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  • Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and Its Legacy
  • Edwin Amenta
Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and Its Legacy By Kenneth T. Andrews University of Chicago Press, 2004. 265 pages. $50 (cloth); $21 (paper)

Everyone knows the standard account of the civil rights movement: After a string of innovative protest campaigns in the South, the movement prompted the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. But soon it lost support and purpose in the wake of urban uprisings and more intractable socio-economic goals in the North. The movement has been studied so thoroughly that nowadays scholars can write entire monographs about it without doing any original research.

Kenneth Andrews shuns both conventional wisdom and current practices in Freedom Is a Constant Struggle. Andrews, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, argues and demonstrates that in Mississippi the movement followed up on its gains in voting registration by creating new political leaders and influencing the programs of the War on Poverty and educational desegregation. His reinterpretation rests not on protest activity, but on extensive new research regarding the political and policy consequences of the movement.

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle brings keen rigor with a multidimensional approach to explaining the consequences of social movements, a subject that has moved to the forefront of movement research. Andrews focuses on Mississippi counties, employing multivariate analyses across several different issues of interest to civil rights activists. He unsurprisingly addresses the electoral issues that initiated the movement. But he also goes beyond them to confront the movement's engagement in Johnson administration War on Poverty initiatives, such as Head Start and the Community Action Program, and struggles over desegregation in school desegregation. Historical understanding is sometimes seen as opposed to methodological stringency. But Andrews's deep knowledge of the movement in Mississippi, based on both archival work and interviews, heightens the validity of his quantitative analyses.

He finds that the movement's infrastructure is of crucial and continual significance, after other possible influences on the outcomes are controlled for. By movement infrastructure he means its leadership, organizational structure and resources. Andrews argues that a movement with a strong infrastructure will be able to employ different strategies to meet the needs of different situations. He also argues that movements can have influence in a number of different ways, using different forms of action. In this way, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle helps to reorient theoretical thinking in a field that often is mired in rehashing the possible results of disruptive events such as urban riots. And although Andrews relies on statistical analyses to make his case, he fills in the numerical picture by following the trials of the movement in three counties, Holmes, Madison and Bolivar. In each one, he traces the struggles by which the movement sought to exert influence on the issues.

No book is perfect, even one as excellent and compelling as Freedom Is a Constant Struggle . I wanted, for example, to see Andrews directly confront the bearers of conventional wisdom and make more of the interpretive shift that his research implies. Was Mississippi simply different, with its peculiarly virulent racism and violent resistance and its movement innovations such as Freedom Summer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party? Or was its experience largely replicated across the South or Deep South? If Mississippi's experience was common, we need to alter our understanding of the movement. In addition, I wanted to see the idea of movement infrastructure unpacked to address the usefulness of its component parts for other studies of the consequences of social movements. I was hoping, too, to hear about a county in which the movement was unable to sustain activity.

Minor criticisms aside, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle is must reading for scholars of social movements, the civil rights movement and the consequences of social movements. Andrews's keen attention to key issues and outcomes that fall below the national level is a lead [End Page 1846] that can help free scholars of social movements from the methodological binds they often find themselves in. His informing his quantitative analyses with historical understanding is a model...


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