Civil Rights

  • McGuire, Danielle L. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance–A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. New York: Vintage, 2011.
  • Spencer, Robyn C. The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland. Reprint edition. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2016.
  • Sugrue, Thomas J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

This week’s reading focused on the organizations and events encompassed in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Each text addresses different aspects of these movements but all seek to reframe their respective standard narratives.

Danielle McGuire’s text revises the narrative of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movements as a contest over female black bodies. In the introduciton, she quotes Fannie Lou Hamer when she said “A black woman’s body was never hers alone.” This quote really sets the tone of her work as she expands the timeline of civil rights by extending it decades before the Montgomery bus boycott, refocuses the contest towards the role of rape and sexual violence, and emphasises the long history and importance of back women’s public testimonies. McGuire structures her chapters around significant civil rights events such as the Montgomery bus boycott and the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the “fallow period” of the late 1950s, the significant trial of four white men who abducted and raped betty Jean Owens in 1959, the Mississippi Freedom struggle, the March from Selma, the trial of Norman Cannon, and ultimately the 1975 trial of Joan Little. While her text is largely narrative based and driven, this form allows McGuire to show the transformation regarding black female bodies as they became their own. I found her discssion fo truth-telling and its connection to a longer narrative stretchign back to slavery very compelling and truley reoreinting. The continued use of testimony in order to garner support nationally as well as internationally connected quite nicely to the overall sruggle to reclaim their bodies as their own. McGuire does a good job not telling a top down history by focusing on lesser known individuals in the civil rights movement while also focusing on teh actions of the masses.

Robyn Spencer moves the discussion a littler further ahead in time and over to the east coast as she details the establishment, rise, and subequent struggles of the Black Panther Party (for Self-Defense). Focusing heavily on the leadership, Spencer argues that the BPP had global linkages and really understood their movement/revolution in an international context. She detials that “African and Asian decolonization and the Vietnam War framed the Panther’s attempt to provide an organizational vehicle and an ideological framework to allow working-class black people to explore linkages between antiracism an anti-imperialism.” The detials the inception of the organizaiton in both Seale and Newton focusing heavily on intellectual influences and ideas. The narrative focuses on the organizational structure, armed self-defense, natioanl growth and leadership woes, rising presence of women and their struggle with the hyper masculinized framework, the undermining efforts of the FBI, and the continued influence and presence of international figures. The BPP is shown to be highly organized, structured, and disciplined. They provided education to the community in efforts to empower them politically and socially. They understood the black community struggle within America as a struggle of a colony against its Mother country or the Vietnamese against American troops. Spencer does a great job showing internal struggles over relationships with whites, alliances with other civil rights groups, and the continuing issues at the leadership roles.

The final text moves the narrative to the Midwest and focuses on a stationary geographic location during the time frame of the 1940s up to the early 1960s. Thomas Sugrue, in The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detriot, revises the narrative surrounding the economic rise and fall of Detriot by focusing on race. Sugrue argues that “Detroit’s postwar urban crisis emerged as the consequence of two of the most important, interrelated, and unresolved problems in American history: that capitalism generates economic inequality and that African Americans have disproportionately borne the impact of that inequality.” [5] He divides his text into three sections: “Arsenal,” “Rust,” and “Fire” in which he tackles different topics within each. Sugrue discusses issues relating to housing restrictions and segregation, ghettos and public housing, employment discrimination and automation, the impact of suburbanization, the lack of involvement of local and federal government, and the role of the urban crisis in reifying racism and stereotypes. Sugrue ends his text by venturing into the violent 1960s with its iolence and rac eriots. He argues that this tumultuous time for Detriot is better understood in light of his analysis of the urban crisis and the accumulation of frustration and anger by the African American community in the previous decades.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do the experiences of women in Spencer’s Black Panther Party relate or compare to women involved in the various Civil Rights movements in McGuires? How do they both experience misogyny by the leadership and how do they respond?
  2. What historical actors appeared in more than one text? Did each historian present them in a similar light?
  3. What are the various institutions and structures that are policing their bodies? What methods do these various groups share as a mechanism of gaining autonomy and self-determination?
Civil Rights

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