In the years following the Second World War, when the United States emerges as a superpower and beacon of democratic freedom, US officials began to propagate the idea of domestic racial progress – the nation’s Achilles’ Heel – to a sceptical global audience. This strategy afforded extraordinary opportunities for black writers and artists, and ushered in political gains for African Americans and other minorities – but these gains were exacted at a steep price.
Examples abound. In 1950, amid desegregation initiatives in the military (1947) and in education (1954), Dean Acheson’s State Department asked black writer J Saunders Redding to represent America on an extended tour of India – whose citizens were closely following civil rights developments in the US – in the wake of that nation’s partitioning and emergence from British rule, a watershed that black Americans reciprocally engaged. In the sphere of international relations, African American diplomat Ralph Bunche wielded tremendous influence on post-war foreign policy, brokering a difficult 1949 armistice between the state of Israel and Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1950.
In 1956 president Eisenhower and the State Department funded black and white jazz musicians on tours of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East as part of an effort to project images of black social advancement and interracial collaboration, thereby countering (if not negating) Soviet propaganda of America as a racist empire. But these delegations – symbols of a triumphant American democracy – took flight when the US was still a Jim Crow nation. (Al Jazeera)