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Red Scare Racism and Cold War Black Radicalism

Red Scare Racism and Cold War Black Radicalism

By James Zeigler
Series: Race, Rhetoric, and Media Series

Paperback : 9781496809711, 252 pages, 8 b&w illustrations, November 2016
Hardcover : 9781496802385, 252 pages, 8 b&w illustrations, August 2015

A history of anticommunist rhetoric and its impact on the Black freedom struggle in America


During the early years of the Cold War, racial segregation in the American South became an embarrassing liability to the international reputation of the United States. For America to present itself as a model of democracy in contrast to the Soviet Union's totalitarianism, Jim Crow needed to end. While the discourse of anticommunism added the leverage of national security to the moral claims of the civil rights movement, the proliferation of Red Scare rhetoric also imposed limits on the socioeconomic changes necessary for real equality.

Describing the ways anticommunism impaired the struggle for civil rights, James Zeigler reconstructs how Red Scare rhetoric during the Cold War assisted the black freedom struggle's demands for equal rights but labeled “un-American” calls for reparations. To track the power of this volatile discourse, Zeigler investigates how radical black artists and intellectuals managed to answer anticommunism with critiques of Cold War culture. Stubbornly addressed to an American public schooled in Red Scare hyperbole, black radicalism insisted that antiracist politics require a leftist critique of capitalism.

Zeigler examines publicity campaigns against Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s alleged Communist Party loyalties and the import of the Cold War in his oratory. He documents a Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored anthology of ex-Communist testimonials. He takes on the protest essays of Richard Wright and C. L. R. James, as well as Frank Marshall Davis's leftist journalism. The uncanny return of Red Scare invective in reaction to President Obama's election further substantiates anticommunism's lasting rhetorical power as Zeigler discusses conspiracy theories that claim Davis groomed President Obama to become a secret Communist. Long after playing a role in the demise of Jim Crow, the Cold War Red Scare still contributes to the persistence of racism in America.


"Offers new radical canons that contribute to the scholarship that documents an intellectual tradition of Black radicalism"

- Mary Helen Washington, American Literature

"Zeigler has written a very good book, and with luck future scholarship will follow his lead with a wider scope and equal acuity. Red Scare Racism offers a skillful appraisal of anticommunist discourse, its consequences for racial socioeconomic equality, and its distortion of the civil rights movement."

- Patrick G. Wilz, American Quarterly

"Well-researched and convincingly argued, James Zeigler's study situates the United States civil rights movement within the international black freedom struggle and reveals the damaging influence of the political discourse of anti-communism on the black freedom movement during the early years of the Cold War."

- Donald E. Pease, Ted and Helen Geisel Third Century Professor in the Humanities and professor of English at Dartmouth College

"In this bold and important study, James Zeigler shows how Cold War anti-communist rhetoric carved the civil rights struggle away from an equally necessary work—that of repairing centuries-old white supremacist damage to US society and culture. Zeigler's chapters show the ways that African American thinkers—Richard Wright, C. L. R. James, Martin Luther King, and Frank Marshall Davis—wrote strong but largely unheard critiques of race/class oppression. Red Scare rhetoric practically banned those analyses, often just by branding the writer a Commie in print and visual media. Zeigler helps us to better understand why racial exclusion, oppression, and violence—as well as conspiracy mongers who insist our first African American president is a secret Commie—persist in the United States."

- Steven Weisenburger, Mossiker Chair in Humanities at Southern Methodist University

"James Zeigler contributes to at least three different fields—American studies, American Modernist literature, and rhetorical studies. This interdisciplinary focus is truly unique, demonstrating Zeigler's mastery of what are traditionally viewed as disparate areas. Zeigler ably traces similarities between the rhetoric of the Red Scare deployed against several black civil rights leaders and the resurrection of this rhetoric in attacks against Barack Obama's presidential candidacy. I highly recommend this thorough examination of the discourse shaping discussions about race and civil rights during the Cold War."

- Matthew Abraham, associate professor of English at the University of Arizona