America and Post World War II Era: New Left Versus Right

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America’s Post-World War II Era: New Left vs. Right

The challenge to a variety of political and social issues distinctly characterizes the post World War II (WWII) era, from the mid 1940’s through the 1970’s, in the United States. These issues included African-American civil rights, women’s rights, the threat of Communism, and America’s continuous war effort by entering the Cold War immediately after the end to WWII. These debated issues led to the birth of multiple social movements, collectively referred to as the New Left, rooted in liberalism. In response to the New Left, a strong brand of conservatism, collectively referred to as the Right, arose to counteract these movements. Despite opposing ideology and convictions, both the New Left and the Right interchangeably used righteous language of freedom, morality, Christianity, and human rights, particularly in the issues of African-American civil rights, women’s rights, Communism, and the U.S. war effort in the Cold War, to justify and promote each of their respective agendas. While the U.S. achieved victory during WWII in the name of democracy and equality, African-Americans continued to experience domestic segregation. This led to the emergence of a New Left movement fighting for African-American civil rights and a counteracting Right movement attempting to maintain racial segregation in America. Two of the most prominent figures in the struggle, Martin Luther King Jr. and Strom Thurmond, each justified and promoted their agenda through righteous language which appealed to their respective followers. After being arrested and imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 for leading a nonviolent protest in support of African-American civil rights, King delivered his famous open letter, known as the Letter from Birmingham Jail, to white clergymen who had asked him to shut down his campaign. The letter possesses numerous connections between morality, Christianity, and African-American civil rights when he states, “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey just laws…. Segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful…. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred value in our Judaeo-Christian heritage.”[1] He justifies African Americans’ willingness to break the discriminating laws of the time and promotes eliminating segregation through these connections. This language allowed King to appear as the righteous one in the minds of many and he consequently gained the support of millions of African-Americans throughout the nation and white Christians in the North. Strom Thurmond, a conservative Rightist who led the State’s Rights Democratic Party or Dixiecrats, gained wide support for segregation and racial conservatism through language linking segregation to the preservation of human rights and liberty. In his 1948 Platform of the States’ Rights Democratic Party, he links the U.S. Constitution to the individual states’ rights to choose their respective legal status of segregation when he states, “We believe that the Constitution of the United States is the greatest charter of human liberty ever conceived by the mind of man. We oppose all efforts to invade or destroy the rights guaranteed to every citizen of the republic…. We stand for segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race…. We unreservedly condemn the effort to establish in the United States a police nation that would destroy the last vestige of liberty enjoyed by a citizen. We demand that there be returned to the people to whom of right they belong, those powers needed for the preservation of human rights and the discharge of our responsibility as democrats for human welfare.”[2]...
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