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The Historiography of The Civil Rights Movement

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The Civil Rights Movement is an encompassing topic for a lot of activism that sought to gain and safeguard full social, political, and economic rights for African-Americans beginning in 1954. Civil rights activism entailed a variety of approaches including the filing of lawsuits in courts, to mass direct movements, to black power, to petitioning the federal government. The compelling efforts of civil rights activists occasioned to numerous extensive victories but also received fierce criticism and hostility from white supremacists. The historiography of the civil rights movement has evolved over recent years. This leaves the question of how it has reshaped itself to its current state. The aim of this paper is to identify ways the recent scholars have expanded our understanding of the civil rights movement. Three books will be analyzed which include Carol Anderson, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, and Danielle L. McGuire, At the Dark End of the Street. 

The courts were one of the earliest approaches employed by civil rights activist. A lawsuit was filed to undermine Jim Crow, a racial segregation, in the South. Supreme Court decision on desegregation was a massive blow to the white supremacists. They threatened to lobby massive resistance against it. Civil disobedience and nonviolent protest then emerged which was led by Martin Luther King, Jr. He spearheaded the efforts of securing their rights across the nation. It was the most effective approach due to widespread media coverage on nonviolent protests being beaten and harassed by law enforcers. Some Africans-American were not satisfied with Civil disobedience and nonviolent protest and opted for black militants. This move encouraged some whites to join the leadership onto the Civil Rights Movement, Freedom Summer of 1964. Carol Anderson, a professor of African American Studies at Emory University in her book denotes the fierce reaction to Obama as well as the series of misfortunes that have pursued African American steps extending back to the Civil War and liberation. She traces a path of white resistance from anti-liberation rebellions through post-Reconstruction racial terror and Black Codes and peonage enactment, to the extreme legal and non-legal attempts by Southern authorities to hinder African-Americans from evading subjugation amid the Great Migration. She keeps digging deeper into modern judicial and legislative actions across the nation that have excessively condemned blacks and stifled their voting rights. Anderson contends that this trend of progression succeeded by retreat has adequately crumbled, if not abandoned, each speck of advancement attained by African-Americans since the Liberation Declaration. She narrates various occasions when hard-won achievements by African-Americans have been overturned. For instance, in 2008, without precedent for history, the voter turnout rate of the African-Americans and Whites almost equaled and surprisingly, voters of all races earning less than $15,000 voted in large numbers approximately doubling the previous year Anderson gives a good example of President Ronald Reagan who presided over the rollback of a significant number of accomplishments attained by blacks amid the civil rights movement. She states that while Reagan spoke good of the black, his policies demonstrated a hatred for blacks. 

During the ’60s and ’70s, unemployment rates among the Blacks had significantly subsided, essentially decreasing the racial gap. Furthermore, by 1970 and 1978, the number of blacks enrolling into institutions doubled. However, Reagan derailed these achievements through gigantic cuts in government jobs and programs. Blacks unemployment rates increased hitting 15.5%, the highest rate experienced since the Great Depression – and black youth employment clocking 45.7 %. As of late, the criminal justice system has turned into an area of controversy in the deliberation of civil rights in the US. Various analysts have contended that the framework adds up to ‘another Jim Crow,’ portraying blacks as inferior with no rights (Alexander). In addition to this contention, civil rights concerns have been put forth regarding each component of criminal justice in the U.S., from the inspection and detention of black suspects to the weight of capital punishment. Furthermore, racial equality concerns arising regarding criminal equity are not really constrained to the U.S. In France, for instance, race-based mistreatment done by the police involves a serious issue facing the public, and Defender of Rights agency has established that individual portrayed as blacks or Arab have a higher likelihood of being stopped by police compared to the general population. In the meantime, the Supreme Court, in a number of cases, endorsed racial profiling by police and compulsory imprisonment for drug-related crimes and created a complex framework that made it hard to prove racial bias in different situations as well as judge’s selection and arrests. And keeping in mind that African-Americans are rarely involved in the use or sell drugs, Anderson writes, “law enforcement has continued to focus its efforts on the black population”. Subsequently, she notes down that blacks although being 13 % of the national populace, account for 45% of those detained. According to Alexander, a renowned civil right advocate and scholar at the State University of Ohio, the tremendous achievements made by the civil rights movement have been negated by the black Americans’ mass incarceration in the fight against drug abuse. She argues that ‘Jim Crow and slavery were caste systems, so is our current system of mass incarceration’, black Americans in their millions are being arrested due to minor crimes are still marginalized and disenfranchised. Most of the traditional ways of discrimination which were supposed to have been eliminated in the Jim Crow era are now legal, upon being branded a criminal. The young blacks are trapped using the criminal justice system, branded felons, and then shuttled into prisons, denied rights and opportunities to be industrious, law-abiding citizens. 

A number of scholars have studied the level of gender sensitivity in the human rights movement in the past and present. Of particular interest is the topic of sexual violence which the black women were subjected to during the Jim Crow era. McGuire, a historian at Wayne State University, goes beyond the sexual violence experienced by these women to explore their responses to such abuses and their role in civil right movements. According to McGuire, black women showed consistent and deliberate resistance against violations by speaking out and condemning these acts on them or their persons. Their actions culminated to ‘women’s movement for dignity, respect, and bodily integrity’. She argues that struggles by African American women in their homesteads, in jails, and on buses to protest against sexual abuse and interracial rape lead to the rise of modern civil rights movement. In addition, she contends that the quest by black women to put an end to white supremacy and obtain personal and political sovereignty ought to be included in the chronicles of the civil rights movement. The assertions made by McGuire that aversive action against systematic and endemic abuse amounts to an essential facet of the civil rights movement. It contributes to the resourceful insight of how scholars define the chronology, themes, and racial factors of the civil rights movement. According to McGuire, civil rights’ definition should span greater depths to include American women who fought to protect their sexual rights and control over their bodies. This battleground discloses a rather personal space than judicial fights for work rights and economic equality. The fascinating works by McGuire completely transform the historic narrative of civil rights movements, women should not be considered as minor players with few female heroines they should form the core contributors of equal importance if not usurping the men in some cases. 

Moving forward in the 21st century, America is faced with the start of a new era which is characterized by a unique set of civil rights struggles. The struggles of 2019 are in numerous ways significantly different from the struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. The signs of ‘whites only’ and overt demonstration of societally tolerated racism has become the thing of the past. However, the country remains with a population of disparately impacted individuals, people of color faced with biases in the judicial system, in schools, at work, and at home. The shift in landscape implies that scholars should shift their focus line with modern realities.

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