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The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past

From The Journal of American History
  • Jacquelyn Dowd Hall

Abstract

The civil rights movement circulates through American memory in forms and through channels that are at once powerful, dangerous, and hotly contested. Civil rights memorials jostle with the South’s ubiquitous monuments to its Confederate past. Exemplary scholarship and documentaries abound, and participants have produced wave after wave of autobiographical accounts, at least two hundred to date. Images of the movement appear and reappear each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and during Black History Month. Yet remembrance is always a form of forgetting, and the dominant narrative of the civil rights movement—distilled from history and memory, twisted by ideology and political contestation, and embedded in heritage tours, museums, public rituals, textbooks, and various artifacts of mass culture—distorts and suppresses as much as it reveals.1

Keywords

Affirmative Action Black Worker White Worker School Desegregation Black Panther Party 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    On civil rights autobiographies and histories, see Kathryn L. Nasstrom, “Between Memory and History: Autobiographies of the Civil Rights Movement and the Writing of a New Civil Rights History,” National Endowment for the Humanities Lecture, University of San Francisco, April 29, 2002 (in Jacquelyn Dowd Hall’s possession); Steven F. Lawson, “Freedom Then, Freedom Now: The Historiography of the Civil Rights Movement,” American Historical Review 96 (April 1991): 456–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Self, American Babylon, 88; Laurie B. Green, “Race, Gender, and Labor in 1960s Memphis: ‘I AM A MAN’ and the Meaning of Freedom,” Journal of Urban History 30 (March 2004): 467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 21.
    My discussion of white ethnic workers, the middle class, and the spatialization of race draws on the work of brilliant urban historians, especially Kenneth T. Jackson, “Race, Ethnicity, and Real Estate Appraisal: The Home Owners Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration,” Journal of Urban History 6 (August 1980): 419–52Google Scholar
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  8. 34.
    On the 1940s as the beginning of an era in which progressives elevated race over class, see Gary Gerstle, “The Protean Character of American Liberalism,” American Historical Review 99 (October 1994): 1043–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  10. 36.
    What Alex Lichtenstein has called the “Southern Front” was signaled by union successes in the region, a spike in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) membership and voter registration among blacks, local activism by African Americans and white workers, and an influx into Washington of prolabor, antiracist, southern New Dealers. See Alex Lichtenstein, “The Cold War and the ‘Negro Question,’” Radical History Review 72 (Fall 1998): 186Google Scholar
  11. 40.
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  12. 50.
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  13. Raymond Wolters, “From Brown to Green and Back: The Changing Meaning of Desegregation,” Journal of Southern History 70 (May 2004): 321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Robert Self, “‘To Plan Our Liberation’: Black Power and the Politics of Place in Oakland, California, 1965–1977,” Journal of Urban History 26 (September 2000): 759–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 67.
    Quintard Taylor, “The Civil Rights Movement in the American West: Black Protest in Seattle, 1960–1970,” Journal of Negro History 80 (Winter 1995–1996): 4–5Google Scholar
  16. 78.
    Craig Haney and Philip Zimbardo, “The Past and Future of U.S. Prison Policy: Twenty-Five Years after the Stanford Prison Experiment,” American Psychologist 53 (July 1998): 714CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Organization of American Historians 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jacquelyn Dowd Hall

There are no affiliations available

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