Skip to main content
Harvard University Press - home
Quest for Equality

Quest for Equality

The Failed Promise of Black-Brown Solidarity

Neil Foley

ISBN 9780674050235

Publication date: 05/01/2010

As the United States championed principles of freedom and equality during World War II, it denied fundamental rights to many non-white citizens. In the wake of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy with Latin America, African American and Mexican American civil rights leaders sought ways to make that policy of respect and mutual obligations apply at home as well as abroad. They argued that a whites-only democracy not only denied constitutional protection to every citizen but also threatened the war effort and FDR’s aims.

Neil Foley examines the complex interplay among regional, national, and international politics that plagued the efforts of Mexican Americans and African Americans to find common ground in ending employment discrimination in the defense industries and school segregation in the war years and beyond. Underlying differences in organizational strength, political affiliation, class position, and level of assimilation complicated efforts by Mexican and black Americans to forge strategic alliances in their fight for economic and educational equality. The prospect of interracial cooperation foundered as Mexican American civil rights leaders saw little to gain and much to lose in joining hands with African Americans.

Over a half century later, African American and Latino civil rights organizations continue to seek solutions to relevant issues, including the persistence of de facto segregation in our public schools and the widening gap in wealth and income in America. Yet they continue to grapple with the difficulty of forging solidarity across lines of cultural, class, and racial-ethnic difference, a struggle that remains central to contemporary American life.


  • This is a brave book. Neil Foley is as astute and clear-eyed an analyst of race as anyone in this country, and this sobering account of Mexican American and African American attempts at civil rights solidarity demonstrates how ultimately the two groups were not in the fight together.

    —Richard White, Stanford University


  • 2011, Winner of the TIL Award for Most Significant Scholarly Book


  • Neil Foley holds the Robert H. and Nancy Dedman Chair in History at Southern Methodist University.

Book Details

  • 240 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

From this author