Civil Rights History from the Ground Up grew out of a 2006 conference at the State University of New York at Geneseo, New York, organized by the editor. The goal of that meeting was to present recent scholarship that explores the relationship between local campaigns for civil rights and the larger national movement. As the editor explains in the introduction, the central question for the book coming out of this conference was why, given how much historians have uncovered about local struggles, is so little of that new information represented in the national narrative of the movement? Because the chapters in this volume are based on spoken presentations, they are for the most part refreshingly accessible to a broad public audience-one [End Page 502] great strengths of the book. More important, several chapters in the book provide insightful reviews of the scholarship on the civil rights movement generally and on particular topics within that body of work. These two qualities render Civil Rights History from the Ground Up a valuable introduction for students and public audiences.
Beyond the importance of what we learn from the student of local-community movements, the essays in this volume focus on three main themes: the role of women in the struggle, the nature of nonviolence and self-defense and their place in the movement, and the ways that media has represented the movement and how audiences-particularly students-have understood it. Historians have documented the role of particular women-Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, etc-and the many more less-well-known figures in numerous studies. But here, Laurie B. Green, Charles W. McKinney Jr., and Jeanne Theoharis explore the popular memory or, more rightfully put, popular forgetting, of the ways women worked in the movement, positing that the national narrative of the era would be different if it incorporated a fuller understanding of the goals and actions of women. The combination of the essays by Wesley Hogan on nonviolence and Emilye Crosby on self-defense provides a comprehensive introduction both to the meanings of those terms and the recent historiography of their roles in the struggle. The Hogan piece is particularly valuable as a teaching tool for reminding students of how revolutionary it was to refuse to use violence, whether as a tactical choice or reflection of a life-philosophy. The final section of the book is devoted to somewhat nontraditional pieces, including interviews and transcripts of an open forum at the conference that aim to reflect-and spark-dialogue about how Americans think about movement history.
An apparent contradiction in the central theme of the book and between some of its most significant essays keeps it from being as provocative as it might have been. The argument embedded in the title and introductory material is that the insights of the very many good local studies of the last thirty years have not influenced [End Page 503] the national narrative of the movement, to the detriment of public understanding of the struggle. J. Todd Moye's excellent review of local studies amply demonstrates how they have forced scholars to reconsider the geography, chronology, and meaning of the movement. Yet that reconsideration is not reflected in the bulk of this volume. Indeed, the editor asserts that we should continue to view the southern theater of the "classical" phase (1954-68) as of primary importance. And, with a few exceptions, the action in the essays is in the Deep South-Memphis, Mississippi, and Louisiana, or nearby. Yet, there were struggles for equality in New York, Milwaukee, Oakland, and countless other northern and western communities during the same era. Perhaps it would more truly shake up the national memory of the civil rights era if Americans were forced to confront the idea that racism and the fight against it were not confined to the Deep South but took place in everybody's backyard.
Tracy E. K'Meyer is professor of...