After World War II the United States faced two preeminent challenges: how to administer its responsibilities abroad as the world's strongest power, and how to manage the rising movement at home for racial justice and civil rights. The effort to contain the growing influence of the Soviet Union resulted in the Cold War, a conflict that emphasized the American commitment to freedom. The absence of that freedom for nonwhite American citizens confronted the nation's leaders with an embarrassing contradiction.
Racial discrimination after 1945 was a foreign as well as a domestic problem. World War II opened the door to both the U.S. civil rights movement and the struggle of Asians and Africans abroad for independence from colonial rule. America's closest allies against the Soviet Union, however, were colonial powers whose interests had to be balanced against those of the emerging independent Third World in a multiracial, anticommunist alliance. At the same time, U.S. racial reform was essential to preserve the domestic consensus needed to sustain the Cold War struggle.
The Cold War and the Color Line is the first comprehensive examination of how the Cold War intersected with the final destruction of global white supremacy. Thomas Borstelmann pays close attention to the two Souths--Southern Africa and the American South--as the primary sites of white authority's last stand. He reveals America's efforts to contain the racial polarization that threatened to unravel the anticommunist western alliance. In so doing, he recasts the history of American race relations in its true international context, one that is meaningful and relevant for our own era of globalization.
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Thomas Borstelmann is Elwood N. and Katherine Thompson Distinguished Professor of Modern World History, University of Nebraska.From Publishers Weekly:
In rich, informing detail enlivened with telling anecdote, Cornell historian Borstelmann unites under one umbrella two commonly separated strains of the U.S. post-WWII experience: our domestic political and cultural history, where the Civil Rights movement holds center stage, and our foreign policy, where the Cold War looms largest. After moving swiftly from a 19th century where white consolidation of dominion in the American South and West coincides with Europe's conquest of Africa, and through a Second World War where German prisoners of war are better treated than black soldiers, Borstelmann follows "the nexus of race and foreign relations" through successive administrations as the Cold War develops. Readers deeply familiar with the history of race in America or American foreign policy history may find little that is news here, but by placing the Ole Miss debacle in an international context, or the Marshall Plan in a racial context; by juxtaposing the Bandung Conference and Brown v. Board of Education; by positioning a Selma, March 7, next to the March 8 arrival of marines at Danang, Borstelmann shifts the lens through which we view both the Cold War and the civil rights movement, revealing something new and provocative: the extent to which "domestic and foreign policies regarding people of color developed as two sides of the same coin" and "how those racial lenses helped shape U.S. relations with the outside world in the era of American dominance in the international sphere." No history could be more timely or more cogent. This densely detailed book, wide ranging in its sources, contains lessons that could play a vital role in reshaping American foreign and domestic policy.
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