Civil Rights Crossroads

Civil Rights Crossroads: Nation, Community, and the Black Freedom Struggle

Steven F. Lawson
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jjv7
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  • Book Info
    Civil Rights Crossroads
    Book Description:

    Over the past thirty years, Steven F. Lawson has established himself as one of the nation's leading historians of the black struggle for equality.Civil Rights Crossroadsis an important collection of Lawson's writings about the civil rights movement that is essential reading for anyone concerned about the past, present, and future of race relations in America. Lawson examines the movement from a variety of perspectives -- local and national, political and social -- to offer penetrating insights into the civil rights movement and its influence on contemporary society.

    Civil Rights Crossroadsalso illuminates the role of a broad array of civil rights activists, familiar and unfamiliar. Lawson describes the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Johnson to shape the direction of the struggle, as well as the extraordinary contributions of ordinary people like Fannie Lou Hamer, Harry T. Moore, Ruth Perry, Theodore Gibson, and many other unsung heroes of the most important social movement of the twentieth century. Lawson also examines the decades-long battle to achieve and expand the right of African Americans to vote and to implement the ballot as the cornerstone of attempts at political liberation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5712-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. PART ONE. STUDYING THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
    • FREEDOM THEN, FREEDOM NOW
      (pp. 3-28)

      While the United States tilted in the direction of political conservatism during the past decade, the history of the civil rights movement gained in popular appeal. Martin Luther King’s birthday became a national holiday. Hollywood fictionalized the events surrounding the Mississippi Freedom Summer, drawing millions of customers to the box office. The multipart documentary series,Eyes on the Prize, I and II,portrayed this history much more accurately and won numerous awards and wide acclaim.¹ Much of this interest can be attributed to the regular cycles of nostalgia that prompt Americans to recall the historical era of their youth. In...

  5. PART TWO. LYNDON B. JOHNSON AND THE BLACK FREEDOM STRUGGLE
    • EXPLORING JOHNSON’S CIVIL RIGHTS POLICY
      (pp. 31-55)

      Lyndon Johnson spent the final months of his life filled with memories of the civil rights struggle that had greatly influenced his political career. In December 1972, at a symposium held at the Johnson Library, the former president heard an array of notable civil rights leaders commemorate his achievements in promoting racial justice. Several weeks later, during his last televised interview, Johnson spoke about civil rights. With the sound of explosions in Southeast Asia fading and in the relaxed one-to-one format in which he clearly excelled, the retired chief executive passionately recalled for Walter Cronkite the way it was in...

    • THE IMPROBABLE EMANCIPATOR
      (pp. 56-70)

      Lyndon Johnson was, as T. Harry Williams observed a few months after the former president’s death, a “tormented man from [a] tormented region who had such large visions of what his country might become.” Born and raised in the South, Johnson had only gradually come to recognize the hardships blacks endured under the racial caste system in Dixie. But as he became aware of their plight, and as he acquired power and spoke to a constituency beyond his region, the Texan dedicated himself to realizing the American dream for African Americans. That commitment, however, had to be fulfilled in the...

    • MIXING MODERATION WITH MILITANCY
      (pp. 71-94)

      When Lyndon Johnson left the White House in 1969, America stood divided over his handling of affairs related to war and peace. Disturbed by the deteriorating quality of life in their cities and confounded by the intractability of combat in the swamps and jungles of Vietnam, they doubted the credibility of the president and the Great Society he had pledged to create. By the mid-1970s both the war against poverty and against the Vietnamese had ended, neither successfully, and the underlying problems of racism and foreign interventionism persisted. Over the two-and-one-half decades after Johnson stepped down from office, the racial...

  6. PART THREE. CIVIL RIGHTS AND BLACK POLITICS
    • FROM BOYCOTTS TO BALLOTS
      (pp. 97-118)

      In 1946 southern black soldiers returned from having fought in World War II, only to encounter white racism at home. A Georgia veteran expressed the sentiments of black GIs throughout the region, many of whom marched to county courthouses demanding their right to vote. “Peace is not the absence of war,” he declared, “but the presence of justice which may be obtained, first, by your becoming a citizen and registered voter.” The following decade, as the pace of the civil rights movement was quickening, some twenty-five thousand people rallied at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to celebrate a “Prayer...

    • PRESERVING THE SECOND RECONSTRUCTION
      (pp. 119-134)

      The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 climaxed a long struggle to restore the ballot to southern blacks. For over a half century civil rights advocates had litigated, legislated, and demonstrated against barriers erected to evade the Fifteenth Amendment. Although the judiciary had overturned the grandfather clause and the white primary and Congress passed two pieces of legislation increasing the power of the federal government to challenge discriminatory suffrage practices, by 1965 less than 40 percent of the black adults in the South had been enrolled on the voter lists, and less than seventy-five elected officials in the...

    • THE UNMAKING OF THE SECOND RECONSTRUCTION
      (pp. 135-174)

      In early 1960 four black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina, challenged Woolworth’s to serve them equally alongside whites at its lunch counter. The demands for justice seemed relatively simple then. If treated without regard to color, blacks were expected to take advantage of the available opportunities to free themselves from the bondage that had lasted a century beyond the end of slavery. The matter proved to be more complex. Although blacks would obtain equality before the law, they discovered that the law did not automatically confer equality. The barriers of racism fell, but the remnants of Jim Crow in...

  7. PART FOUR. FROM THE BOTTOM UP
    • FLORIDA’S LITTLE SCOTTSBORO
      (pp. 177-195)

      The residents of Lake County, Florida, awoke on the morning of July 16, 1949, to a drama that was hauntingly familiar and yet disturbingly different. Word passed quickly through the area of small towns and rural communities that before dawn on this summer Sunday a white woman had been attacked and raped by four black men near Groveland. In the past, such crimes had stirred lynch mobs into acts of vengeance, and this occasion proved no exception. However, in this instance, blood-thirsty vigilantes did not succeed in rendering summary punishment, but they partially achieved their objectives through lawful means. Although...

    • INVESTIGATIONS AND MASSIVE RESISTANCE
      (pp. 196-216)

      Law has played a central role in structuring race relations in the United States. Though violent confrontation accompanied the civil rights struggle, the most significant battles were fought in courthouses and legislatures as well as in the streets. Segregationists resorted to violence and intimidation, but they were as likely to respond to civil rights demands by shaping the law to their own ends. In firm control of political and judicial power, white leaders in the South fashioned new statutes to forestall integration. Passage of such legislation and its interpretation in the courts was challenged by civil rights organizations and sometimes...

    • FROM SIT-IN TO RACE RIOT
      (pp. 217-234)

      Much of the literature concerning the civil rights movement and race relations in the South has concentrated on their explosive nature. Journalists and scholars alike have been fascinated with confrontation and crisis resolution. Montgomery, Little Rock, New Orleans, Greenwood, Birmingham, Saint Augustine, and Selma dot a civil rights road map as signposts of heroic struggles. The turbulent battles fought in such places generated enough publicity to shape a national consensus supporting passage of five civil rights acts in the decade and a half afterBrown v. the Board of Education.Studies of race relations during this era also follow the...

  8. PART FIVE. NEW PATHS OF EXPLORATION
    • ROCK ‘N’ ROLL, THE PAYOLA SCANDAL, AND THE POLITICAL CULTURE OF CIVIL RIGHTS
      (pp. 237-264)

      On February 1, 1960, students in Greensboro, North Carolina sat-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in a demonstration much heralded in the annals of civil rights history. This momentous confrontation with racial segregation invigorated the African American freedom struggle and would substantially change the lives of blacks and whites throughout the South and the United States. A week later, on February 8, a seemingly unrelated event occurred in Washington, D.C. On that day, a committee of the House of Representatives convened public hearings on the subject of payola in the broadcasting industry, a practice that involved illicit payments to get...

    • WOMEN, CIVIL RIGHTS, AND BLACK LIBERATION
      (pp. 265-283)

      It is impossible to write about the civil rights movement without recognizing the centrality of women. Two pioneering events associated with the launching of the movement,Brown v. Board of Educationin 1954 and the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott in 1955, drew women to the forefront. Linda Brown, an elementary school student from Topeka, Kansas, lent her name to the landmark suit resulting in the Supreme Court’s proclamation against racially segregated public schools. A year later, Rosa Parks, a middle-aged seamstress and respected community activist in Montgomery, refused to abide by the city’s segregationist policy and give up her seat...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 284-353)
  10. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 354-365)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 366-386)