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How did the Cold War impact the civil rights movement in the US?

The Cold War impacted the civil rights movement by increasing international scrutiny on America's racial issues, prompting government action.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a battle of ideologies, each trying to prove the superiority of their system. The US, advocating for democracy and freedom, was under international scrutiny, and its racial segregation and discrimination were seen as a contradiction to these principles. This was particularly problematic as the US was trying to win the hearts and minds of newly independent, non-white nations in Africa and Asia. The Soviet Union exploited this contradiction, using it as propaganda to undermine the US's moral authority on the global stage.

In response to this international pressure, the US government was compelled to address its racial issues. The federal government began to take a more active role in civil rights issues, with Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson all taking steps to desegregate American society. Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948, Eisenhower enforced the desegregation of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, and Kennedy proposed comprehensive civil rights legislation in 1963, which was passed as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under Johnson. These actions were not solely motivated by international pressure, but it was a significant factor.

The Cold War also influenced the strategies and rhetoric of the civil rights movement. Leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. framed their struggle in the context of the Cold War, arguing that America needed to live up to its democratic ideals at home in order to win the ideological battle abroad. This added a sense of urgency to the civil rights movement and helped to gain wider support for their cause.

Furthermore, the fear of communism during the Cold War led to a crackdown on radical elements within the civil rights movement. The FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, surveilled and harassed civil rights activists, accusing them of being communist sympathisers. This created a climate of fear and suspicion, but also galvanised many activists to fight even harder for their rights.

In conclusion, the Cold War had a significant impact on the civil rights movement in the US. It increased international scrutiny on America's racial issues, prompted government action, influenced the strategies and rhetoric of the civil rights movement, and led to a crackdown on radical elements within the movement.

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