Dream and Reality: The Modern Black Struggle for Freedom and Equality

By Jeannine Swift | Go to book overview

4 The Civil Rights Movement: Upheaval and Organization

Jack Bloom

Social movements, if they are to succeed, face two problems. First, they must get started and sustain themselves; second, they must pursue a strategy that increases their leverage to win demands. These issues are related; how they get started and sustain themselves will affect their strategy. Scholarly as well as activist writing about these two interrelated issues has tended to fall into two camps--the "spontaneous" upheaval camp and the organizational camp. The upheaval theorists say that the gains of social movements are won by mass upheavals which tend not to be organized; rather these theorists, represented in the past by Robert Michels and more recently by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, see organizations as inhibiting these upheavals.

Piven and Cloward argued that organizations function to decrease the militancy of the social upheavals of which they are expressions. They contended that this is so because in order to succeed, the organizations must gain concessions from the elite that will aid them in gaining the allegiance of masses of people.( 1) The difficulty, however, is that it is not possible to gain concessions from these elites without conditions. The conditions are such as "to facilitate the efforts of elites to channel the insurgent masses into normal politics."( 2) It is because of these organizational imperatives, said Piven and Cloward, that organizers, regardless of their intentions,

fail to do what they can do [which is to] escalate the momentum of the peoples' protests. . . . They typically acted in ways that blunted or curbed the disruptive force which lower class people were sometimes able to mobilize.( 3)

So useless are organizers and organizations that, according to Piven and Cloward, "protesters win, if they win at all, what historical circumstances have already made ready to be conceded."( 4) They are specific and uncompromising on this point:

If industrial workers had demanded public ownership of factories, they would probably have still gotten unionism, if they got anything at all, and if impoverished southern blacks had demanded land reform, they would probably have still gotten the vote.( 5)

It is difficult to see how it is possible to argue that the organizations of the Civil Rights Movement did anything but advance that movement--even in Piven and Cloward's own terms. Thus, the Montgomery Improvement Association, a forerunner of the Southern Christian Leader

-29-

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Dream and Reality: The Modern Black Struggle for Freedom and Equality
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Afro-American and African Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1: A Tale of Two and One-Half Decades 3
  • Notes 11
  • 2: A Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. 13
  • 3: Rediscovering Women Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement 19
  • Conclusion 26
  • Notes 26
  • 4: The Civil Rights Movement: Upheaval and Organization 29
  • Conclusion 39
  • Notes 40
  • 5: Blacks and the New South: Civil Rights in the Eighties 43
  • Introduction 43
  • Conclusion 49
  • Notes 50
  • 6: Improving the Plight of Black, Inner-City Youths: Whose Responsibility? 53
  • Notes 65
  • 7: Racial Attitudes of Black and White Adolescents Before and After Desegregation 69
  • Conclusion 73
  • Notes 74
  • 8: The Ills of Integration: A Black Perspective 77
  • Introduction 77
  • Notes 84
  • 9: A Dream Deferred for Quality Education: Civil Rights Legislation and De Facto Segregation in the Cincinnati Schools, 1954-1986 87
  • Notes 91
  • 10: The Housing Conditions of Black Americans: 1960s-1980s 93
  • Conclusion 98
  • Notes 105
  • 11: The Collapse of the Employment Policy Agenda: 1964-1981 107
  • Introduction 107
  • Conclusion 120
  • Notes 121
  • 12: Black Workers at Risk: Jobs for Life or Death 125
  • Conclusion 131
  • Notes 133
  • 13: "Where Do We Go from Here" 137
  • Notes 144
  • Index 147
  • About the Editor and the Contributors 153
  • Hofstra University's Cultural and Intercultural Studies Coordinating Editor, Alexej Ugrinsky 157
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