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Selma to Saigon

Selma to Saigon: The Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War

Daniel S. Lucks
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    Selma to Saigon
    Book Description:

    The civil rights and anti--Vietnam War movements were the two greatest protests of twentieth-century America. The dramatic escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam in 1965 took precedence over civil rights legislation, which had dominated White House and congressional attention during the first half of the decade. The two issues became intertwined on January 6, 1966, when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) became the first civil rights organization to formally oppose the war, protesting the injustice of drafting African Americans to fight for the freedom of the South Vietnamese people when they were still denied basic freedoms at home.

    Selma to Saigon explores the impact of the Vietnam War on the national civil rights movement. Before the war gained widespread attention, the New Left, the SNCC, and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) worked together to create a biracial alliance with the potential to make significant political and social gains in Washington. Contention over the war, however, exacerbated preexisting generational and ideological tensions that undermined the coalition, and Lucks analyzes the causes and consequences of this disintegration.

    This powerful narrative illuminates the effects of the Vietnam War on the lives of leaders such as Whitney Young Jr., Stokely Carmichael, Roy Wilkins, Bayard Rustin, and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as other activists who faced the threat of the military draft along with race-related discrimination and violence. Providing new insights into the evolution of the civil rights movement, this book fills a significant gap in the literature about one of the most tumultuous periods in American history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4509-9
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The civil rights movement and the debates over the Vietnam War were at the center of the turbulence of the 1960s. After all, the civil rights and antiwar movements were two of the greatest protest movements of twentieth-century America (the labor movement was a third). They sharpened the cleavages that tore American society asunder from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s. Although the civil rights movement preceded the antiwar movement, they briefly overlapped in 1965. President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to escalate the war in Vietnam in early 1965, just a few months prior to his signing of the Voting Rights...

  4. 1 The Cold War and the Long Civil Rights Movement
    (pp. 9-36)

    A decade before President Johnson plunged the nation into a large-scale war in Vietnam, famed African American entertainer Paul Robeson was under siege. His personal and financial fortunes had plummeted after the U.S. government revoked his passport in 1950 because of his outspoken leftist views and his admiration for the Soviet Union. In a climate in which the fear of communism bordered on hysteria, Robeson would eventually succumb to the emotional strain. Although he was one of the most prominent victims of the Red scare, he was not alone. The government similarly harassed thousands of Americans, black and white, who...

  5. 2 African Americans and the Long Cold War Thaw, 1954–1965
    (pp. 37-72)

    The Geneva Accords of 1954 signified the end of France’s colonial empire in the Far East. Among other things, it temporarily divided Vietnam at the seventeenth parallel and called for free elections by 1956. Wishing to distance themselves from the taint of compromise with the communist forces, President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles refused to sign the accords; they perceived the French withdrawal as a fresh opportunity to create an independent capitalist bastion in South Vietnam, free of the stench of colonialism. The Eisenhower administration breathed a sigh of relief when the election that would have unified...

  6. 3 Vietnam and Civil Rights: The Great Diversion, 1965
    (pp. 73-110)

    On August 6, 1965, approximately six months after transforming the conflict in Vietnam into an American war, Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in a solemn ceremony at the Capitol. Approximately seventy years since African Americans were systematically disenfranchised in the South, this historic piece of legislation guaranteed voting rights to all African Americans. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, and other luminaries of the civil rights community sat nearby in seats of honor, President Johnson addressed the nation and proclaimed the act “a triumph for freedom as huge as any...

  7. 4 The Vietnam War and Black Power: The Deepening Divide, 1966
    (pp. 111-140)

    After its crowning legislative accomplishments in 1964 and 1965, the civil rights movement floundered in 1966. With the Vietnam War now sucking the life from the Great Society and the civil rights agenda stalled in Congress, African Americans’ impatience and anger mounted. This was best reflected in a spike in militancy among black activists, which had surfaced most prominently in Watts. By mid-1966, SNCC and CORE moved further toward Black Power, which alienated them from white liberals and riled the moderate wing of the civil rights movement. While the struggle for racial justice continued, the nonviolent interracial phase that had...

  8. 5 Dr. King’s Painful Dilemma
    (pp. 141-168)

    On the evening of Monday, March 15, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. was emotionally and physically drained. He huddled with a few close aides in front of a small black-and-white television in a living room in Selma, Alabama, anxiously awaiting President Johnson’s address to Congress on the issue of civil rights. For the past two months, the civil rights movement had made a stand for voting rights in Selma, a former slave market in the heart of the Black Belt. Although African Americans made up 57 percent of Selma’s population, less than 1 percent were eligible to vote.¹ It had...

  9. 6 The Second Coming of Martin Luther King Jr., 1966–1968
    (pp. 169-212)

    By 1966, King’s prayers had not been answered, and the military escalation in Vietnam continued unabated. LBJ was consumed by the war, and civil rights leaders discerned a diminution in his passion for civil rights.¹ Vietnam would cast its shadow on American life well into the 1970s and beyond. Writing in theNew York Review of Booksin October 1966, journalist Ronald Steel described Washington as “a city obsessed by Vietnam.” According to Steel, “It eats, sleeps, and particularly drinks this war. There is virtually no other discussion worthy of the name, and no social gathering or private discussion that...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 7 Moderates and the Vietnam War: All the Way with LBJ
    (pp. 213-248)

    Ever since the end of Reconstruction, African Americans had yearned and struggled for acceptance in mainstream, middle-class American life. Langston Hughes’s “I, Too, Sing America” poignantly encapsulated African Americans’ wish to share in the American Dream.¹ By the summer of 1965, in spite of myriad difficulties, African Americans’ quest for equal opportunity no longer seemed to be “A Dream Deferred.” While SNCC’s, CORE’s, and the SCLC’s high-profile direct-action campaigns in the streets and parks and at the beaches, bus terminals, and lunch counters of some of the most benighted cities and towns in the Deep South captured the public’s imagination...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 249-254)

    By the time U.S. troops finally withdrew from Vietnam in January 1973, all the civil rights organizations had expressed their opposition to the war—some sooner than others, and for differing rationales. However, it was Lyndon Johnson’s departure from the White House that marked the end of the civil rights movement’s support for the war.¹

    Johnson’s successor, Richard M. Nixon, referred to African Americans as “niggers,” “jigaboos,” and “jungle bunnies,” and he crafted a “southern strategy” to entice white southerners into the Republican Party.² Prior to the 1968 election, Nixon confided to a supporter, “If I am president, I am...

  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 255-258)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 259-324)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 325-346)
  16. Index
    (pp. 347-366)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 367-370)