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Civil Rights - The International Dimension

Andrew Boxer demonstrates the ways in which external events affected the struggles of African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s.

Early in the Kennedy years a black delegate to the United Nations landed in Miami on his way to New York. When the passengers disembarked for lunch, the white passengers were taken to the airport restaurant; the black delegate received a folding canvas stool in a corner of the hangar and a sandwich wrapped with waxed paper. He then flew on to New York, where our delegation asked for his vote on human rights issues. That same ambassador later became his country’s prime minister. We learned later that his chronic bitterness toward the United States stemmed from that incident.

This episode, recounted by Dean Rusk, the US Secretary of State from 1961 to 1969, graphically demonstrates that, by the 1960s, racial discrimination in the USA could have important consequences for American foreign policy. This dimension of the African-American struggle for civil rights – often overlooked, but increasingly engaging the attention of historians – is a vital part of a full understanding of the important changes that occurred in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s.

The 1950s

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