Monthly Archive for February, 2009

“A Nation of Cowards”

There has been plenty of ink spilled (and hot air vented) on Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent comment that Americans are “essentially a nation of cowards” when it comes to talking about race. I will avoid spilling much more.

Holder was giving a speech (read the whole thing here, or watch it here) to his colleagues at the Department of Justice in which he encouraged them, and exhorted Americans, to use African American History Month as an opportunity to address enduring social segregation, which contributes to a timid, simplistic racial dialog. Holder’s forthright description was met with shocked and horrified responses to his choice of words, responses which presumably represent precisely the kind of timidity and faux civility Holder was criticizing.

But perhaps of more interest than the wounded pride of columnists and talking heads are Holder’s comments on the transformative effects of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and his understanding of the connection between the black freedom movement and other civil rights struggles:

In addition, the other major social movements of the latter half of the twentieth century- feminism, the nation’s treatment of other minority groups, even the anti-war effort- were all tied in some way to the spirit that was set free by the quest for African American equality. Those other movements may have occurred in the absence of the civil rights struggle but the fight for black equality came first and helped to shape the way in which other groups of people came to think of themselves and to raise their desire for equal treatment. Further, many of the tactics that were used by these other groups were developed in the civil rights movement.

Holder should come to our conference. (By the way, if you want to know whether or not Obama’s election means we are living in a “post-racial” nation, take a look at some of the comments on this video of Michael Eric Dyson’s response to Holder’s statement.)

Two New LCRM Titles

Conference attendees will no doubt be interested in a new book by Patrick D. Jones, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Selma of the North: A Civil Rights Insurgency tells the surprising, sometimes violent, story of the civil rights struggle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (The city earned the moniker “Selma of the North” after a mob of working-class whites attacked demonstrators seeking fair housing.) This history challenges the conventional narrative of the civil rights movement, engaging questions about the nature of the Black Power movement, nonviolent protest and militant resistance, the place of local civil rights movements in the wider black freedom movement, and the interplay between northern and southern struggles for civil rights. It is certainly am essential title for anyone interested in the long civil rights movement.

Professor Jones will be joining us at the conference.

Also, take a look at Mark Brilliant’s review of Risa L. Goluboff’s The Lost Promise of Civil Rights (if you are not on UNC campus or a subscriber, you may not be able to read it–sorry!). Goluboff argues the road to Brown was just one of many civil rights activists might have taken. By shifting the focus to state-enforced segregation rather than economic injustice, their strategy defined civil rights as a question of government classification, rather than material inequality. It narrowed both the movement itself and the understanding of it.

Registration now open for the Center for Civil Rights Conference

Registration is now open for “Looking to the Future: Legal and Policy Options for Racially Integrated Education in the South and the Nation,” this year’s Center for Civil Rights Conference co-sponsored by the UNC Law School, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, and the University of Georgia Education Policy and Evaluation Center.

The conference will focus on the future of integrated public education in the wake of the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (PICS).

More than 20 nationally acclaimed social scientists and attorneys will discuss topics including:

  • Making the Case for Racially integrated Education
  • Finding Viable Legal Strategies for Racial Equity post-PICS
  • Evaluating Socioeconomic Based Assignment Plans
  • Building Political Will for Integrated Public Schools post-PICS
  • Achieving Racial Equity through Strategic Public Policies

To register, please visit the UNC Center for Civil Rights conference website or click here.

Weekly Events Update

It is another busy week for LCRM events. On Monday, Professor Sandy Darity will be giving a lecture titled “The Economics of Colorism” at Duke. On Wednesday, there will be a meeting of the Triangle Labor and Civil Rights Working group and a lecture by Dr. Jonathan Metzl titles “The Protest Psychosis.” On Thrusday there is a trio of lectures: “Indians, Southerners, and Americans” part of the Hutchins Lecture series at UNC; “African American Islam” will be held at Duke; and “A Joyful Noise” will also take place at Duke. Wrapping up the busy week, there will be two events on Friday. First, there is the 30th Annual Minority Health Conference at UNC. Second there is the Duke Journal of Gender, Law, and Public Health’s 2009 Symposium.  For more details on these events, please visit the Events calendar.

Getting More Out Of Google

At the LCRM project, one thing we are doing is examining existing online research tools and thinking about how they can be better used in scholarly communication and research. One thing that we found is that Google can be used in some interesting ways, particularly if you use the Advanced Search to generate your results.
Continue reading ‘Getting More Out Of Google’

Civil Rights Book Reviews

From Mary Dudziak, one of our LCRM conference panelists and a legal scholar the University of Southern California, at we have reviews of Mary Frances Berry’s new history of the United States Civil Rights Commission and Robert J. Norrell’s new biography of Booker T. Washington. Read them at Professor Dudziak’s blog.

This week’s events

It is a busy week in the Triangle for LCRM events. First, there will be a panel discussion titled, “A Dream Fulfilled?,” on race and politics at Duke today. Then at UNC on Thursday Dean Kathleen McCartney will give a William Friday Lecture titled, “The Effects of Environment on Children from Low-Income Families.” The events continue on Saturday with the UNC Law School’s conference on Race, Class, Gender and Ethnicity. Finally, on Sunday, Richard Westmacott will discuss African-American gardening traditions at the N.C. Botanical Garden. For more information about these events, please check the events calendar.

Events this week

On the events calendar this week are two events at Duke. First, today at 4:30 is the 4th annual “Tea with Trailblazers” panel which will immediately be followed by the opening of the travelling exhibit “Opening Doors: Contemporary African-American Academic Surgeons.” Then, on Thursday, Professor Richard J. Powell, will be presenting his new book, Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture, at the Nasher Art Museum. Visit the events calendar for additional details on these events.

African American History Month

Activist Dick Gregory once said of African American History Month (no longer called Black History Month, though few seem to know it), “Wouldn’t you know that when they got around to giving us a month, it would be the month of February with all them days missing.” But Carter G. Woodson chose February when he created Negro History Week in 1926 because both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were born during that month. Woodson hoped to instill a sense of pride in the black community and to educate whites about blacks’ contributions to America’s successes. The event has long been controversial: historian Harold W. Cruse remembers (members only, sorry) a black newspaper attacking the premise in 1950, around the time of Woodson’s death, and February celebrations compete with calls to abolish the observance altogether.

This year’s theme is the “quest for black citizenship in the America.” Appropriate for a number of reasons, not least given our new president’s own quest for identity and the lawsuit(s) that claim he is not an American citizen. This is our first African American History Month with a black president, whose election give fuel both to those who argue for greater emphasis on the role of blacks American history and those who claim (inadvertently hilariously), or wonder (unconvincingly), that his election puts the whole issue to bed and inoculates whites against accusations of racism.

John Hope Franklin wrote ten years ago that he “made it a point to give lectures for African-American history during the other eleven months.” (sorry, restricted link.) Still seems like a good idea.

Millard Fuller & Koinonia Farm

Guest post by David Cline, Associate Director of the Southern Oral History Program

Millard Fuller, who founded Habitat for Humanity with is wife Linda in Southwest Georgia in 1976, died yesterday at the age of 74. Fuller is celebrated for developing Habit for Humanity, though the organization’s underlying Christian ethos and its origins in early civil rights ventures are not as well known.

Habit for Humanity grew out of Fuller’s relationship to Koinonia Farm, an idealistic Christian farming community founded in Americus, Georgia, in 1942 by minister Clarence Jordan. The Fullers joined Koinonia in 1965 at a time when civil rights activists in Georgia regularly used the farm as a safe haven. The farm, an early experiment in building “the beloved community,” was a regular meeting place for movement volunteers. Like the Highlander Folk School, it operated as what sociologist Aldon Morris termed a “movement halfway house,” nurturing and inspiring activists. Jordan regularly housed and fed those working in the area, especially those Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) members and other volunteers working with the Southwest Georgia Project, begun under the auspices of the  and directed by Charles Sherrod since 1961. The Ku Klux Klan attacked Koinonia Farm more than once.

The region made national headlines when the locally organized Albany Movement staged a series of large-scale demonstrations against segregation in 1961-62. First started by SNCC activists, the Albany story got a publicity boost when Martin Luther King, Jr. SCLC joined the protests. King, despite his own and the arrests of hundreds of others, failed to win concessions and he quickly left town. Many historians have regarded the Albany Movement as King’s first major failure and little attention has been paid to what unfolded in Southwest Georgia after King left. A major part of that story is the creation of Habitat for Humanity.

Beginning in 1965, over 30 seminary students with the Student Interracial Ministry project spent time working in the counties of Southwest Georgia. They held their orientations and meetings at Koinonia, where they met up with fellow progressive Christians at what Jordan called his “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God.” The Fullers were already in residence at Koinonia at this time. Jordan and Fuller started a small program of what they called “partnership housing,” building simple houses in a “sweat-equity” exchage with rural neighbors who were too poor to qualify for conventional home loans.

After a few such ventures, the Fullers spent three years on a similar project in Zaire, then returned to the U.S. in 1976 and launching Habitat for Humanity International. By the organization’s 25th anniversary, tens of thousands of people were volunteering with Habitat and more than 500,000 people were living in Habitat homes. Habitat’s goal of providing housing and economic independence for the rural and urban poor was a direct outgrowth of both the Beloved Community ideal and the civil rights movement projects that bloomed in Georgia starting in the 1960s, and that continue to this day.