A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor does an excellent job describing a very unique situation in United States' history related to domestic equal rights and our international image. Read for yourself and see if this dichotomy is, for you, as striking and thought-provoking as it was for me.
The following rhetorical questions are emblematic of the article's general tone which describes the State Department's employment of African-American jazz musicians for government sponsored tours across what was then the Soviet Union and various African and Middle Eastern regions:
What was it like for these black musicians to headline celebratory concerts for newly decolonized African nations on the one hand, but still not be able to stay in hotels south of the Mason-Dixon line back home? What was it like to travel under the auspices of a country known abroad for, as saxophonist Paul Jeffrey was told in Italy, white men being the boss of black men?
(By Carla Murphy Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
from the July 10, 2009 edition)
So, just as these musicians where escorted around the world to serve as an egalitarian, collective and creative face for the nation at large, the same talented and renowned citizens, because of their heritage and complexion, would have been discriminated against without a second thought in their own home country. Even with a fundamentally sound mission, the State Dept. tours were, at heart, hypocritical public relations campaigns designed to globally promote an American ideal that had hardly begun to gain momentum at home, regardless of the known fact that equality and inalienable rights had been and still are our constitutional guarantees.
Find out more about the traveling exhibition of photographs, called Jam Session: America's Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World, that documents this fascinating international tour by some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.