worried that Soviet propaganda on US racism was undermining American prestige around the world, especially in those regions. 6/
The Soviet propaganda was often overblown, but sometimes they just reprinted news from American papers - for example when an African American man named Jimmy Wilson was sentenced to death in Alabama in 1957 for stealing $1.95 in change. Seriously. 7/
(I wrote about Jimmy Wilson here:… … He was represented on appeal by the amazing civil rights lawyer Fred Gray whose book is here:… …) 8/
American diplomats initially tried to repair the US image by telling different story -- that race in the US was a narrative of progress from slavery to freedom. Even segregated school were pointed to as progress -- the former slaves were now educated! 9/
The effort to spin the story could not be effective for one reason: the civil rights movement kept race in the US on the world's front pages. The mvt had a global audience, and their efforts drove the story. 10/
One important episode: the Little Rock Crisis 1957-58. A court ordered that 9 African American high school students be admitted to segregated Little Rock HS, and the Arkansas governor & mobs of whites opposed it, initially denying them entrance.…
The Little Rock Crisis was widely seen as damaging the US image. 12/
Global news coverage was extensive. The traumatic story of one student, Elizabeth Eckford, was on front pages around the world. The Times (London), The Times of India, The Tanganyika Standard, South China Morning Post, & many other papers carried stories virtually every day. 13/
The Soviet Union used the crisis for their own purposes. A paper editorialized that since the US promoted democracy abroad, it was "even more impossible to remain silent when these gentlemen attempt to act as the world's mentors." More on this here:… … 14/
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (along w/ others, of course) urged President Eisenhower to act, stressing the international impact. When he finally did, he asked Dulles to write part of his remarks explaining his action to the American people. 15/
Eisenhower sent 500 paratroopers to Little Rock to escort the students past a racist mob. He explained: "it would be difficult to exaggerate the harm that is being done to the prestige and influence, and indeed to the safety, of our nation and the world." 16/
Now President Eisenhower was not exactly a civil rights supporter. He was unhappy about the Brown v. Bd of Education desegregation decision. So his motivation was different. It was about law & order, presidential leadership, and foreign relations. 17/
And once the foreign press wasn't paying attention anymore, federal pressure for desegregation waned. Southern states created pupil placement plans that bureaucratized enrollment decisions, putting segregation under the radar. No foreign coverage. 18/
The civil rights mvt kept the world focused on US civil rights in the 1960s. There was widespread int'l coverage of the sit-in mvt, freedom rides, and other actions, as well as brutality like the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls.…
In Birmingham, Alabama in May 1963, police used dogs and high power fire hoses on young people marching for civil rights. Horrible photos blanketed the world's press, generating a foreign relations crisis as well as a civil rights crisis at home.… 20/
Also in May 1963 the Organization of African Unity met for the first time. Leaders of newly independent countries turned their attention to Birmingham, debating whether there should be a break in US/African relations. (see ch. 5 of this book… …) 21/
President Kennedy had been slow to support civil rights. He cared about economic & foreign policy. His advisors told him: civil rights was "the third leg of the stool." He couldn't succeed on other priorities w/o also focusing on civil rights b/c they were intertwined. 22/
When the Kennedy Admin supported a bill that would become the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, a key witness in Congress was Secretary of State Dean Rusk who testified that civil rights reform was needed to help the US win the Cold War. 23/
So: the Soviet Union used race in America to undermine US foreign policy objectives. American leaders thought that the foreign relations problem was serious. It was not the only reason for civil rights reform, but it was an important motivating factor for the US gov. 24/
The great critical race theorist Derrick Bell recognized this dynamic before historians dug up the records with the details. He argued that reform came from a "convergence of interest" between the movement & the gov't, not from white enlightenment.… 25/
My book underlying this thread is Cold War Civil Rights: & here are open access articles:…… 26/
There is now so much work on civil rights/race and US foreign relations! My early work is indebted to Brenda Gayle Plummer & Gerald Horne, who were welcoming & kind when I was a complete newbie. See e.g.…… 27/
Other important works include books by Tim Borstelmann…@ProfCAnderson… … Penny Von Eschen… … and there is much newer work by @SHAFRhistorians & others. 28/
The takeaway from this history: in the Cold War Russians used American racial issues for their own purposes, and the US responded with meaningful (if limited) civil rights reform. What about this time? -- see next tweet... 29/
The US shld condemn Russian election interference, but also act domestically. Russia hit at a US weak spot -racial divisions- during an election marked by race-based voter suppression. Time for another convergence of interest as racial justice is a defense against a repeat. end/
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