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"We shall win our freedoms together": African Americans, South Africa and black international protest, 1945-1960

"We shall win our freedoms together": African Americans, South Africa and black international protest, 1945-1960
Nicholas George Grant


School of History, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UNITED KINGDOM.


Focusing on the United States and South Africa from 1945 to 1960 this thesis examines how African American and black South Africans navigated internationally organised state repression during the Cold War. Through a close alliance based around shared anticommunist and white supremacist ideologies, the United States and South African governments sought to actively prevent black international criticism of their racial practices in this period.

This work engages with and builds upon existing 'Cold War civil rights' historiography by individuals such as Mary L. Dudziak, Brenda Gayle Plummer and Thomas Borstelmann. Through extensive archival research in South Africa as well as the United States, it will provide a truly transnational account of how black activists and government forces in South Africa shaped Cold War discourses on race. This research also contributes to broader theoretical discussions relating to black international history. Through a gendered analysis of global black protest this thesis addresses historiographical gaps that have failed to account for the way in which specific constructions of black masculinity and femininity shaped black international solidarities.

This thesis will argue that through carefully orchestrated international campaigns for racial justice, African Americans and black South Africans continued to place pressure on white governments throughout the height of anticommunist oppression during the early Cold War. While not wanting to downplay the damaging influence state repression had on the lives of African Americans and black South Africans, it will examine how black activists in both countries managed to maintain their political agency when operating in an increasingly hostile environment. By examining the considerable amount of time, money and effort invested into restricting black international protest, I will demonstrate how the U.S. and South African governments were forced to respond, reshape and occasionally reconsider their racial policies in the Cold War world. Whilst this did not result in the dismantling of apartheid, or immediately bring an end to U.S.-South African Cold War alliance, this determination of African Americans and black South Africans to protest globally provides a transnational example of how, to paraphrase Stuart Hall's famous phrase, hegemonizing was hard work.