Freedom Rights: New Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement

Freedom Rights: New Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement

Freedom Rights: New Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement

Freedom Rights: New Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement

Synopsis

The history of the Civil Rights Movement is too frequently simplified and uncritically passed down from generation to generation. Many students today learn about famous leaders and national campaigns without getting much context about the many people who struggled for many years at local levels. Historian Steven F. Lawson became frustrated with the widely accepted depiction of the Movement and called for a broader and more interactive model of scholarship that would provide a more complex and complete understanding of the battles for black equality. Editors Danielle McGuire and John Dittmer answer Lawsons call in Bends Toward Justice: African Americans Long Struggle for Freedom. Beginning with Lawsons essay "The Long Origins of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968," the volume chronicles the Civil Rights Movement from multiracial activism in the Post-war era through the election of Barack Obama. McGuire and Dittmer offer an exhaustive examination of the movement, including discussion of political and social disputes and local and international connections. This collection tackles issues such as gender, family, sexuality, and sexual violence, that are often ignored in in popular histories. Bends Towards Justice is a fresh look at the Movement that will set the standard for future analysis.

Excerpt

In 1991 historian Steven F. Lawson traced the contours of civil rights historiography from the 1970s to the early 1990s in his seminal article “Freedom Then, Freedom Now: The Historiography of the Civil Rights Movement.” While celebrating the contributions of early scholars, who focused primarily on national campaigns and charismatic leaders, Lawson called for a broader and more interactive model of the modern civil rights movement. He urged researchers to connect “the local with the national, the political with the social,” and he asked scholars to “examine the external influences on national political struggles,” to probe the “internal dynamics of movements” and investigate “relations between the sexes and races” of organizers. Lawson challenged historians to study the ideological roots of the freedom struggle, particularly the labor-liberal coalitions in the 1930s and 1940s; the role of women as participants, organizers, and leaders; and the international and economic concerns of all segments of the movement. In other words, Lawson called for scholarship that includes a more complete synthesis of the civil rights movement—work that is complex, nuanced, and exciting.

Two decades later it is impossible to read a book or an article about the civil rights movement without recognizing Lawson’s influence, both as a scholar and as a teacher. However, much has changed, and it is time for a new assessment of the civil rights historiography and a new history of the civil rights movement. This volume of original essays reflects the current state of the field. It not only answers Lawson’s call for a more dynamic history of black freedom movements but also lays a solid foundation for all future civil rights historiography. The essays in Freedom Rights point to a black freedom movement that is multiracial, cross-regional, and international, with local and national actors and organizations working in concert. The contributors investigate the role of domestic politics—from World War II and McCarthyism to the Reagan “revolution”—and its impact on individual activists as well as organizations such as the NAACP and the Justice Department. They also provide a gendered analysis of civil . . .

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