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Instructions

Once you have read the Hajjar chapter and the UDHR, please complete this eResponse by writing concise but thorough answers to all of the following questions.

You must include page numbers in each question–your score will depend on it. I do not require any specific citation format. Just include (author last name, page number) at the end of the relevant sentences. Please note that you must cite when you draw any ideas from the text, whether or not you explicitly quote it. And you must draw your ideas from the text because that is the assignment.

Please be sure that if and when you use a direct quotation from the reading, you also explain what that quotation means in your own words.

Questions (number your answers)

1. Jensen marshals a thorough historical survey to question the universality of the blossoming human rights paradigm.

A. Discuss one example from the reading that cast doubt on the universality of the UDHR.

B. Discuss one example that bolstered the claim of universality.

2. What was the Bandung conference? The participants in this conference focused on what right?

3. What does Anderson’s chapter tell us about the indivisibility of the different categories of human rights (civil, political, social, economic, cultural)? Were they divided? What was the problem?

4. Anderson explains that domestic pressures in the U.S. to protect white supremacy lead to compromises that weakened the enforcement structures of human rights. Describe one of these compromises.

Reply to a classmate

When you have finished posting your numbered answers, please read through and comment on someone else’s post, as well. Your comment should be substantive. If you agree or disagree with their post, explain why with reference to specifics. If you learned something from their post, identify what that is. 

1. Jensen marshals a thorough historical survey to question the universality of the blossoming human rights paradigm.

· To be frank, I did find myself having difficulty with this reading at points so I apologize in advance if I am off point. One example within the reading that casts doubt on the universality of the UDHR is on page 11. Here it states that some criticism lies in the declaration’s writings to be more “Western” ideologies that uphold colonial beliefs across all cultures. As such, it is argued that if the tone of the UDHR conforms to Western values, it ultimately denies cultural relativism and embraces “universalistic” principles that actively ignore various cultures. The quote on page 15, “The religious dogmas of those who profess equality and practice discrimination, who stress the virutue of humility and are themselves arrogant…” is an interesting one that seems to add to the doubt of the UDHR. 

· In all honesty, I’m not sure I am grasping this correctly because on page 15 it also says, “It was a debate that would come to reveal the problems of cultural relativism because it became closely connected to authoritarian rule,” but isn’t theoretically cultural relativism better than universalism? Or, is this saying that cultural relativism at that time was more independent in nature, favoring only the culture of specific regions, particularly the West (if that even makes sense)? 

· One example within the reading that bolsters the claim of universality of the UDHR is on page 15. Here it discusses the positive outcome of the UDHR and the relationship with self-determination. The UDHR’s ability to respect and uphold self-determination was seen more positively across various demographics because it still allowed countries the right to power while emphasizing human rights. As such, this allowed everyone to exist as each country wanted, but pushed for rights that would universally be expected to be respected. 

2. What was the Bandung conference? The participants in this conference focused on what right?

· The Bandung conference was a conference held by the Indonesian government. The participants, representatives from 29 Afro-Asian states and others at the time not yet independent, focused on the right of self-determination, with discourse around “individual freedoms, religious liberty and democratic governance” (26). 

3. What does Anderson’s chapter tell us about the indivisibility of the different categories of human rights (civil, political, social, economic, cultural)? Were they divided? What was the problem? 

· Anderson’s chapter tells us that all these categories of human rights were divided. It was essentially, Whites vs. every other race and culture (white supremacy). The problem was that political power was white ruling, the social hierarchy put white’s at the top, the most economically stable race was white, and the most pushed culture was Western. White supremacy dominated. There is one particular paragraph that really addresses these issues on page 8, “The Association, in short, recognized that that horrible moment in Missouri – a lynching designed to terrorize and remind the economically depressed and politically vulnerable African American population of their “place” in the racial hierarchy;…”. Anderson states there was a “flangent disparity” and “African Americans mercilessly [were] exposed to the political and economic ravages of white supremacy” (6; 8). 

4. Anderson explains that domestic pressures in the U.S. to protect white supremacy lead to compromises that weakened the enforcement structures of human rights. Describe one of these compromises.

· One example of these compromises was the bricker amendment. The push from the right, validating white supremacy, nearly coming in at a win, but thankfully being saved by the vote of Harley Kilgore, reflects the massive divide and lack of basic respect for African Americans that was very prominent at the time. The reading states that “it was a pyrrhic victory for African Americans” (23). Although a victory, Anderson’s choice to use the term ‘pyrrhic,’ and the history of how the push for equality got to this point, tells us that this was an incredibly harrowing experience.

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1

“Power carries its own conviction”

The early rise and fall of human rights, 1945–1960

“The chief novelty of the Declaration was its universality”
Rene Cassin, UN General Assembly, December 9, 19481

“Its moral force cannot rest on the fact of its universality – or practical
universality – as soon as it is realized that it has proved acceptable to all
for the reason that it imposes obligations upon none.”

Hersch Lauterpacht (1949), “The Universal Declaration
of Human Rights”2

It is December 7, 1948. The “International Bill of Human Rights” is one
of many agenda items. It has been two years in the making. The delegates
are now reaching decision time on the future of human rights in the work
of this international organization. We are in Guadeloupe – the French
island territory in the Caribbean. The occasion is the third West Indian
Conference of the Caribbean Commission.

Half a world away the UN General Assembly is in session in Paris.
The Commission on Human Rights has presented the “Draft Interna-
tional Declaration on Human Rights” to the Assembly. After more than
two months of debate stretching over eighty-five meetings the Third Com-
mittee of the UN General Assembly votes to adopt the document that one
week earlier, upon the initiative of French delegate Rene Cassin, was
renamed the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” The debate in
the Third Committee ends on December 7, 1948.

Meanwhile back in Guadeloupe, the delegates prepare themselves for
the human rights debate. The item was placed on the agenda in 1946

1 Mr. Cassin (France), UN General Assembly, 3rd session, 180th meeting, December 9,
1948, p. 866.

2 Hersch Lauterpacht (1949), “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, The British
Yearbook of International Law 1948. London, p. 372.

18

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Chapter 1 from Jensen, Steven L.B. (2016)
The Making of International Human Rights:
The 1960s, Decolonization, and the
Reconstruction of Global Values
Cambridge University Press

“Power carries its own conviction” 19

when it was decided that the Caribbean Commission should consider
developing a regional “Bill of Human Rights and Obligations.”3 In a
1945 debate in the State Department, the distinguished African American
diplomat Ralph Bunche, who served on the Caribbean Commission, rec-
ognized that the Caribbean was a testing ground for the Atlantic Powers’
“treatment of colonial peoples.”4 The 1948 human rights debate proved a
case in point. The colonial powers in the Caribbean, the United Kingdom,
France and the Netherlands, view the agenda item with great concern.
They have tried to end the debate before it began because they viewed
it as being against their interests. They have lobbied their American ally
for support to stultify the debate and the United States obliged. While
the United States did not want to “muzzle” the delegates it would “stand
firmly against any attempt to take positive action which might involve
serious controversy with the other three national sections.”5 Using the
unfinished UN debate on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as
an alibi and as a claim to their goodwill, the aim of France, the United
Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States was to block the debate.

Back in Paris, the debate has moved to the Plenary after the Third
Committee adopted the Universal Declaration. It is in this forum that
formal endorsement by the United Nations has to take place. On Decem-
ber 10, 1948, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is adopted with
forty-eight states in favor and eight states abstaining. Eleanor Roosevelt
predicts that the Declaration will be “the Magna Carta of all mankind.”6

In Guadeloupe, the rhetoric is less magnanimous. In what must be
one of the first statements on the relationship between human rights and
international development aid, the Trinidadian delegate opened by stating
“the Bill of Rights required for the West Indies was a ‘Dollar Bill’, as
such idealistic objectives must necessarily depend upon the improvement

3 See Recommendation 8 from “Report by Secretary-General on the Action taken by the
metropolitan and territorial Governments on the Recommendations of the previous ses-
sion of the West Indies Conference and on the work of the Commission since the previous
session.” U.S. National Archives, RG/59/150/70/28/6 – Box 40, File: Report by Secretary-
General on Progress of West Indies Conference. The Commission was established in 1942
in response to the region’s increased strategic importance during the Second World War.

4 Jason Parker (2008), Brother’s Keeper: The United States, Race, and Empire in the British
Caribbean, 1937–1962. Oxford, p. 70, see also pp. 52–55; Rafael Cox Alomar (2009),
Revisiting the Transatlantic Triangle: The Constitutional Decolonization of the Eastern
Caribbean. Kingston, pp. 18–24.

5 U.S. National Archives, RG/59/150/70/28/6 – Box 40: U.S. Department of State, “Draft
Declaration of Human Rights (Item 5); Background Information for use of the United
States Commissioners on the Caribbean Commission,” November 22, 1948, p. 12.

6 Mrs. Roosevelt (USA), UN General Assembly, 3rd session, 180th meeting, December 9,
1948, p. 362.

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20 The Making of International Human Rights

of economic circumstances.”7 The Trinidad delegate moves to close the
debate on a regional adaptation of the UN Bill of Human Rights. The
colonial masters could not have asked for more.

Other delegates express greater interest in the draft UN Declaration.
The delegates from Guadeloupe and British Guyana are particularly
impressed with the Article on the right to an adequate standard of living.8

The delegate from Puerto Rico calls for establishing a Committee that
would “submit concrete proposals for practical implementation of the
Declaration in the life of the Caribbean people.” The Caribbean Com-
mission should not wait for further action from “the United Nations or
the Metropolitan Governments.”9 The Puerto Rican delegate submits a
resolution calling for concrete implementation as soon as the Declaration
is approved by the UN. This is three days before the UN vote on Decem-
ber 10, adopting the Universal Declaration. The Puerto Rican resolution
is adopted and is transferred to the conference Drafting Committee. Here
the colonial powers manage to neutralize its recommendation on human
rights.10 They were successful in ensuring that the debate had no real
effect against the wishes of several of the Caribbean delegations. At the
same time, they celebrate in Paris the adoption of the Universal Declara-
tion as a great achievement.

Historians strongly disagree on how to understand the human rights
legacy from the 1940s. The Universal Declaration has been described
both as “a monumental achievement”11 and as a “funeral wreath laid on
the grave of wartime hopes.”12 The human rights developments of the
1940s have been captured under headings such as “A New Deal for the
World” and “A World Made New”13 as well as “Death by Birth” and as

7 U.S. National Archives, RG 59/150/70/UD 07D 68 – Box 39 (Caribbean Commission
series): Mr. Gomes (Trinidad), 3rd West Indian Conference, Daily Journal no. 6, Decem-
ber 7, 1948.

8 This was Article 22 in the Draft Bill – see E/800, “Report of the Third Session of the Com-
mission of Human Rights, May–June 1948,” p. 13 (in the UDHR, it appears as Article
25). Available at: www.un.org/en/ga/search/view doc.asp?symbol=E/800 (accessed on
September 16, 2015).

9 U.S. National Archives, RG 59/150/70/UD 07D 68 – Box 39 (Caribbean Commission
series): Mr. Ramos Antonini (Puerto Rico), 3rd West Indian Conference, Daily Journal
no. 6, December 7, 1948.

10 U.S. National Archives, RG 59/150/70/UD 07D 68 – Box 39: 3rd West Indian Confer-
ence, “Recommendations of the Conference,” January 28, 1949.

11 Daniel J. Whelan (2010), Indivisible Human Rights. A History. Philadelphia, PA, p. 60.
12 Samuel Moyn (2010), The Last Utopia. Human Rights in History. Cambridge, MA,

p. 2.
13 Elizabeth Borgwardt (2005), A New Deal for the World: America’s Vision for Human

Rights. Cambridge, MA; Mary Ann Glendon (2001), A World Made New. Eleanor
Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. New York.

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“Power carries its own conviction” 21

a “stillborn” project.14 These directly opposed interpretations call for a
balanced assessment of this period.

The story of the real-time events occurring in December 1948 in
Guadeloupe and Paris, between colonial territory and metropole, illus-
trates an important point about the history of human rights. It is often a
history of the simultaneous coexistence of proclamation and denial. As
human rights started to emerge, new techniques of curtailment also devel-
oped. Part of the historian’s challenge is to uncover the existence of this
proclamation–denial nexus and how it has been part of the dynamics that
have driven change in international human rights politics. Sovereignty and
domestic jurisdiction versus human rights constitutes one version of this
nexus. Universality versus relativism is another. The combined process
of proclamation and denial in the decade after 1945 merits the label an
“early rise and fall of human rights.” It is not a traditional temporal
narrative of “rise and fall” but rather a dual dynamic happening simul-
taneously as part of wider political battles. The 1940s remains a starting
point for the contemporary human rights story. The question is: In what
way?

“Searching for a new universalism”: the UN Charter and human rights

The outbreak of the Second World War spelled the end of interwar inter-
national organization. “The Wilsonian Moment” did not last long after
the First World War. The United States abandoned the League of Nations
from the outset and non-European actors rapidly became disillusioned
when realizing that the principle of self-determination – a core princi-
ple of President Wilson’s plan – did not extend beyond the European
continent.15 It was undone by the return of traditional European power
politics. Despite important efforts in specific areas of its mandate the
League suffered a protracted collapse after 1933 when the Nazis took
power in Germany.16 By the outbreak of the war the League of Nations
was a symbol of failure in most quarters.

In October 1940, a group of former League of Nations officials pre-
senting themselves as the International Consultative Group of Geneva
issued a report on the “Causes of the Peace Failure 1919–1939.” It was

14 See, respectively, Moyn (2010), The Last Utopia, pp. 44–83 and Samuel Moyn (2010),
“Human Rights in History,” The Nation, August 11, 2010.

15 Erez Manela (2007), The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International
Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism. Oxford.

16 Patricia Clavin (2013), Securing the World Economy. The Reinvention of the League of
Nations 1920–1946. Oxford.

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22 The Making of International Human Rights

an assessment of the political, economic and spiritual causes of why
international organization had failed. The group identified among the
political causes that the post–First World War settlement had required “a
new political morality, the substitution of responsibility for power” that
never materialized. The failure of collective security in Europe and the
flawed relationship between the doctrine of sovereignty and international
state obligations was highlighted. The most revealing part of the report
was a discussion of the spiritual factors causing the crisis of democracy:

men everywhere are searching for a new universalism. It is rightly believed that
international society has become so interdependent that it will only be able to live
in a harmonious and orderly fashion if some fundamental common convictions
concerning man and society are held by all nations, however different they may
remain in all other respects.17

The Group identified what they believed were the three existing concep-
tions of universalism: the communist, the humanistic and the Christian.
Human rights were mentioned nowhere under these categories. Commu-
nist universalism was described as “impressive and real, but it arrives at
universality through a process of destruction of all values (and those who
hold them).” It was not a tempting proposition. Humanistic universalism
was seen as based on a “faith in human reason” believing that by uni-
versalizing education in its values conflicts could be averted and a better
world would develop. The Group believed that “the weakness of this type
of universalism has been its facile optimism concerning the nature of men
and the power of human reason.”18 It was naı̈ve when facing the nature
of power.

The Group found the third option the most appealing. It reflected
the worldview of the group. Christian universalism was based on an
understanding that only by this common faith could humans live together
and overcome the conflicts that emerged. It was an understanding that
saw “the growth of Christianity as the only world-wide religion and in the
emergence of a new ecumenical consciousness the ground for hope that
the Christian faith may once more become the integrating force in Western
civilization.”19 It was a notion that installed a hierarchy elevating Western
civilization and projecting Christian universalism upon the whole world.
It bore the imprint of the colonial world order. It was a universalism of

17 International Consultative Group of Geneva (1940), “Causes of the Peace Failure 1919–
1939,” International Conciliation, October, no. 363, p. 367.

18 Ibid., p. 368.
19 Ibid., p. 368.

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“Power carries its own conviction” 23

the particular that was unable to imagine a world outside its own system
of values and beliefs.

The report was published a few months after the Fall of France. If
the Consultative Group’s analysis reflected mainstream political thinking
about international organization in 1940, it is safe to say that human
rights were not part hereof – not even when the focus was on developing
“a new universalism.” By 1945, human rights had become a central
element in the founding document for the new postwar international
organization. What happened in between?

The Atlantic Charter, launched by President Roosevelt and the British
Prime Minister Winston Churchill in August 1941, is often viewed as
a starting point for the new thinking on human rights in international
affairs despite the fact that it did not contain the actual words. The
historian Elizabeth Borgwardt has argued that its statement about estab-
lishing a peace after the war where “all the men in all the lands may
live out their lives in freedom from fear and want,” with its emphasis
on individuals and not state interests was “positively revolutionary” and
“marked a defining, inaugural moment for what we now know as the
modern doctrine of human rights.”20 The Charter did help define war
aims and stimulated international interest beyond the allied nations who
signed onto the Charter. It aroused interest in the colonies as it included
a provision on self-determination. Its timing, coming after Roosevelt’s
Four Freedoms speech to Congress earlier in 1941, may support Borg-
wardt’s view that it was a starting point for U.S. projection of a New
Deal international order upon the world.

Churchill, however, had a very different ambition. He retreated from
the universalistic interpretations of the Atlantic Charter. In his under-
standing it did not apply to colonial settings but merely to the occupied
European countries. Politically, it was a tenuous position that revealed
major tensions between a colonial order and the tendency toward univer-
salistic war aims for this global conflict. Churchill’s alliance was tenuous
because it consisted of European governments that had been forced into
exile. By autumn 1940 European exile governments and exiled represen-
tatives from many other countries had settled in London making it the
center of the war effort. Britain was leading this alliance that served as a
symbol of European opposition to Nazi expansion on the continent.

A government-in-exile is an oxymoron because the term govern-
ment normally implies a political entity that has control over its given

20 Borgwardt (2005), A New Deal for the World, p. 4.

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24 The Making of International Human Rights

territory – the state. Exile undermines this meaning. France, Belgium and
the Netherlands had showed considerable military and political weak-
nesses when they were occupied by Germany. The fact that the European
governments in exile in London had lost control over their territory and
the ability to protect their citizens but still managed their colonial posses-
sions – some of them providing invaluable natural and human resources
to the war effort – was bound to challenge perceptions about the legiti-
macy of the existing colonial world order. It was little surprise if people
outside Europe – for example in colonial settings – were inspired to think
differently about the organization of international affairs. Exile was an
experience of displacement that stimulated new political thinking and
ideas about international organization, European integration and human
rights. Rene Cassin, who was legal advisor to Charles de Gaulle’s Free
French movement, was one of several exiles who would come to play an
influential role in shaping the UN’s future human rights work.21

In the months after the Atlantic Charter human rights made a more
direct imprint on the notion of international organization. With the Soviet
Union joining the Allied war effort after the German invasion in the sum-
mer of 1941 and the United States joining in December 1941 after Pearl
Harbor, Roosevelt and Churchill met again shortly after the attack. Dur-
ing the Christmas period they prepared what became the United Nations
Declaration, which was issued for wider signatory support on January 1,
1942. It was based on the principles of the Atlantic Charter and con-
tained a commitment “to preserve human rights and justice in their own
lands as well as in other lands.” The Declaration was short, less than 200
words, but human rights were mentioned in this, the first document of
the United Nations. The wording “as well as in other lands” recognized
that human rights were an issue of international concern.

By January 1942, the Alliance against the Axis powers had been recon-
figured. The war effort was now led by the United States, Great Britain
and the Soviet Union replacing the more tentative alliance of Great Britain
and its exiled partners. The latter were subsequently sidelined from much
of the wartime decision-making much to their frustration and dismay.
As Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt were agreeing on how to divide up

21 Two others were the Czechoslovakian Egon Schwelb, UN Deputy Director for Human
Rights 1947–1962, and the Belgian Marc Schreiber, UN Director for Human Rights
1966–1977. Schwelb also became a leading international human rights scholar after
the Second World War. See Rene Cassin’s introduction to Schwelb alongside Schwelb’s
biographical profile and bibliography in the Human Rights Journal: International and
Comparative Law (1971), vol. 4, no. 2–3, pp. 194–205.

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“Power carries its own conviction” 25

Europe, they also set out to detail the principles and structures of the
future United Nations. In August 1944, diplomats from the three major
powers gathered at Dumbarton Oaks in the United States. By October
they had come up with a proposal for the organization of the United
Nations. Both the Soviet Union and Great Britain had little interest in
making human rights a central part of the United Nations and with only
one reference to human rights the Dumbarton Oaks proposals reflected
their views. The Chinese Government had been invited to join at the last
stages but their request for a stronger role for human rights was ignored.
The omission was widely criticized and the insertion of human rights
into the UN Charter would be among the most significant changes made
during the United Nations Conference in San Francisco that opened in
April 1945.22

The criticism that was aired reflected a number of developments that
had taken place between 1940 and 1945. During the war legal experts
and some non-governmental organizations had started defining a set of
international human rights standards.23 These efforts helped to ensure
that human rights became part of the work of the United Nations. A first
requirement for their consideration was that a more specific language for
human rights was developed. One significant effort was the “model inter-
national bill of human rights” prepared by the transnational American
Law Institute between 1941 and 1944. Their draft was promoted at San
Francisco and would later be used by the UN Commission on Human
Rights.

Norwegian historian Hanne Hagtvedt Vik has concluded that during
the Second World War there existed “an ongoing transnational conver-
sation on the rights of individuals.”24 It was this conversation that con-
verged at the San Francisco conference and challenged the convictions
held by the major powers. Another factor was the role of public opinion,
which was particularly important in the United States. A large number of
NGO representatives who represented many walks of American life was

22 Borgwardt (2005), A New Deal for the World, pp. 142–143; Mark Mazower (2004),
“The Strange Triumph of Human Rights,” The Historical Journal, vol. 47, no. 2,
p. 392.

23 Jan Herman Burgers (1992), “The Road to San Francisco: The Revival of the Human
Rights Idea in the Twentieth Century,” Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 14, no. 4,
pp. 468–474.

24 Hanne Hagtvedt Vik (2012), “Taming the States: The American Law Institute and
the ‘Statement of Essential Human Rights’,” Journal of Global History, vol. 7, no. 3,
p. 481.

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26 The Making of International Human Rights

part of the U.S. delegation to the San Francisco conference.25 It served as
an effective publicity exercise for the Americans who also had the recently
deceased President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s legacy to consider. The NGOs
lobbied to strengthen the human rights provisions. The British looked on
with some alarm.26

The Latin American countries were also effective advocates. The 1940s
were a relatively liberal period in Latin America with emphasis on con-
stitutional developments and with a twenty-nation contingent to the San
Francisco conference they were able to influence the outcome.27 Other
smaller states, for example, New Zealand, also supported a stronger role
for human rights in the Charter. Their efforts and the fact that the United
States became to a certain degree supportive of the positions held by the
above-mentioned actors meant that the Charter differed from the Dum-
barton Oaks draft and included human rights references throughout the
document.

It is rare in international diplomacy to give prominence to a notion
in which there is neither an actual definition nor even an agreed mean-
ing. The human rights provisions in the UN Charter operated somewhere
between an imaginary for a just international order and as rhetorical
devices that provided idealistic gloss on the realpolitik of the era. Despite
the very different motivations, the inclusion in the UN Charter was sig-
nificant because it defined human rights as being part of the field of
multilateral diplomacy. Without this inclusion the human rights story
may have had a very different dynamic and historical trajectory in the
postwar era.

At first reading, human rights feature prominently in the UN Charter
with a total of seven references. They appear in the second paragraph of
the preamble where “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity
and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women”
is reaffirmed. They appear in Article 1 on the “Purposes of the United
Nations” as a non-discrimination provision that focuses on respecting
human rights “without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”
Article 55 contains the first reference to the universality of human rights

25 Glenn Tatsuya Mitoma (2008), “Civil Society and International Human Rights: The
Commission to Study the Organization of Peace and the Origins of the UN Human
Rights Regime,” Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 607–630.

26 Borgwardt (2005), A New Deal for the World, p. 189.
27 Mary Ann Glendon (2003), “The Forgotten Crucible: The Latin American Influence on

the Universal Human Rights Idea,” Harvard Human Rights Journal, vol. 16, pp. 27–30;
Burgers (1992), “The Road to San Francisco,” pp. 474–475.

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“Power carries its own conviction” 27

by the United Nations.28 Article 68 determines that a UN human rights
commission will be established so that the organization can perform its
functions. Human rights thereby appear in the UN Charter as a vision, a
purpose, a goal for international cooperation with a specific institutional
mechanism and with defined roles for the UN General Assembly (Article
13) and the Economic and Social Council (Article 62).

It is, however, equally appropriate to view the 1945 UN Charter as a
barrier to an international legal order based on respect for human rights
because it was designed also with this purpose. Article 2 gives privileged
status to the principle of sovereignty and to domestic jurisdiction as it
determines that “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize
the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the
domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit
such matters to settlement under the present Charter.” The domestic
jurisdiction provision protected state sovereignty. It became a central
part of UN diplomacy and was a formidable barrier to overcome. It
clashed with both the promotion of the human rights provisions and
with Article 55 on the nature of international cooperation. In this light, it
was no coincidence that the human rights language was couched in weak
terms such as encouragement and respect instead of enforceability. It was
proclamation and denial all in one.

The Charter also had colonial hypocrisy written into its human rights
provisions. Human rights were not made part of Chapter 11 which con-
tained a “Declaration regarding Non-Self-Governing Territories” deal-
ing with the colonial territories of European Allied powers. The next
Chapter, however, established an International Trusteeship System for
the colonial possessions from the League of Nations Mandate system
and any territory removed from “enemy states as a result of the Second
World War” (Article 77). This mainly covered the German colonies taken
after the First World War. In Chapter 12 human rights were deemed
relevant as a basic objective of the Trusteeship System that included
“to encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms
for all without distincti

W5

Bringing Human
Rights Home

Volume 1

A History of Human Rights
in the United States

Edited by

CYNTHIA SOOHOO, CATHERINE ALBISA,
AND MARTHA F. DAVIS

Foreword by Louise Arbour

Praeger Perspectives

Westport, Connecticut
London

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bringing human rights home/ edited by Cynthia Soohoo, Catherine Albisa, and

Martha F. Davis ; foreword by Louise Arbour.
p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-275-98821-0 (set: alk. paper)­
ISBN 978-0-275-98822-7 (vol.l: alk. paper)­
ISBN 978-0-275-98823-4 (vol. 2: alk. paper)­
ISBN 978-0-275-98824-l (vol.3: alk. paper)
1. Human rights-United States. 2. Human rights-United States-History. 3. Civil

rights-United States-History. 4. Social justice-United States. 5. United States-Foreign
relations. I. Soohoo, Cynthia. II. Albisa, Catherine. III. Davis, Martha F., l 957-

JC599.U5.B694 2008
323.0973-dc22 2007040492

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data is available.

Copyright © 2008 by Cynthia Soohoo, Catherine Albisa, and Martha F. Davis

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be

reproduced, by any process or technique, without the
express written consent of the publisher.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2007040492
ISBN-13: 978-0-275-98821-0 (set)

978-0-275-98822-7 (vol. 1)

978-0-275-98823-4 (vol. 2)
978-0-275-98824-l (vol. 3)

First published in 2008

Praeger Publishers, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881
An imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.
www.praeger.com

Printed in the United States of America

The paper used in this book complies with the

Permanent Paper Standard issued by the National
Information Standards Organization (Z39 .48-1984 ).

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Contents

Foreword by Louise Arbour

Preface

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Introduction to Volume 1
Martha F. Davis

A Human Rights Lens on U.S. History: Human
Rights at Home and Human Rights Abroad
Paul Gordon Lauren

FDR’s Four Freedoms and Wartime

Vll

lX

Xlll

xv

1

Transformations in America’s Discourse of Rights 31

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Elizabeth Bm:gwardt

Louis Henkin and Human Rights: A New Deal
at Home and Abroad
Catherine Powell

A “Hollow Mockery “: African Americans,
White Supremacy, and the Development of
Human Rights in the United States
Carol Anderson

“New” Human Rights: U.S. Ambivalence Toward the
International Economic and Social Rights Framework
Hope Lewis

57

75

103

VI

Chapter 6

Appendixes

Index

Blazing a Path from Civil Rights to Human Rights:
The Pioneering Career of Gay McDougall
Vanita Gupta

About the Editors and Contributors

CONTENTS

145

161

249

255

CHAPTER4

A “Hollow Mocl(ery”:
African Americans, White

Supremacy, and the
Development of Human

Rights in the United States

Carol Anderson

Compelled to state the obvious, Walter White, executive secretary of the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP),
explained to several congressional leaders that “Democracy doesn’t mean
much to man with an empty belly.” 1 Although the context of that discussion
was on human rights in the emerging nations, White (and the NAACP) had
earlier grasped that that particular maxim was equally applicable to the United
States. From the organization’s long, hard years battling Jim Crow, the Asso­
ciation realized that political and economic rights had to converge. One could
not carry the heavy burden of equality all alone. The NAACP fully recog­
nized, nonetheless, that most people of color had never even experienced
political democracy. For millions of African Americans, the right to vote, to
participate in civil society, to enjoy the freedoms associated with checks on
government abuse, and to benefit from the protection of civil rights had be­
come articles of faith, pillars of hope, and the ephemera of dreams, but cer­
tainly not the substance of reality. Indeed, much of black life in America fo­
cused on how systematically and completely those basic civil rights were
repeatedly denied, ignored, and trampled on.

A new, major study, for example, focuses on the NAACP’s almost 100-year­
long battle to integrate African Americans into the political life of the United
States.2 In the early years, the white primary, election-day terrorism, and the
poll tax had eliminated generations from the voting booth. Historian Man­
fred Berg, therefore, notes that by the time of the 1942 congressional elec­
tions one report “estimated that . .. only 3 percent of the total population
of the seven poll tax states had cast their ballots, compared to 25 percent in
the rest of the nation.” In fact “[m]ore votes were cast in Rhode Island, the

76 A HISTORY OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE UNITED STATES

smallest state in the Union with roughly seven hundred thousand residents
and two representatives, than for all of the thirty-seven representatives of Ala­
bama, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, and South Carolina, with a total popu­
lation of more than 11 million.”3 Yet, as important as the right to vote was
and is, the quest for equality would require more than simply ending disen­
franchisement. As Walter White indicated, if black life was really going to be
about life and not just survival, there was something beyond civil rights that
had to be achieved.

The NAACP, the nation’s largest, oldest, and most influential civil rights
organization, had, therefore, slowly but surely begun to grasp the power and
importance of economic rights in the struggle for equality.4 The first glint
came during the Great Depression. That economic meltdown had brought a
horrific spike in the killing of black America as the number of lynchings and
the degree of sadistic, spectacle violence increased. The Depression had also
led to scores of impoverished black sharecroppers being driven off the land
so that plantation owners could reap multimillion-dollar windfalls from the
New Deal. And, while the overall unemployment rate in the United States
was a crushing 25 percent, the jobless rate in the black community hovered
well above 50 percent overall and in some cities lingered at a death-defying
80 percent. The right to vote, or any other civil right, was not going to solve
this alone. Stark, raving abject poverty had black America buckling under the
strain. 5

The onset of World War II did little, initially, to ease this burden. While
the United States’s emergence as the “arsenal of democracy” finally gave
most whites freedom from the economic devastation of the Great Depres­
sion, rampant discrimination in the defense industries and, frankly, through­
out most sectors of the employment market kept African Americans locked
out and locked down. More than half of the defense industries surveyed by
the United States Employment Service, for example, “stated flatly that they
would not” hire an African American for any position. 6

Thus, as the United States prepared to destroy regimes championing Aryan
and Japanese supremacy, economic and political oppression continued to con­
verge like a vise on black life in America. From education, to medical care, to
housing, to employment, to the court systems, even to the hallowed ground
of the vote, there was no escaping the fact that there was, indeed, a “flagrant
disparity” between the lofty rhetoric and the actual practice of American de­
mocracy. Presidential candidate Wendell Willkie would call it the “mocking
paradoxes.”7 The Japanese government was even more blunt. The American
people, Emperor Hirohito’s regime declared, have “‘run amuck’ in an orgy
ofJim Crowism. “8

The killing of Cleo Wright, less than a month after the attack on Pearl Har­
bor, was painfully illustrative. In January 1942, while the United States was
spelling out for the entire world its postwar human rights vision, Wright was
lynched in Sikeston, Missouri. There was no question that he had brutally
assaulted a white woman. There was also no doubt that, while resisting arrest,
the black laborer had slashed a cavernous hole through half of a deputy’s face.
And it was, therefore, equally certain that Cleo Wright, staggering under the
effects of “bad whiskey,” had just committed the ultimate transgressions,

A “HOLLOW MOCKERY” 77

especially for a black man in Jim Crow America, in an area of the country
where African Americans barely earned $50 a year, where nearly 100 African
American families, denied access to new public housing, stayed in tents year­
round, and where other blacks “lived in cabins behind the northeast homes of
wealthy whites, or in . .. alley quarters . . . ‘unfit for human habitation.’ “9

The attempted rape of a white woman and the knifing of a sheriff led to a
blistering counterattack. When it was over, Wright, bloodied, pistol-whipped,
and suffering from at least eight gunshot wounds, was taken to the only avail­
able medical facility in the area, a “whites only ” hospital, where, with no pain­
killers, the doctor patched, stitched, and plugged up what he could. An over­
night stay was, of course, out of the question. Bandaged and hovering near
death, Wright was eventually packed off to the local jail. Although the end
was a foregone conclusion, either through his numerous wounds or Missouri’s
criminal justice system, the “good folk ” of Sikeston had concluded that a
plain, old, run-of-the-mill death was not going to be enough. Black men may
have accounted for nearly 90 percent of all executions in the United States
for the offense of rape, but there were some lessons that no judge, no jury,
and no hooded executioner could ever deliver. 1 0 The criminal justice system
was just not fast enough or brutal enough to compensate for the fact that
“[t]hese damn niggers are getting too smart, ” “too cocky, ” and were “just
looking for a lynching.” 1 1

In the twilight hours, angry whites stormed the jail, overpowered the state
troopers, pulled an unconscious Wright from his cell, hooked his bullet­
riddled body to the bumper of a car, and set out for the black neighborhood.
After trolling Sikeston’s black district that Sunday morning with their maca­
bre bumper ornament in tow, his lynchers cut Wright’s mangled body from
the car, soaked him in five gallons of gasoline, and lit a match. Wright, some­
how miraculously still alive, let out an agonizing wail. In his last grasp for life,
Wright’s flame-whipped arms “reached skyward as if pleading for a mercy
that did not come ” while the thick putrid smoke from his roasting carcass
poured through the windows of the packed local black church.1 2 “This was, ”
of course, “not a matter of executing justice.” The point, as the lynchers
made clear, was “to terrify the Negro population and to show them who
was boss. ” 1 3 The lessons, however, were still not over. Although it was well
known who, precisely, had participated in every phase of the lynching-from
the storming of the jail to tossing the lit match on the black man’s gasoline­
soaked body-a “federal grand jury refused to return any indictments ”
because although the murderers “had denied Wright due process, . .. they
had committed no federal offense since Wright was either already dead or
dying.” 1 4

The black press erupted, “Remember Pearl Harbor … and Sikeston,
Missouri.” 15 The NAACP’s report, while more restrained, was in its own way
equally incendiary. This was war. Although the battle against the Axis powers
was evident, there was an equally important battle to be fought at home.
African Americans ( and whomever their allies may be) were going to have to
eliminate, root and branch, the economic and political conditions that had
led to the killing of Cleo Wright and all of the thousands of Cleo Wrights that
had gone before him. “[N]o change in legal procedure alone will solve the

78 A HISTORY 01′ HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE UNITED STATES

problem,” the NAACP concluded. “Its roots are buried too deep in racial
feeling and in our economic set-up. In southeast Missouri today Negroes …
have never had an opportunity to develop beyond their position as serfs.” In
fact, because blacks “were imported to pick cotton,” the report continued,
there had been a concerted, conscious effort to ensure that they would have
“little education and little earning power.” The general fear was that “if they
were educated they” might actually refuse to toil for pennies a day in the
plantation owners’ fields and, as a consequence, just “might be more trouble­
some.” The NAACP ‘s investigators concluded that it was the economic sys­
tem that had left African Americans mercilessly exposed to the political and
economic ravages of white supremacy. As a result, the Association insisted,
there was only one way out of this abyss. “The change from feudalism to a
system whereby Negroes can earn enough to stand independently on their
own, can only come . . . when the Negro reaches a point where he merits and
receives respect as an independent individual with human rights.” 16

The Association, in short, recognized that that horrible moment in
Missouri-a lynching designed to terrorize and remind the economically de­
pressed and politically vulnerable African American population of their “place”
in the racial hierarchy; a “whites only” hospital that virtually ignored the
medical needs of thousands of its residents; a readily identifiable black part of
town that reflected the housing segregation, substandard education, and
poverty wages that haunted African Americans; an all-white political power
structure that fretted over the excessive violence of the lynching but was
more concerned about maintaining a cheap, exploitable labor supply; and a
judicial system that weighed guilt and innocence on racially rigged scales that
denigrated black life and privileged whiteness-was but a microcosm of the
human rights violations that had dogged African American communities for
centuries. Cleo Wright was no aberration. 17

That had to change. For the NAACP, the right to education was the well­
spring of that change. 18 Education could broaden employment opportuni­
ties, provide access to better-paying jobs, create the wherewithal for quality
housing, break the back of and expose the racist underpinnings of literacy
tests, poll taxes, and other tools of disenfranchisement, and develop the
healthcare system to meet the needs of millions who had little or no access to
decent medical treatment.

That kind of education, however, was decidedly unavailable, especially for
blacks in the America of World War II. One report on the status of black
America in the early 1940s noted that “[ a ]pproximately four-fifths of all Ne­
groes in the United States have had access to none other than segregated
schools for their public education. To thousands of Negroes in the South,
not even segregated schools have been available.” 19 And, to be clear, the
education served up to black people may have been separate, as Plessy al­
lowed, but it certainly lacked the equality, which Plessy required. The federal
government estimated in 1941 that it would take the equivalent, in 2005
dollars, of more than $4.2 billion to equalize the black school system in the
United States.20 The NAACP noted that when it came to state investment
in school facilities “252% more money was spent on each white child than
was spent on each Negro child in the same community-ranging from 28.5%

A “HOLLOW MOCKERY” 79

in Oklahoma to 73 1.9% in Mississippi. In some counties the difference is
1500%.”21 A newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi, was even compelled to remark
on the staggering disparities. Although African American children comprised
nearly 60 percent of the school age population in Jackson, they received
“only 9 percent of the budget. “22 This pattern repeated itself throughout the
state like a debilitating refrain. By 1940, more than half of all African Ameri­
can adults in Mississippi had less than five years of formal education; almost
12 percent had no schooling whatsoever. The figures for the “mis-education
of the Negro ” were even higher in South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, and
Alabama.23

The fact that there were millions of uneducated, barely educated, and mis­
educated held major repercussions for nearly every sector of black life in
America. The effect on the healthcare system was immediately apparent. There
was a critical need for African American physicians throughout the United
States’s segregated healthcare system but there were only a few who could
slog through the miasma of Jim Crow education to meet that overwhelming
demand. This chronic shortage was, unfortunately, exacerbated by the dis­
criminatory admissions policies of universities and medical schools through­
out the United States. In Philadelphia, for example, which housed five different
medical schools, “only eighteen Negroes have been graduated . . . in twenty­
seven years.” In New York, “no Negro enrolled at Cornell University College
of Medicine at any time between 1920 and 1942 ” and Columbia University
destroyed its admissions records when asked to provide racial data on medical
school applicants and enrollees. In fact, only “eighty-five colored students are
currently enrolled in twenty Northern and Western schools, as against 25,000
whites. About fifteen Negroes are graduate from these schools each year.”24

With the bulk of higher education closed to African Americans, two his­
torically black universities, Howard University Medical School and Meharry
Medical College, accounted for nearly “85 per cent of all the Negro doctors
now in practice.” 25 Despite their herculean effort, however, those two medi­
cal colleges did not have the capacity to produce a sufficient number of
doctors to meet the healthcare needs of a malnourished, impoverished popu –
lation, whose life expectancy rate was nearly a decade less than whites and
whose infant mortality rates were double. That is to say, while the American
Medical Association had determined that the minimum ratio of doctor to
population was one for every 1,500, the ratio in the black community was
more than twice that. On average, in the 1940s, there was only one African
American “doctor for every 3 3 37 Negroes . … In Mississippi the ratio is one
to 18,527.”26

Dr. Roscoe Conkling Brown, Chief of the Office of Negro Health Work
for the United States Public Health Service, summarized the conditions that
had created this crisis. “Poor housing, malnutrition, ignorance, and inadequate
access to basic health essentials-hospitals, clinics, medical care-are among
the social factors contributing to the Negro’s health status. This racial group
‘has a problem of such size and complexity,’ ” he noted, “as to challenge
the leadership of both the Negro and white races to intelligently, coura­
geously, and persistently prosecute for the nation a definite program of general
health betterment for all people without recrimination or discrimination. “27

80 A HISTORY OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE UNITED STATES

The NAACP, whose chairman of the board was Dr. Louis T. Wright, chief of
surgery at Harlem Hospital, decided that this challenge and all of the other
challenges surrounding the human rights of African Americans had to be met.

The war and the language of war proved an important vehicle in the As­
sociation’s fight to make human rights a viable force in the United States. In
1941, before Pearl Harbor, and despite President Franklin Roosevelt’s con­
cerns as he watched one European nation after the next being mowed under
by the German Wehrmacht, isolationists had effectively blocked American
entry into the war. Although Britain now stood alone as the thin dividing line
between the democratic West and the global domination of Nazi Germany,
the isolationists, haunted by the legacy of World War I, dug in. Senator George
Aiken (R-VT) summarized the sentiment best when he noted that: “The
farm and village folk of my State . . . would go all the way, down to the last
dollar and the last man, to protect Canada. But they do not see why Ameri­
can boys should give their lives to define the boundaries of African colonies,
or to protect American promoters or exploiters in Indochina or New Guinea.
Neither do I.”28 This was the implacable resistance that President Roosevelt
and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had to overcome.

On August 14, 1941, they issued the Atlantic Charter to make clear that
this was not like World War I. This was not about secret treaties, secret clauses,
colonial swap meets, and territorial envy. Rather, the war against the Nazis
was different. A victory this time would create a better, new world order. This
brave new world, the Atlantic Charter proclaimed, would be predicated on
justice, democracy, and human rights. Historian Elizabeth Borgwardt bril­
liantly lays out, though, that the message in the Atlantic Charter was, in fact,
many messages. It had one specific meaning for the British, another for the
American government, and a decidedly different one for those living under
racial oppression.29

The Atlantic Charter’s language was specific enough, eloquent enough,
and vague enough to envelope a range of interpretations. African Americans
clearly saw it as a way out of no way. The second and third points of the At­
lantic Charter, for example, spoke of self-determination, that all people had
the right to choose their own government. That bedrock principle of democ­
racy would, ironically enough, prove particularly troublesome for the two
leaders. The people who lived in Britain’s colonial possessions did not have
the right to vote, could not choose their leaders or what form of government
they wanted. Was Churchill finally saying that Hitler’s attack, besides bring­
ing Britain to its knees, had also brought the nation to its senses? And in the
United States, African Americans, particularly in the South, were systemati­
cally denied the right to vote, denied the right to choose their governmental
officials and the right to have a political voice in shaping the conditions under
which they lived, worked, and died. Did this pledge from the president of the
United States mean that the federal government was now finally going to
compel Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, and the rest of the
states to adhere to the Constitution and the Atlantic Charter? The African
American leadership certainly thought that it did.

The Atlantic Charter offered more than mere self-determination, how­
ever. The fifth point in that historic document truly seemed to be the dawn

A “HOLLOW MOCKERY” 81

of a new world order. The United States and Britain pledged “to bring about
the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the
object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement
and social security.”30 The phrase “for all” was unintentionally but decidedly
revolutionary. The leaders seemed to promise that the world’s citizens would
finally have human rights-better working conditions, better and increasing
pay, and a safety net of economic security. The British and American leader­
ship had grasped that it was the destabilization in the world markets, which
had then avalanched into the Great Depression, that had made Hitler so ap­
pealing to the Germans. Roosevelt and Churchill were determined that never
again would a nation’s economy be so ravaged that the only way out of dark­
ness was through a raving demagogue like Adolf Hitler. Although this may
have been the intention of the president and prime minister, African Ameri­
cans, whose living conditions were simply appalling, interpreted this as a
pledge by the federal government to remove the barriers that had systemati­
cally prevented them from reaping the benefits from centuries of the unpaid
and barely paid hard labor, which had built the wealthiest nation on earth.

Moreover, this vision of a new world, where there would never, ever be
another Cleo Wright, was, for African Americans, encapsulated in the sixth
principle of the Atlantic Charter. Roosevelt and Churchill averred that “after
the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace
which . . . will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out
their lives in freedom from fear and want. “31 This, of course, was intended to
put a halt to military invasions and all the Gestapo-like goon squads who
abused power and terrorized people. But it meant more than that to African
Americans. It was not the Nazis that terrorized them day after day. It was the
Ku Klux Klan, it was the police and sheriff’s departments, it was the lynch
mob, it was racial oppression in the United States. Indeed, African Americans
looked at Nazi Germany and saw an evil that was distinctly, painfully familiar.
In 1941, after reviewing a series of Nazi edicts such as the sterilization of the
mulatto “Rhineland bastards” and the application of the Nuremberg Laws to
Germany’s black population, Pittsbu1lJh Courier journalist George Schuyler
remarked that “what struck me . . . was that the Nazi plan for Negroes ap­
proximates so closely what seems to be the American plan for Negroes. “32

Walter White and NAACP board member Earl Dickerson echoed that senti­
ment by continuously pointing to the similarities between white supremacy
in the United States and Aryan supremacy in Nazi Germany and the inevita­
ble destruction that rained down on so-called marginal populations whenever
either of those supremacist doctrines came into play.33 Had this picture of
racial oppression been frightening enough, like the portrait of Dorian Gray,
to compel the American government to reclaim its soul and honor its oft­
spoke commitment to equality and democracy?

The black leadership, of course, had no illusions that this reclamation
project would or could happen overnight. The sobering and unforgettable
false promises of World War I still resonated like a bitter refrain. African
Americans’ unrequited faith in democracy and misguided “patriotic” silencing of
agitation for equality, had not helped make the world, or the United States for
that matter, “safe for democracy.” Instead, after World War I, African Americans

82 A HISTORY OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE UNITED STATES

felt the cold, malevolent embrace of a nation that had reified white suprem­
acy, welcomed the resurgence of the Klan, and drowned America in the black
blood of Red Summer. Hardened by that unflinching betrayal, African Amer­
icans learned an invaluable lesson. White House aide Philleo Nash immedi­
ately noticed the difference. The tenor and tone of the black community
during World War II was like nothing he had ever seen before. “Negroes,” he
warned the Roosevelt administration, were not the Negroes of World War I.
This time, he noted with alarm, they are “in a militant and demanding
mood.”34 Indeed, one black soldier encapsulated that militancy best when he
declared, “I’m hanged if I’m going to let the Alabama version of the Ger­
mans kick me around when I get home . . . . I went into the Army a nigger;
I’m coming out a man. “35

This was a new day. African Americans were demanding “freedom [and]
rejecting [the] idea of racial inferiority.” The language of the Atlantic Char­
ter’s Four Freedoms, particularly freedom from fear and freedom from want,
meant that the “[ c ]ontinued humiliation to Negroes who are segregated in
the armed forces,” the perpetuation of persistently “[b ]ad and inadequate
housing,” and rampant “[u]nemployment even where man-power shortages
are present,” were not going to be tolerated. Not this time. 36 A “war for the
Four Freedoms,” the NAACP declared, had erupted in black America.37

Therefore, when Churchill insisted that the Atlantic Charter was, for all
intents and purposes, a “whites only” affair, Walter White and other members
of the black leadership repudiated the prime minister and called on President
Roosevelt to issue a Pacific Charter “so that dark-skinned and colonial peo­
ples may be given greater hope of real political democracy and freedom from
economic exploitation.” White then challenged Roosevelt to “prove to the
colored peoples . . . that you are not hypocrites when you say this is a war
for freedom. Prove it to us and we will show you that we can and will fight
like fury for that freedom. But,” White added, “we want-and we intend to
have-our share of that freedom. “38

The “moral cross roads of the war has been reached. “39 The communist­
dominated National Negro Congress (NNC) saw it, as well. There “is no
middle road today,” the leadership asserted, “there are only two paths before
us.” One “strives to secure for mankind the four freedoms that characterize a
democratic government-freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom
from want, freedom from fear.” For “15,000,000 American Negroes,” the
NNC insisted, “this spells freedom from oppression.” The other pathway, as
the Axis powers, as well as the lynchers in Sikeston, Missouri, had made abun­
dantly clear, “drowns in bloodshed the lives, dignity and culture of minority
peoples.”40 The African American leadership had seized upon the reality that
the needs in black America had converged with the wartime language of
human rights to provide the road map for freedom.

NAACP board member William Hastie, former dean of Howard Univer­
sity’s law school, carefully and meticulously articulated this human rights vi­
sion. He declared that “When we as victors lay down our arms in this struggle
against . .. enslavement” by the Nazis and other Axis powers, “we take up
arms immediately in the great war against starvation, unemployment, and the
rigging of the markets of the world.” “Starvation,” he observed, “has no Bill

A “HOLLOW MOCKERY” 8 3

of Rights nor slavery a Magna Carta.” For this powerful member of the
NMCP’s board of directors and future federal judge, housing, education,
and health care were now the newly enshrined rights. “We cannot, ” he in­
toned, “offer the blueprints and the skills to rebuild the bombed-out cities of
other lands and stymie the rebuilding of our own cities. Slums have no place
in America. We cannot assist in binding the wound of a war-stricken world
and fail to safeguard the health of our own people. We cannot hope to raise
the literacy of other nations and fail to roll back the ignorance that clouds
many communities in many sectors of our own nation . .. all people [must]
have the opportunity for the fullest education.” Hastie then laid out that
“Our choice is between democracy for every body or for the few-between
the spreading of social safeguards and economic opportunity to all the peo­
ple ” as outlined in the Atlantic Charter or, in sliding down into the hole of
the “good old days of Americanism, ” which meant “the concentration of our
abundant resources in the hands of . . . a few ” who epitomized “selfishness
and greed. “41

It is within this framework of the Four Freedoms and human rights that
the African American leadership soon began “formulating a program of post
war needs for the American Negro.” At the top of that list was “first-class
citizenship ” as defined by “basic civil rights ” such as “the right to vote in all
parts of the country.” There was also a recurring emphasis on “essential eco­
nomic rights ” such as the “right to compete