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Cold War, Civil
Decolonization and
the Global Human
Rights Movement
Ed Martini
Department of History, Western Michigan
World History Workshop Presentation
18 May 2011
I. Overview:
World History as an Interpretive
• Teaching the Post-1945
LensPeriod, whether US or
World, should be more about considering
multiple viewpoints than “adding” content
• We can teach many of the same events (and
meet many parts of the new standards) without
reinventing the wheel
• Students should be able to put U.S. History into
a global context, to see the ways in which recent
global events have shaped the U.S. (and viceversa)
Decolonization &
the Cold War
What happens if we take
decolonization, rather than
the Cold War, as the
defining global event of the
post-1945 world?
A Snapshot of
• From the mid-19C to WWI more than 450 million
people were subjected to colonial rule
• Decolonization began after WWI, but was greatly
accelerated by WW2
• “Led” by the examples of India and Vietnam, 25
new nations were created between 1957 and
1962 alone, mostly in Africa
The Role of the Cold
• Anticolonial Social Movements radicalized by
Cold War dynamics, particularly when U.S.
chose anti-communism over anti-imperialism
• Many movements, drew on rhetoric, resources
of Cold War institutions, particularly Universities
• Made the world smaller, and helped leaders and
activists around world see commonalities
The Cold War as a
War of Narratives
• Westad (The Global Cold War, 2005) argues
that the Cold War was, in part, a battle between
United States’ “empire of liberty” (US) and
Soviets’ “empire of justice”
• In this battle, both superpowers attempted to
convince new nations to join their camp; the
leaders of new nations had to choose which (if
either one) to cast their lot with
By emphasizing the
Challenging the Bipolar View
experience of newly
postcolonial states, the
bipolar superpower
worldview is subject to
• The non-aligned movement,
as well as the specific case
studies of India, Ghana,
Vietnam, or Ethiopia, can
serve as examples of how
the view from the developing
Tracing the Effects of
• By the early 1960s, New Left leaders were
hailing the “Third World” as “the future” and as
a model for liberation movements in the West
• Vietnam and Cambodia in Southeast Asia;
Algeria in Africa; India in the Near East; and
even Cuba in the West served as inspiration for
anticolonial liberation movements
Some Critical Thinking
• How did the colonial experience of nations in
different regions
inform their liberation
• How did decolonization effect the Cold War, and
how did the Cold War effect decolonization?
• To what degree was the Cold War simply a new
form of imperialism toward the developing
• What role did Communist ideology play in
anticolonial movements?
• Were the wars in Vietnam primarily anticolonial
struggles or battles in the Cold War? Cuba?
How to Get There?
Group Work on Comparative Colonial
Revolutions (Vietnam/India/Algeria/Cuba)
Comparing Maps From 1850, 1900, 1950 to
visualize the rise and fall of modern
Rewrite a section on the Cold War from a
U.S. history textbook from a World History
Some Possibly
Familiar Primary Sources
• Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnamese Declaration of
Independence (1945)
• Richard Wright’s Report from the Bandung
Non-Aligned Conference (1955)
• UN Declaration on Granting of Independence
to Colonial Countries and Peoples (1960)
• SDS Port Huron Statement (1962)
Cold War, Civil Rights
The Early Cold War
• 1947 - W.E.B. DuBois’ Appeal to the World used
Truman’s language of Free v. Slave world, calling
on the nations of the world to pressure the U.S.
to end segregation
• 1957 - Little Rock - Eisenhower’s speech to the
country couched in language of the Cold War and
of international human rights
JFK and the Early 1960s
1960 - “Year of Africa” - 17 New Nations in Africa alone
Sit-In Movement launches new phase of CRM
Castro stays in Harlem to highlight U.S. racism
in Delaware, Maryland, en route from NYC to DC
1963 - Birmingham Actions are larger scale replay of
Little Rock - broadcast to entire world; Kennedy’s first
call for Civil Rights Act also couched in language of
Cold War and human rights
MLK’s Letter From a Birmingham
Directed at unsupportive clergy, but used
a global context to make his case:
“The nations of Asia and Africa are
moving with jet-like speed toward
gaining political independence, but
we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy
pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at
a lunch counter.”
Birmingham as World History
Containment on Several Fronts
Both Eisenhower and Kennedy sought to pursue
multiple forms of containment - limit the spread of
Communism, National Liberation Movements, and
desegregation movement
Eastern establishment figures in both administrations
new about as much about the South as they did the
Third World (not much)
Views of most administration figures was that neither
Africans nor “Negroes” were ready for democracy
and should only be brought along gradually
The Later Civil Rights Movement:
Variations on the Theme
Malcolm X - Cultivated Pan-African ties and
compared U.S. situation to that of South Africa,
Stokely Carmichael regularly linked the struggle of
Black people in the U.S. to that of those around the
The Black Panthers agenda based on the idea of
“internal colonization”
Martin Luther King’s statements about the war in
Vietnam address which side of the “world revolution”
of decolonization the U.S. is on
Malcolm X’s Internationalism
Martin Luther King
on Vietnam
Thinking Globally
• What happens when we view the Civil Rights
Movement as part of a global struggle for human
rights and against colonization?
• How did the narratives of decolonization and the
Cold War shape the Civil Rights movement, and
• To what extent was the Civil Rights Movement
part of the global movement for human rights
since 1945?