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Human Rights Quarterly 26.3 (2004) 785-786

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The Color Line in the Cold War

The Cold War and the Color Line American Race Relations in the Global Arena, by Thomas Borstelmann, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Professor Thomas Borstelmann's groundbreaking monograph perceptively demonstrates how concerns respecting international affairs and the Cold War had significant impacts on United States civil rights policy between the end of World War II and the Vietnam conflict's height. This astute thesis has much salience for international phenomena, namely globalization and terrorism, and domestic ones, such as racism, while proffering a trenchant method of conceptualizing civil rights through a world lens.

Borstelmann's seminal work appeared the year after Professor Mary Dudziak had released an equally intriguing book, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy1 (Cold War Civil Rights). The two volumes assess the same major factors and time, [End Page 785] explore considerably analogous information, and reach a few similar conclusions. The Cold War and the Color Line merits scrutiny because it greatly improves appreciation of that critical period in ways which resemble, and depart from, Cold War Civil Rights.

This review undertakes that effort by stressing the valuable accounts' differences, even as it finds quite helpful the analogous dimensions in the newer monograph because they reaffirm the validity of the earlier pathbreaking, yet controversial, work. For instance, Borstelmann and Dudziak espouse rather similar theses. The writers assert that Cold War global developments, such as worldwide pressures for independence from colonial rule, substantially affected national civil rights policy, while the American civil rights movement had impacts on burgeoning anti-colonialism, so a number of global and domestic events were synergistic.

Borstelmann's treatment differs in significant ways from that of Dudziak. Most important is the weight Borstelmann assigns the relevant international and domestic phenomena and the corresponding perspective from which he views them. The author emphasizes the world and filters developments through an international prism to ascertain how global events influenced the United States, while Dudziak stresses America and refracts phenomena through a domestic lens to perceive their world effects.

These varying emphases and perspectives mean The Cold War and the Color Line affords numerous specifics that Cold War Civil Rights lacks. For example,Borstelmann surveys in consummate detail the African history. He traces the Cold War interactions among the nations with colonies on the continent, the freedom movements there, and Cuba, Russia, and the United States. The writer extensively recounts how developments unfolded, and America's participation, in the Congo and South Africa, while he cogently analogizes the South African independence battle and the fight that African Americans waged against segregation practiced throughout the South. Borstelmann thus emphasizes international phenomena and colonialism, focusing on Africa.

The Cold War and the Color Line as well thoroughly documents what happened in the United States and links these events with global ones. Borstelmann carefully assesses how Presidents and Secretaries of State displayed analogous, remarkable ignorance of Africa, of the world outside Western Europe and of the South, even though he finds Richard Nixon's solicitude for Africa greater than that of most of his contemporaries.

In sum, The Cold War and the Color Line substantially enhances understanding of the complex interactions between global developments and American civil rights policy from the Second World War's termination until the United States was fully engaged in Vietnam. This monograph confirms significant, disputed ideas offered by Cold War Civil Rights and may be profitably contrasted to the earlier volume.

Carl Tobias, Williams Professor, University of Richmond School of Law earned his B.A. from Duke University and his LL.B. from the University of Virginia. His research is in the areas of civil rights, federal courts, and civil procedure. The author wishes to thank Peggy Sanner for valuable suggestions, Judy Canter for processing this piece, as well as Beckley Singleton, James E. Rogers, and Russell Williams for generous, continuing support.





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