Kevin Louis Dabney Leaven
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Date of Graduation
Master of Arts (MA)
School of Communication Studies
This project investigates how the United States Information Agency (USIA) functioned as a propaganda machine on behalf of the United States government at the dawn of the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement. Drawing from literature on propaganda, public relations, and public diplomacy, this thesis connects 20th century American propaganda to its roots in public relations, communication studies, and psychology.
The Civil Rights movement exposed the cultural inertia of white supremacy in America for the world to see while American foreign policy makers sought to crystallize a cultural hegemony fashioned after American political, cultural, and economic systems. Although the cultural and political systems in America were in a state of radical flux as the Cold War and the Civil Rights movements affected one another. Thus, as the voice of America abroad, USIA was pushed to negotiate the psychological and cultural tensions experienced in America for foreign audiences.
Using a discursive constructivist methodology, this study explores how American Cold War propaganda was developed by USIA to tell America’s story abroad. By critically examining USIA’s actions between 1953-1965 this study explores how USIA framed the image of the American race relations at the nexus of the Cold War and the US Civil Rights Movement. By analyzing propaganda disseminated by USIA regarding civil rights, examining US national security reports, US State Department memos, and supporting national intelligence community documents this project aims to answer the following research questions: RQ 1: How did the USIA frame the American race relations throughout the Campaign for Truth?, RQ 2: How did USIA bolster US prestige/soft power from 1953-1963?. RQ 3: How did USIA use communication and public relations to effectively mask the ugliness of the Civil Rights Movement?
American propaganda integrated new forms of mass media communications technology with a sophisticated variety of strategies and tactics to manipulate public opinion around the world. Blending traditional message broadcasting with interpersonal forms of advocacy (cultural exchanges) in imaginative campaigns which coopted the Civil Rights Movement to affirm America’s strength as a political, moral, and economic leader.
Leaven, Kevin, "Protecting the image of a nation: Jim Crow propaganda" (2020). Masters Theses, 2020-current. 51.