The University Press of Kentucky

Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century

Steven F. Lawson & Cynthia G. Fleming

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

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Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century

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Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings

The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn

Brian Purnell

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) established a reputation as one of the most important civil rights organizations of the early 1960s. In the wake of the southern student sit-ins, CORE created new chapters all over the country, including one in Brooklyn, New York, which quickly established itself as one of the most audacious and dynamic chapters in the nation. In Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings, historian Brian Purnell explores the chapter's numerous direct-action protest campaigns for economic justice and social equality. The group's tactics evolved from pickets and sit-ins for jobs and housing to more dramatic action, such as dumping trash on the steps of Borough Hall to protest inadequate garbage collection. The Brooklyn chapter's lengthy record of activism, however, yielded only modest progress. Its members eventually resorted to desperate measures, such as targeting the opening day of the 1964 World's Fair with a traffic-snarling "stall-in." After that moment, its interracial, nonviolent phase was effectively over. By 1966, the group was more aligned with the black power movement, and a new Brooklyn CORE emerged. Drawing from archival sources and interviews with individuals directly involved in the chapter, Purnell explores how people from diverse backgrounds joined together, solved internal problems, and earned one another's trust before eventually becoming disillusioned and frustrated. Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings adds to our understanding of the broader civil rights movement by examining how it was implemented in an iconic northern city, where interracial activists mounted a heroic struggle against powerful local forms of racism.

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For a Voice and the Vote

My Journey with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party

Lisa Anderson Todd

During the summer of 1964, more than a thousand individuals descended on Mississippi to help the state's African American citizens register to vote. Student organizers, volunteers, and community members canvassed black neighborhoods to organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), a group that sought to give a voice to black Mississippians and demonstrate their will to vote in the face of terror and intimidation.

In For a Voice and the Vote, author Lisa Anderson Todd gives a fascinating insider's account of her experience volunteering in Greenville, Mississippi, during Freedom Summer, when she participated in assembling the MFDP. Innovative and integrated, the party worked to provide education, candidates, and local and statewide organization for blacks who were denied the vote. For Todd, it was an exciting, dangerous, and life-changing experience. The summer culminated with the 1964 Atlantic City Democratic Convention, where the MFDP fought boldly for the opportunity to be included as the voting Mississippi delegation but, when they ultimately refused the Democrats' unacceptable terms, were criticized as politically naïve, militant protestors.

This firsthand account attempts to set the record straight about the MFDP's challenge to the convention and to shed light on the efforts of this dedicated, loyal, and courageous delegation. Offering the first full account of the group's five days in Atlantic City, For a Voice and the Vote draws on oral histories, the author's personal interviews of individuals who supported the MFDP in 1964, and other primary sources.

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For Jobs and Freedom

Race and Labor in America since 1865

Robert H. Zieger

Whether as slaves or freedmen, the political and social status of African Americans has always been tied to their ability to participate in the nation's economy. Freedom in the post--Civil War years did not guarantee equality, and African Americans from emancipation to the present have faced the seemingly insurmountable task of erasing pervasive public belief in the inferiority of their race. For Jobs and Freedom: Race and Labor in America since 1865 describes the African American struggle to obtain equal rights in the workplace and organized labor's response to their demands. Award-winning historian Robert H. Zieger asserts that the promise of jobs was similar to the forty-acres-and-a-mule restitution pledged to African Americans during the Reconstruction era. The inconsistencies between rhetoric and action encouraged workers, both men and women, to organize themselves into unions to fight against unfair hiring practices and workplace discrimination. Though the path proved difficult, unions gradually obtained rights for African American workers with prominent leaders at their fore. In 1925, A. Philip Randolph formed the first black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, to fight against injustices committed by the Pullman Company, an employer of significant numbers of African Americans. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) emerged in 1935, and its population quickly swelled to include over 500,000 African American workers. The most dramatic success came in the 1960s with the establishment of affirmative action programs, passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Title VII enforcement measures prohibiting employer discrimination based on race. Though racism and unfair hiring practices still exist today, motivated individuals and leaders of the labor movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries laid the groundwork for better conditions and greater opportunities. Unions, with some sixteen million members currently in their ranks, continue to protect workers against discrimination in the expanding economy. For Jobs and Freedom is the first authoritative treatment in more than two decades of the race and labor movement, and Zieger's comprehensive and authoritative book will be standard reading on the subject for years to come.

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Freedom Rights

New Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement

edited by Danielle L. McGuire and John Dittmer

In his seminal article “Freedom Then, Freedom Now,” renowned civil rights historian Steven F. Lawson described his vision for the future study of the civil rights movement. Lawson called for a deeper examination of the social, economic, and political factors that influenced the movement’s development and growth. He urged his fellow scholars to connect the “local with the national, the political with the social,” and to investigate the ideological origins of the civil rights movement, its internal dynamics, the role of women, and the significance of gender and sexuality. In Freedom Rights: New Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement, editors Danielle L. McGuire and John Dittmer follow Lawson’s example, bringing together the best new scholarship on the modern civil rights movement. The work expands our understanding of the movement by engaging issues of local and national politics, gender and race relations, family, community, and sexuality. The volume addresses cultural, legal, and social developments and also investigates the roots of the movement. Each essay highlights important moments in the history of the struggle, from the impact of the Young Women’s Christian Association on integration to the use of the arts as a form of activism. Freedom Rights not only answers Lawson’s call for a more dynamic, interactive history of the civil rights movement, but it also helps redefine the field.

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Freedom's Main Line

The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides

Derek Charles Catsam

Black Americans in the Jim Crow South could not escape the grim reality of racial segregation, whether enforced by law or by custom. In Freedom’s Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides, author Derek Charles Catsam shows that courtrooms, classrooms, and cemeteries were not the only front lines in African Americans’ prolonged struggle for basic civil rights. Buses, trains, and other modes of public transportation provided the perfect means for civil rights activists to protest the second-class citizenship of African Americans, bringing the reality of the violence of segregation into the consciousness of America and the world. In 1947, nearly a decade before the Supreme Court voided school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, sixteen black and white activists embarked on a four-state bus tour, called the Journey of Reconciliation, to challenge discrimination in busing and other forms of public transportation. Although the Journey drew little national attention, it set the stage for the more timely and influential 1961 Freedom Rides. After the Supreme Court’s 1960 ruling in Boynton v. Virginia that segregated public transportation violated the Interstate Commerce Act, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and other civil rights groups organized the Freedom Rides to test the enforcement of the ruling in buses and bus terminals across the South. Their goal was simple: “to make bus desegregation,” as a CORE press release put it, “a reality instead of merely an approved legal doctrine.” Freedom’s Main Line argues that the Freedom Rides, a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, were a logical, natural evolution of such earlier efforts as the Journey of Reconciliation, their organizers following models provided by previous challenges to segregation and relying on the principles of nonviolence so common in the larger movement. The impact of the Freedom Rides, however, was unprecedented, fixing the issue of civil rights in the national consciousness. Later activists were often dubbed Freedom Riders even if they never set foot on a bus. With challenges to segregated transportation as his point of departure, Catsam chronicles black Americans’ long journey toward increased civil rights. Freedom’s Main Line tells the story of bold incursions into the heart of institutional discrimination, journeys undertaken by heroic individuals who forced racial injustice into the national and international spotlight and helped pave the way for the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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Gateway to Equality

Black Women and the Struggle for Economic Justice in St. Louis

Keona K. Ervin

Like most of the nation during the 1930s, St. Louis, Missouri, was caught in the stifling grip of the Great Depression. For the next thirty years, the "Gateway City" continued to experience significant urban decline as its population swelled and the area's industries stagnated. Over these decades, many African American citizens in the region found themselves struggling financially and fighting for access to profitable jobs and suitable working conditions. To combat ingrained racism, crippling levels of poverty, and sub-standard living conditions, black women worked together to form a community-based culture of resistance -- fighting for employment, a living wage, dignity, representation, and political leadership.

Gateway to Equality investigates black working-class women's struggle for economic justice from the rise of New Deal liberalism in the 1930s to the social upheavals of the 1960s. Author Keona K. Ervin explains that the conditions in twentieth-century St. Louis were uniquely conducive to the rise of this movement since the city's economy was based on light industries that employed women, such as textiles and food processing. As part of the Great Migration, black women migrated to the city at a higher rate than their male counterparts, and labor and black freedom movements relied less on a charismatic, male leadership model. This made it possible for women to emerge as visible and influential leaders in both formal and informal capacities.

In this impressive study, Ervin presents a stunning account of the ways in which black working-class women creatively fused racial and economic justice. By illustrating that their politics played an important role in defining urban political agendas, her work sheds light on an unexplored aspect of community activism and illuminates the complexities of the overlapping civil rights and labor movements during the first half of the twentieth century.

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In Peace and Freedom

My Journey in Selma

Bernard LaFayette Jr. and Kathryn Lee Johnson. foreword by Congressman John Robert Lewis. afterword by Raymond Arsenault

Bernard LaFayette Jr. (b. 1940) was a cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a leader in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins, a Freedom Rider, an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the national coordinator of the Poor People's Campaign. At the young age of twenty-two, he assumed the directorship of the Alabama Voter Registration Project in Selma -- a city that had previously been removed from the organization's list due to the dangers of operating there.

In this electrifying memoir, written with Kathryn Lee Johnson, LaFayette shares the inspiring story of his years in Selma. When he arrived in 1963, Selma was a small, quiet, rural town. By 1965, it had made its mark in history and was nationally recognized as a battleground in the fight for racial equality and the site of one of the most important victories for social change in our nation.

LaFayette was one of the primary organizers of the 1965 Selma voting rights movement and the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, and he relates his experiences of these historic initiatives in close detail. Today, as the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is still questioned, citizens, students, and scholars alike will want to look to this book as a guide. Important, compelling, and powerful, In Peace and Freedom presents a necessary perspective on the civil rights movement in the 1960s from one of its greatest leaders.

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In Remembrance of Emmett Till

Regional Stories and Media Responses to the Black Freedom Struggle

Darryl Mace

On August 28, 1955, fourteen-year-old Chicago native Emmett Till was brutally beaten to death for allegedly flirting with a white woman at a grocery store in Money, Mississippi. Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam were acquitted of murdering Till and dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River, and later that year, an all-white grand jury chose not to indict the men on kidnapping charges. A few months later, Bryant and Milam admitted to the crime in an interview with the national media. They were never convicted.

Although Till's body was mutilated, his mother ordered that his casket remain open during the funeral service so that the country could observe the results of racially motivated violence in the Deep South. Media attention focused on the lynching fanned the flames of regional tension and impelled many individuals -- including Rosa Parks -- to become vocal activists for racial equality.

In this innovative study, Darryl Mace explores media coverage of Till's murder and provides a close analysis of the regional and racial perspectives that emerged. He investigates the portrayal of the trial in popular and black newspapers in Mississippi and the South, documents posttrial reactions, and examines Till's memorialization in the press to highlight the media's role in shaping regional and national opinions. Provocative and compelling, In Remembrance of Emmett Till provides a valuable new perspective on one of the sparks that ignited the civil rights movement.

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James and Esther Cooper Jackson

Love and Courage in the Black Freedom Movement

Sara Rzeszutek Haviland

James Jackson and Esther Cooper Jackson grew up understanding that opportunities came differently for blacks and whites, men and women, rich and poor. In turn, they devoted their lives to the fight for equality, serving as career activists throughout the black freedom movement. Having grown up in Virginia during the depths of the Great Depression, the Jacksons also saw a path to racial equality through the Communist Party. This choice in political affiliation would come to shape and define not only their participation in the black freedom movement but also the course of their own marriage as the Cold War years unfolded.

In this dual biography, Sara Rzeszutek Haviland examines the couple's political involvement as well as the evolution of their personal and public lives in the face of ever-shifting contexts. She documents the Jacksons' significant contributions to the early civil rights movement, discussing their time leading the Southern Negro Youth Congress, which laid the groundwork for youth activists in the 1960s; their numerous published writings in periodicals such as Political Affairs; and their editorial involvement in The Worker and the civil rights magazine Freedomways.

Drawing upon a rich collection of correspondence, organizational literature, and interviews with the Jacksons themselves, Haviland follows the couple through the years as they bore witness to economic inequality, war, political oppression, and victory in the face of injustice. Her study reveals a portrait of a remarkable pair who lived during a transformative period of American history and whose story offers a vital narrative of persistence, love, and activism across the long arc of the black freedom movement.

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River of Hope

Black Politics and the Memphis Freedom Movement, 1865--1954

Elizabeth Gritter

One of the largest southern cities and a hub for the cotton industry, Memphis, Tennessee, was at the forefront of black political empowerment during the Jim Crow era. Compared to other cities in the South, Memphis had an unusually large number of African American voters. Black Memphians sought reform at the ballot box, formed clubs, ran for office, and engaged in voter registration and education activities from the end of the Civil War through the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.

In this groundbreaking book, Elizabeth Gritter examines how and why black Memphians mobilized politically in the period between Reconstruction and the beginning of the civil rights movement. Gritter illuminates, in particular, the efforts and influence of Robert R. Church Jr., an affluent Republican and founder of the Lincoln League, and the notorious Memphis political boss Edward H. Crump. Using these two men as lenses through which to view African American political engagement, this volume explores how black voters and their leaders both worked with and opposed the white political machine at the ballot box.

River of Hope challenges persisting notions of a "Solid South" of white Democratic control by arguing that the small but significant number of black southerners who retained the right to vote had more influence than scholars have heretofore assumed. Gritter's nuanced study presents a fascinating view of the complex nature of political power during the Jim Crow era and provides fresh insight into the efforts of the individuals who laid the foundation for civil rights victories in the 1950s and '60s.

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