MTSU history professor provides lecture on refining American values in world spotlight, racial discrimination during Cold War

Photo and story by Daniel Shaw-Remeta / Contributing Writer

Amy Sayward, the executive director of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and an MTSU history professor, gave a lecture on refining American values in the world spotlight and the intersection between foreign and domestic policy in the U.S. during the Cold War on Monday in Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building. Her lecture was a part of the spring 2018 Honors Lecture Series.

Sayward began by mentioning that she was a “Cold War kid” who grew up during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, which was a time in U.S. history when communism was considered to be one of the nation’s most pressing concerns.

“The maps in my classrooms looked kind of like this,” she said when pointing to a multicolored map of the world. “Blue states and red states didn’t always refer to Democrats and Republicans. They used to refer to the free world. Either the United States were a strong true blue, lighter blue … (or) dark-red, the Soviet Union (or) the ‘evil empire,’ according to Ronald Reagan.”

Sayward further explained that, although she and most other Americans believed in the fear of communism during the time when Reagan was president, she began to study history in college and realized that certain things that are viewed as “good” or “bad” in history are often complex.

“We’re going to look at the ways in which the early Cold War American values, particularly the idea of human rights, which the U.S. saw itself as a sort of champion of, get challenged by the Soviet Union, by the Third World and ultimately have some of the international criticism come back to the United States,” Sayward said.

Sayward went on to say that the U.S. had several compelling reasons to think it was the “champion” of human rights to some degree. One of the reasons was that the country was the only functioning democratic-republican government and had been so for over 170 years. The problem, Sayward said, was that America was celebrating their merits in the name of human rights, while racial segregation remained a prominent issue and caused violence throughout the country. She showed some photographs that displayed some of the violence and horrific acts that tainted the country’s image during the Cold War.

“It’s not until African-Americans gain full legal civil rights that the United States has any real ability to put itself forward effectively as a leader in human rights,” Sayward said.

Sayward continued by mentioning some other events that led to global criticism of the U.S. in regards to human rights as the Cold War continued. Photographs from Little Rock, Arkansas, that showed white men and women taunting African-Americans who were seeking an education were released, which raised global recognition and discontent with the United States human rights issue.

“Again, this becomes the football in terms of national diplomacy,” Sayward said when explaining how much the entire world was talking about and interested in the American issue.

She also mentioned that the U.S. took a public opinion survey in multiple foreign countries regarding race relations and the role of the U.S. following the incidents in Little Rock, and they found that public opinion was very low of America by other countries. Sayward explained that one of the largest issues was that the U.S. was still trying to fight against the dangers of communism and promote freedom while maintaining poor race relations.

She concluded by saying that although the United States has made a great deal of changes since the Cold War, the system still isn’t perfect and that human rights issues continue to arise. She insisted that through education and learning history, the U.S. will continue to grow and understand the mistakes that have been made.

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email

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