Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy.

Author:Chang, Robert S.

COLD WAR CIVIL RIGHTS: RACE AND THE IMAGE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY. By Mary L. Dudziak. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2000. Pp. xii, 330. $29.95.

In her recent book Cold War Civil Rights, Professor Mary L. Dudziak, (1) sets forth "to explore the impact of Cold War foreign affairs on U.S. civil rights reform" (p. 14). Tracing "the emergence, the development, and the decline of Cold War foreign affairs as a factor in influencing civil rights policy" (p. 17), she draws "together Cold War history and civil rights history" (pp. 14-15), two areas that are usually treated as distinct subjects of inquiry. In mixing the two together, she shows that "the borders of U.S. history are not easily maintained." (2) Perhaps it is fitting that the field of American history is not delimited neatly by its geographic borders, especially when those same borders have not contained the reach of the United States. (3) She closes the introductory section of her book by "suggest[ing] that an international perspective does not simply `fill in' the story of American history, but changes its terms" (p. 17).

Dudziak is not the first, as she herself admits, to draw a connection between foreign policy and domestic civil rights. (4) She does, however, present the most thorough and compelling case for this connection. She draws from a remarkable array of documentary evidence to construct a fascinating narrative that frames the local within the transnational. (5) For instance, Dudziak opens her book with the story of Jimmy Wilson. She tells us that Mr. Wilson's "name has not been remembered in the annals of Cold War history" (p. 3). But as a historian, she is about to help us remember. (6) The notion of "remembering" seems to serve two important functions for Dudziak. First, it helps us know who we are (pp. 17, 252-53). Second, it reminds us that we are not alone and cannot act with impunity (passim).

The second value of remembering is revealed through Dudziak's stressing the important role played by international actors in effecting domestic civil rights reform. To Dudziak, the international gaze serves as a panopticon. (7) She examines how local actors reacted to international criticisms of civil rights violations, and how pressure was brought to bear on local actors by federal officials. In this way, the international gaze operated to constrain or contain this country's racist majoritarian excesses. She posits what might be described as an extralegal theory of local and national restraint, based on some notion of national prestige and national interest. (8) We shall return to this extralegal theory of restraint at the end of this Review.

But, what is it that we should remember? What have we forgotten? What have we repressed? Professor Dudziak tells us that Jimmy Wilson was an African-American handyman "sentenced to death in Alabama for stealing less than two dollars in change." (9) She tells us about the international uproar that ensued: newspapers worldwide decried Alabama's imposition of a death sentence for what was essentially petty theft, (10) and letters and petitions from around America and the world poured in to both federal and state governmental officials (pp. 4-6). The uproar led to the involvement of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who sent a telegram to James Folsom, the governor of Alabama, "informing him of the great international interest in the Jimmy Wilson case" (p. 7). Governor Folsom himself had been receiving an average of a thousand letters per day, and he already knew about the great international interest. Thus, when the Alabama Supreme Court upheld Wilson's conviction and sentence, Governor Folsom quickly granted Wilson clemency.

As the opening narrative to her book, Jimmy Wilson creates the frame for Dudziak's analysis. "[D]omestic civil rights crises would quickly become international crises. As presidents and secretaries of state from 1946 to the mid-1960s worried about the impact of race discrimination on U.S. prestige abroad, civil rights reform came to be seen as crucial to U.S. foreign relations" (p. 6). Professor Dudziak organizes her book chronologically, with civil rights crises and government responses serving as episodes that repeat the basic arc of the Jimmy Wilson story. The ad hoc nature of the governmental response to each crisis demonstrates that there was no sustained or coherent positive federal policy with regard to civil rights other than crisis management or image maintenance. (11) The concern of presidents and secretaries of state during the period she examines is not so much about racial justice but rather the harm to U.S. prestige abroad and the concomitant effect on U.S. foreign policy objectives.

The themes of crisis management and image maintenance are developed in Chapters One and Two of the book. The crisis that begins Chapter One is the ritualized killing of George and Mae Murray Dorsey and Roger and Dorothy Malcolm. Dudziak tells us: "One shot could have killed George Dorsey, but when he and three companions were found along the banks of the Appalachee River in Georgia on July 25, 1946, their bodies were riddled with at least sixty bullets" (p. 18). The four were lined up by a group of white men who fired three volleys, leaving "the upper parts of the bodies...

To continue reading