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The Opinions of Mankind

Racial Issues, Press, and Progaganda in the Cold War

Richard Lentz and Karla K. Gower

Publication Year: 2011


During the Cold War, the Soviets were quick to publicize any incident of racial hostility in the United States. Since violence by white Americans against minorities was the perfect foil to America’s claim to be defenders of freedom, news of these occurrences was exploited to full advantage by the Russians. But how did the Soviets gain primary knowledge of race riots in small American towns? Certainly, the Soviets had reporters stationed stateside, in big cities like New York, but research reveals that the majority of their information came directly from U.S. media sources.



             Throughout this period, the American press provided the foreign media with information about racially charged events in the United States. Such news coverage sometimes put Washington at a disadvantage, making it difficult for government officials to assuage foreign reactions to the injustices occurring on U.S. soil. Yet in other instances, the domestic press helped to promote favorable opinions abroad by articulating themes of racial progress. While still acknowledging racial abuses, these press spokesmen asserted that the situation in America was improving. Such paradoxical messages, both aiding and thwarting the efforts of the U.S. government, are the subject of The Opinions of Mankind: Racial Issues, Press, and Propaganda in the Cold War.



            The study, by scholars Richard Lentz and Karla K. Gower, describes and analyzes the news discourse regarding U.S. racial issues from 1946 to 1965. The Opinions of Mankind not only delves into the dissemination of race-related news to foreign outlets but also explores the impact foreign perceptions of domestic racism had on the U.S. government and its handling of foreign relations during the period. What emerges is an original, insightful contribution to Cold War studies. While other books examine race and foreign affairs during this period of American history, The Opinions of Mankind is the first to approach the subject from the standpoint of press coverage and its impact on world public opinion.



            This exhaustively researched and compellingly written volume will appeal to media scholars, political historians, and general readers alike. By taking a unique approach to the study of this period, The Opinions of Mankind presents the workings behind the battles for public opinion that took place between 1946 and 1965.


Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-x

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pp. 1-16

On February 25, 1946, a black woman and her nineteen-year-old son entered a radio repair shop in Columbia, Tennessee, to demand the return of their radio. An argument ensued, and one of the white repairmen fell through a plate glass window. Whites gathered in the town’s square, calling for the black mother and son to be lynched. Fearing...

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1. Civil Rights and World Affairs

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pp. 17-30

On a dusty Georgia side road on a hot July afternoon, four African Americans—Roger Malcolm, George Dorsey, and their wives— suddenly found the road in front of them blocked by a mob of twenty unmasked men. The two men were dragged to the side of the road; their wives were told to stay quiet in the back seat of the car. But when...

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2. First Americans, Last in America

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pp. 31-43

Private Juan Vigil returned home after World War II to a small pueblo in New Mexico with “two Bronze Stars, the American Defense Ribbon, the Combat Infantry Badge, and the Good Conduct Medal,” along with “the Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon for thirty-nine months of service.” But this Hopi soldier’s service did not carry with it the right to...

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3. Color, Caste, and Colonialism

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pp. 44-58

Despite U.S. rhetoric about its Good Neighbor policy toward South America, norteamericanos consigned Latinos to “a lower caste” that barred them from restaurants, hotels, and other public accommodations, Robert M. MacIver wrote in 1956. “How can we stand...

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4. Pursuing the Dream

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pp. 59-78

A decade before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave voice to his great dream in Dixie’s hostile racial climate, bus driver Harvey Clark Jr. pursued his more modest but profound dream of improving the lot of his family in Chicago. What Clark wanted was to move his African American family into an apartment in the white Chicago suburb of Cicero...

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5. A Symbol Not Shattered

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pp. 79-91

When the U.S. Supreme Court declared in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in public education was inherently discriminatory—reversing the course of the law stretching back to the “separate but equal” test of Plessy v. Ferguson—it delivered to the federal government not only a tool of domestic national...

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6. Reverberating Symbols

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pp. 92-107

Two events charged with intense symbolism came to dominate the global news system at the opening of Eisenhower’s second term in 1957: the school desegregation crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, the first earth-orbiting artificial satellite. Unrelated in almost all respects, Little Rock and...

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7. The Scrutiny of Asia

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pp. 108-118

In May 1957, Maka Sakai, a Japanese housewife, was scavenging for brass on a military firing range on which an American soldier, William S. Girard, had been ordered to guard equipment. Girard fired an empty shell casing from a grenade launcher at her, fatally striking her in the back. “What . . . infuriated [the] Japanese,” the U.S. ambassador...

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8. Crisis after Crisis

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pp. 119-135

Segregationist mobs whipped up crisis after crisis in the final year of Eisenhower’s presidency and the opening months of Kennedy’s. The first and most important of these crises, the sit-in movement of 1960, mobilized black Americans across the South with astonishing speed. The violent reaction to the sit-ins was matched in intensity (though...

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9. Riots and Insurrection

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pp. 136-155

Domestic racial issues pushed their way onto the agenda of President John F. Kennedy soon after he took office in 1961. That this happened should have been no surprise to Kennedy, who had criticized his predecessor, President Eisenhower, for not taking vigorous action on issues in the United States important to black Americans and for paying...

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10. Snarls Echoing ’Round the World

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pp. 156-173

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. won his greatest victory—one that would bring him the Nobel Peace Prize—practically on the heels of one of his most humiliating defeats. The victory resulted, of course, from his 1963 civil rights campaign in Birmingham. Defeating Jim Crow there, King knew, would signal that it could be done anywhere in the...

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11. Summer of Shocks

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pp. 174-189

As the 1964 civil rights bill neared passage in Congress, Secretary of State Rusk sent a reminder to all U.S. diplomatic and consular posts about the intertwining of race and foreign policy. “Administration keenly aware,” he cabled, of the “impact of domestic racial problem on U.S. image overseas and on achievement U.S. foreign...

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12. Selma and Watts

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pp. 190-208

Three interrelated events in 1965 brought profound changes in American society. The first of them, the voting rights campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led in Selma, Alabama, was designed to help bring about federal legislation to guarantee the black southerner’s right to vote. Out of it grew the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. In...

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Summary and Conclusions

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pp. 209-218

Racial issues in the United States figured in ways great and small in the protracted and intensive Cold War between America and its Communist adversaries. Many, if not all, of the battles of that half-century struggle were not fought for military conquest or acquisition of territory, but for public opinion. As a result, symbols, words, and...


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pp. 219-318

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 319-334


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pp. 335-349

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272348
E-ISBN-10: 0826272347
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219084
Print-ISBN-10: 082621908X

Page Count: 359
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1