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Political Science

For Democracy and a Caste System? World War II, Race, and Democratic Inclusion in the United States by Steven White

Date: 3:30pm - 5:00pm PST November 14, 2013 Location: JRHH 203

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JRHH 203

Scholars of American politics often assume World War II liberalized white racial attitudes, in turn prompting a liberal shift in the federal government’s position on civil rights. However, while intuitively plausible, this relationship is generally not verified empirically. Using both survey and archival evidence, I argue the war’s impact on white racial attitudes is more limited than is often claimed, but that the war shaped and constrained the executive branch’s civil rights agenda in ways institutional scholars have generally ignored. The evidence is presented in three parts: First, I demonstrate that for whites in the mass public, while there is some evidence of slight liberalization on issues of racial prejudice, this does not extend to policies addressing racial inequities. Second, there is some evidence of racial moderation among white veterans, relative to their counterparts who did not serve. However, the range of issues is limited in scope. Third, the war had both compelling and constraining impacts on the Roosevelt administration’s actions on civil rights. In summary, World War II had myriad implications for America’s racial order. It did not broadly liberalize white attitudes, but its effect on the White House was a precursor to the form of “Cold War civil rights” that would emerge in the 1950s.

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