Taking History to Heart: The Power of the Past in Building Social Movements

Taking History to Heart: The Power of the Past in Building Social Movements

Taking History to Heart: The Power of the Past in Building Social Movements

Taking History to Heart: The Power of the Past in Building Social Movements

Synopsis

Deftly blending autobiography and history, James Green here reflects on thirty years as an activist, educator, and historian. He recounts how he became deeply immersed in political protest and in recovering and preserving the history of progressive social movements, and how the two are linked. His book, written in an engaging and accessible style, tells powerful stories of people in struggle, framed by the personal account of his own development. Green's subjects range from the martyrs of the Haymarket tragedy to the Bread and Roses strikers of 1912, from depression-era struggles for democracy to the civil rights crusaders, from recent Rainbow Coalition campaigns to the latest union organizing drives.

Excerpt

This book is about what I call movement history. It features historical accounts of movements for radical and progressive change in the United States, as well as reports of contemporary struggles for social justice which call up the past for instruction and for inspiration. These narratives emphasize the role of historical consciousness in movement building and in the mysterious processes that create human solidarity. I have tried to show how powerful the past can be in concrete experiences: for example, in the recent experiences of unionized workers who are drawn to history in an urgent search for a usable past that will help them broaden and strengthen the labor movement.

Besides these narratives of people making movement history, Taking History to Heart offers reffections on the work of doing movement history—the work of discovering it and recording it, reading and writing it, learning it from activists, and teaching it to workers. I tell a bit of my own story here, thinking back on my efforts to find a voice for telling movement stories in public—a voice I could use to reach movement activists and a wider audience of concerned citizens. I recount experiences of trying to break down the walls that separate people from their past and that divide those who study the past from those who have lived it. The public history projects I describe usually centered on moments in the past when people struggled to build movements for social justice. These projects were experiments in trying to make movement history come alive in certain communities and to make it relevant to ongoing efforts to organize for social change. So, this book also includes some description of those movement building efforts. In writing about some of the social movements of my own time, I recall what I learned from engaging in them, and what I tried to contribute to them as a historian. I have tried to knit these threads into one narrative fabric in . . .

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