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The Impact of American Civil Rights on National Security.

Hie Bureau of Public Affairs' Diversity and Inclusion Initiative invited Emory University professor Mary Dudziak to speak to the Department of State March 6 on the history of race and diplomacy. Professor Dudziak's book, "Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy" explores how race relations at home impacted U.S. foreign policy during the Civil Rights Era.

In 1947, President Truman spoke about the contrast between the free society of the U.S. and a totalitarian Soviet Union. This view of American society conflicted with the reality that minorities in the U.S. experienced routine harassment and even violence. Vivid coverage of events of the civil rights struggle in the United States provided ample opportunity for Soviet propagandists to question stated U.S. ideals. Institutionalized racism also complicated our relations with new nations in Africa and Asia, where leaders and citizens questioned why the U.S. systematically discriminated against people like themselves. Some even experienced segregation firsthand during visits to the United States. Race relations in America also affected diplomatic negotiations with Western European nations whose representatives warned that segregation enabled the Soviets to mount propaganda against the West.

Clearly, the heroes of the civil rights movement deserve the most credit for securing more equality; however, the impact that poor race relations had on U.S. diplomacy also played a role. Legal arguments in civil rights cases, including Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), that led to school desegregation, noted that segregation harmed U.S. foreign relations. As the civil rights movement gained ground and the intervention of the National Guard in Little Rock to force desegregation of schools became international news, U.S. embassies demanded talking points from Washington.

Ultimately, the only effective U.S. counterargument to Soviet propaganda was the implementation of meaningful steps toward civil rights, such as the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

By Amy Garrett

Amy Garrett is a historian in the Bureau of Public Affairs.

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Title Annotation:In the News
Author:Garrett, Amy
Publication:State Magazine
Date:May 1, 2018
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