Jim Crowing the American Century

Friday, January 7, 2011: 3:30 PM
Room 102 (Hynes Convention Center)
Carol Anderson , Emory University, Atlanta, GA
Throughout most of Henry Luce’s highly-touted “American Century” the U.S. government evaded, elided, and contorted its own racial “mocking paradoxes.” The Jim Crow leader of the free world was second only to apartheid South Africa as the penultimate example of white supremacy, racial intolerance and violence.
            Thus, as Mary Dudziak and Thomas Borstlemann have noted, the federal government’s attempt to portray, especially to the emerging nations in Africa and Asia, that democracy – not communism or some other political course deemed radical – was the path to true freedom ran headlong into the reality of Little Rock, Birmingham, and Selma, and also the disturbances in many American cities commencing in Harlem in July 1964 and Watts in August 1965. The contradiction also manifested itself in National Security Adviser Walt Whitman Rostow's curious comment in 1968: "The problem of the Negro in American society is, in many ways, like a foreign aid problem." Did black Americans have to experience another period of uplift before they could be found deserving of the fruits of the American Century? Did federal officials even believe uplift was possible? These questions are raised in response both to policies of Lyndon Johnson's administration and to the Nixon White House's turn toward "benign neglect" of racial issues at home and reluctance to confront comparable matters abroad.
            This presentation will look at how the foreign and black press responded to these and other instances of racial violence – such as the linkage of the slaughter at Sharpeville, South Africa with the Orangeburg Massacre in South Carolina – and explore how Jim Crow undermined any pretense of real American leadership, and thus the “American Century” on a range of human rights issues, including colonialism, apartheid, housing, and the death penalty.