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Freedom Rights

Freedom Rights: New Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement

Danielle L. McGuire
John Dittmer
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    Freedom Rights
    Book Description:

    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.

    InFreedom 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 Rightsnot only answers Lawson's call for a more dynamic, interactive history of the civil rights movement, but it also helps redefine the field.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3449-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Dedications
    (pp. vii-x)
    John Dittmer and Danielle L. McGuire
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    Danielle L. McGuire

    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...

  5. Long Origins of the Short Civil Rights Movement, 1954–1968
    (pp. 9-38)
    Steven F. Lawson

    Recently Michael Wright, a northerner who went to the South in the mid-1960s to organize for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), drew on his practical experiences to consider the idea of beginnings. While working in Alabama and Georgia he learned that twenty years earlier, in the 1940s, there had been another group with an acronym pronounced “Snick”— the Southern Negro Youth Conference (SNYC). “Yes,” he declared, “a ‘snick’ organization in the south doing exactly what we were doing 20 years later.” Yet hardly anyone in SNCC knew anything about SNYC or about the campaigns in the South by the...

  6. Hollywood, the NAACP, and the Cultural Politics of the Early Civil Rights Movement
    (pp. 39-70)
    Justin T. Lorts

    In February 1942 Walter White, the executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), traveled to California to meet with producers and directors and discuss the portrayal of African Americans in film. Since the mid-1930s articles in the black press, including the NAACP’sCrisis,had articulated a sustained criticism of the stereotyped and comical images of African Americans that dominated the Hollywood film industry. These criticisms accused Hollywood films of functioning as a form of propaganda that perpetuated a false image of African Americans and prevented blacks from achieving social equality. Recognizing that the way...

  7. The Young Women’s Christian Association’s Multiracial Activism in the Immediate Postwar Era
    (pp. 71-110)
    Abigail Sara Lewis

    Attempting to explain how race relations were going to differ in the postwar era, the newsletter of the National Board of the 3 million–member Young Women’s Christian Association (the Y) quoted an African American soldier who was overseas at the time: “A different American is coming home.”¹ Thousands of voting delegates who had just returned from the Y’s 1946 national convention (held triennially) were already aware of this “different American.” Leadership emphasized that bettering race relations was a top priority, and although most of the Y’s local branches had always been racially segregated, the attendees responded by unanimously voting...

  8. James and Esther Cooper Jackson, Communism, and the 1950s Black Freedom Movement
    (pp. 111-136)
    Sara Rzeszutek Haviland

    On June 20, 1951, four-year-old Kathy Jackson’s father, Communist leader James Jackson, disappeared, and her nightmares became reality. Her mother’s hand would tighten around hers when they spotted FBI agents in fedoras and dark trench coats as they walked in their Brooklyn neighborhood. Her mother’s normally pleasant Virginia accent turned harsh when she picked up the telephone and heard an unfamiliar voice. Grown men in suits watched Kathy play that summer, and when they approached her on the streets, she was so terrified that afterward she refused to leave her mother’s side.¹ “They can’t put little children in jail, can...

  9. Till They Come Back Home: Transregional Families and the Politicization of the Till Generation
    (pp. 137-162)
    Krystal D. Frazier

    Whenever he visited Chicago, Uncle Moses Wright vividly described the “good country life” in Mississippi, with its wide open spaces, riverside fishing, and long summer nights. Intrigued by the possibilities of adventure and the promise of fun with some of his favorite cousins, fourteen-year-old Emmett Louis Till pleaded to go south during the summer of 1955. His mother, Mamie Till Bradley, doubted that her Chicago-born son could understand “the things that ran deep in the awareness of people who lived in the South,” and she was reluctant to let him go.¹ Emmett contended that if his mother could take in...

  10. The Johns Committee, Sex, and Civil Rights in Florida, 1963–1965
    (pp. 163-190)
    Stacy Braukman

    In the summer of 1956, as part of a regional wave of resistance against the U.S. Supreme Court’sBrown v. Board of Educationdecision, the Florida legislature created an investigating committee whose primary aim was to tarnish the reputation and hamper the efforts of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Across the South, in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia, legislators sought to expose what they believed to be the criminal activities and subversive ties of the NAACP and other groups advocating racial equality.¹ Unlike the other states, however, the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee (FLIC;...

  11. Joan Little and the Triumph of Testimony
    (pp. 191-222)
    Danielle L. McGuire

    In the quiet darkness just before daybreak on August 27, 1974, Sergeant Jerry Helms ambled into the Beaufort County jail in Washington, North Carolina. Escorting a drunken prisoner, he walked through the double doors and down the carpeted stairs to the basement, then turned left toward the women’s section of the small but clean jailhouse. Poking out of the cell of the sole female prisoner was a pair of shoeless feet covered in brown socks. Moving closer, Helms saw that the feet belonged to Clarence Alligood, the burly, sixty-two-year-old white jailer, whose lifeless torso slumped over his thighs. Except for...

  12. Gender, Jazz, and Justice in Cold War Freedom Movements
    (pp. 223-246)
    Jacqueline Castledine

    As it flowed across boundaries and borders of the African diaspora in the postwar period, jazz music moved through spaces denied to black bodies because of economic oppression, government repression, banishment, or self-imposed exile. In its travels it carried not only overt messages of political resistance but also covert messages about the subversive possibilities implicit in interracial sexuality, ideas that challenged white supremacy. The music’s potential to confuse racial boundaries by attracting mixed race and mixed gender audiences—and especially the possibility of hybridity resulting from interracial pairings—combined with the more obvious threat to social order posed by the...

  13. EEOC Politics and Limits on Reagan’s Civil Rights Legacy
    (pp. 247-276)
    Emily Zuckerman

    In 1981 future chief justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts was a twenty-six-year-old special assistant to the attorney general at the Justice Department. He spent much of his time drafting memos, op-ed articles, and talking points in support of President Ronald Reagan’s opposition to the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “This is an exciting time to be at the Justice Department,” Roberts wrote to a mentor. “So much that has been taken for granted for so long is being seriously reconsidered.” He responded to complaints from enraged civil rights groups, arguing that a bill recently passed...

  14. Race and Partisanship in Criminal Disfranchisement Laws
    (pp. 277-304)
    Pippa Holloway

    In 2000 America woke up to the issue of felon disfranchisement. That year George W. Bush won the presidential election by carrying the state of Florida by 537 votes. However, close to 10 percent of Florida’s voting-age population had been unable to vote due to a state law permanently disfranchising anyone with a felony conviction unless pardoned by the governor. In addition, many individuals who did not have prior felony convictions were wrongly purged from registration lists and prevented from voting. Many argued that because the individuals legally disfranchised, as well as those mistakenly barred from voting, were disproportionately African...

  15. “The Community Don’t Know What’s Good for Them”: Local Politics in the Alabama Black Belt during the Post–Civil Rights Era
    (pp. 305-328)
    George Derek Musgrove and Hasan Kwame Jeffries

    Very few residents of Perry County, a majority black, desperately poor rural county in the heart of Alabama, wanted to have anything to do with storing the 3 million cubic yards of arsenic-laced coal ash from a spill that had occurred at a Tennessee power plant in December 2008, but they had little choice in the matter. The county’s political leaders, almost all of whom were African American, had agreed to accept the toxic waste for a “host fee” of $3 million, which was more than half the county government’s annual budget. “This gives us an opportunity to fund our...

  16. “I Want My Country Back, I Want My Dream Back”: Barack Obama and the Appeal of Postracial Fictions
    (pp. 329-364)
    Brian Ward

    On August 28, 2008, Illinois’ junior senator Barack Obama became the first African American to be nominated as the presidential candidate of a major political party in the United States. That historic day coincided with the forty-fifth anniversary of the March on Washington, when Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Obama and his campaign team were quick to capitalize on this synchronicity. At the climax of the Democratic Convention at Invesco Field in Denver, the nominee was preceded onto the stage by two of King’s children—the Reverend...

  17. List of Contributors
    (pp. 365-368)
  18. Index
    (pp. 369-392)