I’m working on a history question and need guidance to help me study.
We know that not all people had access to the affluence that the homogenous white suburbs afforded. Review some of the sources in the Reading Check, like the video that showed the bundling of Levittown, NY. While white people flooded into segregated suburbs in northern and western cities to completely isolate themselves from people of color, the south could not physically segregate all that well. Instead, “separate but equal” was a highly-visible part of southern life– picture separate bathrooms, water fountains, train cars, bus sections, workplaces, restaurants, sections of restaurants, schools, bars and clubs, etc. It was in this atmosphere of “affluence” and “conformity” that the “Civil Rights Movement” rose to prominence in the 1950s. But as we know from class, black people had LONG been demanding the same things from the US government and American society– an end to lynching and the restoration of voting rights and other civil liberties denied American citizens of color. By the 1940s and 1950s, attention had turned to ending segregation as a first step towards racial equality. You will see me put the “Civil Rights Movement” in quotation marks. This is not to disrespect or cast doubt on the movement, but rather to challenge the idea that this was a cohesive, homogenous movement that was confined to the 1950s and 1960s. We know this movement for racial equality cannot be contained to a few decades– it is ongoing.
Step 1: Watch the video below.
The video below is episode five of Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s series, “The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.” The episode is called “Rise! (1940-1968).” If you recall, we began this course by watching the first episode of this same series by PBS. This episode is about 56 minutes long and has closed captions.
For primary sources, see this page of links for further readings and videos. We will look at some of these sources next week.
Sources from the “Civil Rights Movement”
- Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, 1963 (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)
- Video below: Short PBS doc on the 1964 testimony of Mississippi sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer at the Democratic National Convention (relaying what happened when she tried to register to vote):
- Recording and transcript of Fannie Lou Hamer’s full speech at the DNC (Links to an external site.) (see video above about why television coverage of her speech was cut off by the President)
- Excerpt from Malcolm X’s speech sponsored by CORE, “The Ballot of the Bullet”, 1964 (Links to an external site.)
- Black Panther Party’s platform/program, 1966 (Links to an external site.)
- Video below: Martin Luther King Jr interview/speech from 1967, dubbed “Dream Turned into a Nightmare”
Step 2: Reply to Prompt
Using this week’s sources, respond to the prompt below in a 200- to 300-word discussion post. No formal citations necessary, but do reference the sources to support your ideas. You don’t have to answer all the questions, just the ones that get you writing.
Prompt: Why does American History typically confine the “Civil Rights Movement” to the 1950s and early 1960s? How does the term “Civil Rights Movement” oversimplify the many groups, campaigns, and ideologies at work within the “movement”? Why does popular history generally end the Civil Rights Movement in 1965? Why was Paul Robeson seen as a “radical”? Why isn’t he considered part of the pantheon of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.? Why were passive resistance and non-violence such effective tools used, as in the bus boycott and the lunch counter sit-ins? Why isn’t Ella Baker a larger household name? What are some of the generational and gendered divisions within “the movement”? How were demands by black Americans different in the northern and southern states? Do you agree with historian Peniel E. Joseph’s analogy of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a mediator between white and black Americans and Malcolm X as the “prosecuting attorney” putting white America on trial? What was the role of television in the Civil Rights Movement? In what ways were the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 “too little, too late”? How did the white south resist desegregation? What important events or aspects of “the movement” do you think this episode left out?
Step 3: Reply to Three (3) Peers
- In a short paragraph between 50 and 100 words, add further supporting details or respectfully disagree with the post’s author using evidence from this week’s readings.
- Respond to as many peers as you like, but you must respond to at least three coursemates.
Please reply to peers who do not yet have replies so that all are included in the conversation.