Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-1955
As World War II drew to a close and the world awakened to the horrors wrought by white supremacists in Nazi Germany, the NAACP and African-American leaders sensed an opportunity to launch an offensive against the conditions of segregation and inequality in the United States. The "prize" they sought was not civil rights, but human rights. Only the human rights lexicon, shaped by the Holocaust and articulated by the United Nations, contained the language and the moral power to address not only the political and legal inequality but also the education, health care, housing, and employment needs that haunted the black community. The NAACP understood this and wielded its influence and resources to take its human rights agenda before the United Nations. But the onset of the Cold War and rising anti-communism allowed powerful southerners to cast those rights as Soviet-inspired and a threat to the American "ways of life." Enemies and friends excoriated the movement, and the NAACP retreated to a narrow civil rights agenda that was easier to maintain politically. Thus the Civil Rights Movement was launched with neither the language nor the mission it needed to truly achieve black equality. Carol Anderson is the recipient of major grants from the Ford Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies, and numerous awards for excellence in teaching. Her scholarly interests are 20th century American, African-American, and diplomatic history, and the impact of the Cold War and U.S. foreign policy on the struggle for black equality in particular. Her publications include "From Hope to Disillusion published in Diplomatic History and reprinted in The African-American Voice in U.S. Foreign Policy.
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Page xi - I know that what I am asking is impossible. But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand— and one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human history in general, and American Negro history in particular, for it testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.
Page 1 - Negroes have proceeded from a premise that equality means what it says, and they have taken white Americans at their word when they talked of it as an objective. But most whites in America in 1967, including many persons of goodwill, proceed from a premise that equality is a loose expression for improvement. White America is not even psychologically organized to close...