Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Global March on Washington

Mary L. Dudziak

The March on Washington literally happened around the world as people in many countries "marched on Washington" in August 1963 by demonstrating at U.S. diplomatic posts.  This episode is one example to the way civil rights had an impact on U.S. foreign relations.  The United States tried to manage the global impact, for example by working with the Egyptian government, which suppressed a demonstration in Cairo.  I tell this story in today's New York Times, and the fuller story is in my book Cold War Civil Rights.  Today's piece begins this way:
An important but little-known episode in the story of the March on Washington unfolded on Aug. 17, 1963, in a Paris nightclub called the Living Room.

In response to a call by the writer James Baldwin for his fellow Americans living in Paris to support the civil rights march, more than a hundred people — including the blues musician Memphis Slim and the actor William Marshall — crowded into the club for a meeting. The atmosphere was electric. The group believed that the pressure of foreign opinion could play a critical role in the civil rights movement, and they gathered to figure out how to energize it. 

The pianist Art Simmons “spoke movingly of being forced every night to explain” American racial discrimination to Parisians, even as “he could not really explain it to himself,” recalled Barbara Sargent, wife of the pastor of the American Church in Paris. 

Paris was only one site of global action in support of the American civil rights movement. Around the world American expatriates, anticolonial activists and everyday citizens “marched on Washington,” delivering petitions to American embassies and consulates and holding marches of their own. 

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