Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Meriwether on Black Voters, Africa, and the 1960 Presidential Campaign

“Worth a Lot of Negro Votes”: Black Voters, Africa, and the 1960 Presidential Campaign by James H. Meriwether, has just been published in the Journal of American History. I read this article in draft, and recommend it highly. The article is accompanied by an on-line supplement on Teaching the JAH. Here's a brief article description:

When John F. Kennedy telephoned Coretta Scott King to express sympathy for her jailed husband, he had little idea that his two-minute call would move to center stage in the 1960 presidential election. That call, James H. Meriwether argues, has obscured Kennedy’s broader efforts to secure the support of black voters while not alienating white voters in the no longer “solid South.” Kennedy drew on the growing transnational relationship black Americans had with an ancestral continent undergoing its own freedom struggles, revealing that he was more interested in Africa than in civil rights. Africa, the newest frontier for Kennedy, became a place where he could show his Cold War credentials, find common ground with black American voters, and strengthen his chances to win the presidency.
The fabulous teaching supplement includes a podcast of an interview with Meriwether, teaching exercises listed below, links to primary sources, and a bibliography of further readings.

Among the primary sources is an excerpt from the Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae in Brown v. Board of Education, which argued that school segregation harmed U.S. foreign relations during the Cold War. I believe this is the first time this source has been available open-access on-line.

Overall, these sources make it quite easy to bring transnational history into teaching the history of civil rights during the Cold War and 20th century U.S. politics.