Letters to the Editor

The Cold War and Civil Rights

Gerald Horne, February 1992

I am writing in reference to your article on "Teaching the History of the Modern Civil Rights Movement" (Perspectives, Oct. 1991, p. 20). I was surprised that the article, and presumably the panel on which it was based, did not mention an important historiographic trend that places this important movement within the context of the Cold War. My work for example, and an important article by Mary Dudziak in the Stanford Law Review of November 1988—entitled appropriately "Desegregation as a Cold War Imperative"—stress that Washington found it difficult to justify charging Moscow with human rights violations when a significant percentage of its own citizens were subjected to an atrocious apartheid. This notion was reflected in government briefs filed in most of the leading civil rights cases of that era, including Brown vs. Board of Education. It is curious that this obvious point has managed to escape the attention of so many historians and speaks directly to the restricted nature of discourse in this "free marketplace of ideas." It is not just a minor debating point either for African-Americans, other national minorities, non-minority women. All need to ponder soberly what will be the impact of the collapse of the Cold War on their future.

Gerald Horne, Research Fellow
Carter G. Woodson Institute, University of Virginia