African American Athletes and U.S. Cultural Diplomacy, 1947–1968
This chapter examines the “challenges, contradictions, and political nature” of African American sports emissaries during the early Cold War era. Recognizing the impact that Soviet declarations of American mistreatment of blacks were having on global public opinion about the United States, government officials planned goodwill trips that provided opportunities for people around the world to meet successful African Americans whose abilities on the playing field and loyalty to the nation represented a positive counterweight to the claims being posited by adversaries of the United States. The chapter devotes special attention to athletes' response to the program, most of whom were initially unaware of the underlying political purpose of their trips. There was an unintended politicizing effect for the athletes, as many used the forum to distance themselves from domestic policies, push for civil rights, and find common cause with subjugated peoples around the world. An increased unwillingness for citizen diplomats to “stay on message” resulted in the programs being scaled back in the late 1960s.
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