Impact on US Foreign Relations during the Cold War


Nine From Little Rock is a 1964 Oscar winning documentary, directed by Charles Guggenheim that depicted the horrible incident of Little Rock Nine where nine African-American students tried to attend an all-white Arkansas High School in the year of 1957. Narrated by one of the students who were involved in the incident, the documentary reflects the story of how the society of America in the 1950’s had racism injected in their cores and how the class and race segregation was supported by the law of the land.

However, this documentary of the 1964 also depicts how this powerful incident that was largely portrayed by the American media houses changed USA’s stance in the Cold War rivalry with Soviet Union and how the incident of race largely affected the equation USA shared in the ongoing Cold War. In this essay we shall discuss a brief background of the Little Rock Nine incident and how USA’s foreign relation policy was affected by this. Further we shall develop the essay into a critical discussion as such how the abovementioned incident influenced and affected the position of USA in the ongoing Cold War.


Background of ‘Nine from Little Rock’

In the Post-civil war America, when the fourteenth amendment to the American Constitution was implemented that aimed for the Southern Government to provide all the citizens of America ‘equal protection of law’, the race segregation amongst the Americans were justified and supported by the law and order of the then Democrat government. However, even though the implementation of the fourteenth amendment to the American Constitution was done, the judicial system of the country and the whole American society at large could not digest the gist of the amendment therein which gets a clear picture in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, where the US Supreme Court supported the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ and held that a public schooling system shall have racial segregation does not violate the fourteenth amendment of the US Constitution. Such depiction of the racial segregation was challenged in the year of 1954 by the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, where the abovementioned case was overturned and it was held by the US Supreme Court, dismissing the previous depiction, that having public schools divided by race violates the US Constitution and that each and every citizen of USA shall have the absolute right to have access to any public school, whatsoever.

The Incident of Little Rock Nine and The Consequence thereof

Soon after the judgement passed in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, nine African-American students of the Arkansas State tried to attend an all-white school, Little Rock High School, in the year of 1957 which was resisted by the then democrat government and the segregationists of the country and one student, Elizabeth Eckford, showed up on the first day and she faced public humiliation and mob violence which not only revealed the true nature of the American society before the whole world but it also showed how racist and segregationist attitude is the core ideal of the then USA government and Congress. The incident left the world speechless as the American Media portrayed the whole incident of mob violence in details on TV.

The effect of ‘Little Rock Nine’ on Cold War – A Critical Discussion

The incident of white mob attack on nine African-American students for their attempt to attend an all-white American school was devastating, disturbing and revealed the true face of the American Democrat Congressman, Orvul Faubus, who did not restrain the segregationists from creating a chaos over the incident of Little Rock Nine.

However, the disturbing element is not the only characteristics of this incident but there exists a very subtle influence of this incident on the ongoing Cold War of USA with the Soviet Union. While the Little Rock Nine incident of September, 1957 made an economical, cultural and social impact all over the country, the political impact of this incident was on the international level. As it has been shown in the documentary of Nine from Little Rock, the incident had a huge impact on the international public relation of USA as it continued to fought a global cold war with Soviet Union. In the words of the eminent historian John A. Kirk, “a crisis of such magnitude for worldwide perceptions of race and American democracy that it would become a reference point for the future” (p. 280).

As it could be seen from the limited sphere and narration from the documentary of 1964, the incident was internationally reported on several newspapers and USA’s concept of federalism was criticized openly on every international forum for being ignorant of the human rights. Even though the then President of USA Dwight D. Eisenhower did not support the decision of the US Supreme Court, he acted decisively when the then governor of Arkansas decided to unite with extreme segregationists by sending federal troops and National Guards.

How and Why Little Rock Incident affected Cold War?

In order to understand the dynamic of Little Rock Nine incident on Cold War, it is needed to comprehend that the global Cold War between USA and Soviet Union continued from 1945 to 1991 and 1957 was a crucial time when USA needed to make a global statement as a superior power to the other countries who were mostly belonged to the people of color. If we critically discuss the incident as it has been told in the documentary of Nine from the Little Rock, the international coverage of the abovementioned incident showed that USA does not practice what it preaches. As it has been mentioned by many eminent scholar, Cold War is essentially a war of hearts and minds which translates into two countries or two super power fighting and struggling to get the supports from different African, Asian and Latin countries.

From the limited information of the documentary, it can also be critically concluded that the greatest rival of USA, Soviet Union took the highest benefit of this particular incident and played their part in the Cold War by criticizing the incident on all over their country newspaper, Komosomolskaya Pravda. Being a supporter of the communism and rights of the people of colour, Soviet Union painted a successful picture as to how the democracy of the America was only a façade and how Americans regarded the status of people from the rest of the world. Evidently, this partly diminished USA stance at gaining the supports of the countries with people of colour, especially the African countries and the African governments started to favour Soviet Union in the ongoing Cold War. South Africa openly declared that the incident of Little Rock Nine only showed the failure of integration of two cultures which was always avoided and hated by the white people who regarded themselves of having moral high grounds.

It can be critically held from the narrative of the documentary therein that the great influence of the Soviet Union on the rest of world was again countered by the American media where Orvus Faubus was stamped as being an informant of the Soviet Intelligence and the whole incident of the Little Rock Nine was marked as being a Red Propaganda Boost.

Thus, it can be critically stated that incident of Little Rock Nine and the subsequence documentary on the very subject that won the Oscar in the year of 1964, weakened the position of USA before the World at large and it became one of the essential grounds for the African countries to support Soviet Union in the Cold War and USA started losing its face before the Asian and African countries. The right-wing concept of USA only showed its true colour of being a segregationist nation that rejects the basic human rights and needs of the citizen even though the same has been granted by their Constitution. While American leaders, diplomats and the media houses tried to suppress the incident and in order to distract the minds of the people from the actual incident, called it a ‘Red Propaganda Boost’ of the Soviet Union, this incident of a national level greatly impacted the Cold War and gave a voice to the people of colour in the USA. The African countries essentially rose against the American power. Uganda’s political parties sent several letters to Eisenhower and Nigeria concluded at that time that United States had lost all its creditability before colonial countries and it is the only the Soviet Union who shall win the Cold War now.

Hence, although the documentary focuses on the narrative of the Jefferson Thomas, who was one of the students from the Little Rock Nine, the subtle expression of how USA lost its front in the ongoing Cold War was evident and the documentary essentially focused on how the international media portrayed the incident which essentially crafted the position of USA in rivalry with Soviet Union. While this incident did not affect the other powers of USA but it surely affected the diplomatic front of USA and this incident of the Little Rock Nine only explored the racism of American society as a nation and how the democrat fronts of the American political party only wanted the support of the colonial nations and countries but underneath, they loath the people of those nations.

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Even though the documentary as discussed herein does not speak directly of the Cold War and how USA’s position was compromised in the Cold War due to this horrifying incident, the narrative of Jefferson Thomas surely hints at it and how the then Soviet Union took benefit of the incident and influenced the picture of USA as a racist power. Thus, the Oscar winning documentary states more than it has shown on screen and continues to baffle the 21st century people with the disturbing portrayal of the incident.



Anderson, Karen. “The Little Rock School Desegregation Crisis: Moderation and Social Conflict.” (2004). The Journal of Southern History, vol. 70, no. 3, pp. 603–636.

Freyer, Tony A. “The Little Rock Crisis Reconsidered.” (1997). The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, vol. 56, no. 3, pp. 361–370.

Kirk, John A. “The Little Rock Crisis and Postwar Black Activism in Arkansas.” (1997). The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, vol. 56, no. 3, pp. 273–293.

Shaw, Tony. “The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming (1966): Reconsidering Hollywood's Cold War ‘Turn’ of the 1960s.” (2010). Film History, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 235–250.

Devlin, Erin Krutko. “‘It's Only Convincing If They Say It Is’: Documenting Civil Rights Progress in the USIA's Nine from Little Rock.” (2018). Film History, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 22–47.


Dudziak, Mary L. “Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the image of American Democracy” (2002). Princeton University Press: New York, P.18-28

Case Laws

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896)

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