From the campus to the globe : race, internationalism and student activism in the postwar South, 1945-1962
Whittington, Erica Layne
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What drew southern college students into the struggle for civil rights? To help answer that question, this project examines student challenges to existing social practices in the South, and traces changes in their attitudes toward race and social justice from World War II through the early 1960s. Over that time, thousands of college students committed themselves to the idea that “keeping the peace” was intertwined with individual human rights at home and abroad. An internationalist outlook shaped interest in race relations, citizenship, and gender roles. Southern youth were central to this development, pushing for social change at home in accordance with their concerns about national security and world peace. This history traces networks of southern college students, focusing on the cities of Austin, TX and Chapel Hill, NC, both of which produced vibrant progressive student organizations and national student leaders during the early postwar period. It uncovers an important yet understudied tributary of the larger Civil Rights Movement, and helps contextualize the interracial, “Beloved Community” activism of the early 1960s. As black students linked internationalism with civil rights as part of the “Double V Campaign” following World War II, many white students also began advocating for domestic desegregation, inspired by their experiences of traveling abroad and interactions with visiting international students. Integrated conferences sponsored by University YMCA/YWCAs and the National Student Association created a progressive, interracial student network. Through these organizations, many postwar students began redefining their own societal roles, and to explore their potential as political actors. Interracial encounters empowered southern students to envision new social relations between blacks and whites, women and men, and American and international citizens. Under the banner of “human relations,” they began to break down personal barriers and to consciously relate to one another on the basis of shared humanity. This dissertation is the first historical work to closely examine organized efforts to change individual attitudes toward race among both white and black southern students during the 1940s and 1950s. It recaptures the early postwar dynamism of southern campuses, where students took action, in both their schools and their hometowns, to better their world.