Monthly Archive for September, 2010

A New Task for Civil Rights Activists: Educating Black Boys

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist sets an agenda for today’s activists: the education of African American boys. Read it here.

New SOHP Interview: Willie Blue

In 1960, Willie Blue returned to his native Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, a twenty-one year old Navy veteran. From what he could tell, life for African Americans there had not improved much in his absence, and he didn’t like what he saw. Local whites didn’t like him much, either. “A lady from the NAACP,” he remembers, “she worked at the funeral home, she pulled me aside and she said, ‘I heard about some guys, some Freedom Riders, down in Greenwood.  Things are getting rough for you and I keep hearing things.  They’re going to get you.  You might need to go down there and see what’s up with them.’  I went to Greenwood, I met Bob Moses, and the rest is history.”

Blue went on to become Mississippi Field Secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In April, he joined other movement veterans at SNCC’s 50th Anniversary Conference, where he sat down with an interviewer from the Southern Oral History Program-Duke University Oral History Project collaboration there to cover the event. Enjoy.

Willie Blue from Southern Oral History Program on Vimeo.

Proposal for Conference Session: Teaching the Long Civil Rights Movement

Richard Hughes of Illinois State University is looking to convene an interesting panel at the 2012 Organization of American Historians Annual Conference in Milwaukee (April 19-22).

From Richard: “I am organizing a conference panel to explore the ways in which the Long Civil Rights Movement continues to enrich the teaching of American history.  Possibilities include specific examples of how the concept of a long civil rights movement has altered the teaching of historians or provocative ways in which the growing scholarship may force historians to reconceptualize the teaching and learning of twentieth-century U.S. history.

I am proposing a paper entitled, “The March on Washington without the Dream: Teaching and the Hidden Voices of the Long Civil Rights Movement.”  I am looking for other historians who would be interested in presenting a paper, chairing the session, or providing commentary on the panel.  The website for submissions opens October 1, 2010 with the deadline for all submissions February 1, 2011. Please send a brief description of your possible contribution via email to:

rhughes at ilstu dot edu

Fifty Books!

The LCRM Project has reached a milestone: 50 books are now available at our site!

New additions include William Link’s seminal The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, Harry Ashmore’s study of biracial education, The Negro and the Schools, published the year of the Brown decision, and Mary Poole’s recent book on African Americans and the welfare state, The Segregated Origins of Social Security. Like all the works available through the project, these books are fully searchable and comment-enabled so regisitered users can post reactions and add links to additional scholarship and resources.

To access the full text of the books, you must be a “premium user” of the site.   We welcome requests from scholars, teachers, librarians, and graduate students; send your request to lcrmproject at gmail dot com.

Enjoy!

BP Blues

This July, the Southern Oral History Program completed a short series of interviews on the human impact of the BP oil spill. Here, in a brief excerpt from the project, musician and crawfisher Drew Landry performs his tune, “BP Blues.” For more, please head to sohp.org/oilspill.

Government and Green Energy from Southern Oral History Program on Vimeo.

BP Blues

This July, the Southern Oral History Program completed a short series of interviews on the human impact of the BP oil spill. Here, in a brief excerpt from the project, musician and crawfisher Drew Landry performs his tune, “BP Blues.” For more, please head to sohp.org/oilspill.

BP Blues from Southern Oral History Program on Vimeo.

New Civil Rights Scholarship Reviewed: Seeking Inalienable Rights

William Carrigan (Rowan University) has reviewed a new collection on civil rights struggles in Texas, Seeking Inalienable Rights: Texans and their Quests for Justice (Texas A&M Press), for H-net. Carrigan writes that the edited volume extends the “traditional chronology” of the movement:

According to editor Debra A. Reid, Seeking Inalienable Rights explores how “selected Texans pursued their rights by contrasting the ideal of personal liberty in a capitalist society with the reality of the price others paid for that rights expansion” (p. xiii). The volume, composed of eight chapters, challenges the traditional chronology of the Texas civil rights struggle by extending discussion of the movement to the late nineteenth century and by broadening the concept of organized movement to “include efforts of men and women who allied within classes and sought political and professional influence and economic opportunity, in addition to government protection of defined rights” (p. xiii). Reid goes on to argue that “Texas as a multiethnic state provides an important case study to explore the ways that competing definitions of rights and special interest legislation have affected rights” (p. xvii).

Read the whole thing here.

Cajun Alamo

This July, the Southern Oral History Program completed a short series of interviews on the human impact of the BP oil spill. Here, in a brief excerpt from the project, musician and crawfisher Drew Landry explains why he calls the spill a “Cajun Alamo.” For more, please head to sohp.org/oilspill.

Cajun Alamo from Southern Oral History Program on Vimeo.

When I Was a Kid

This July, the Southern Oral History Program completed a short series of interviews on the human impact of the BP oil spill. Here is a brief excerpt from the project, in which Philip Simmons, whose family has lived in Louisiana since the 1700s, describes how the spill stands to change his life. For more, please head to sohp.org/oilspill.

When I Was a Kid from Southern Oral History Program on Vimeo.

Ernest Withers

Ernest Withers took this iconic photo as well as many others. (Photo from the New York Times)

Ernest Withers is responsible for some of the most arresting images of the civil rights movement: Martin Luther King riding one of the South’s first desegregated buses in Memphis in 1956, Dr. King resting in the Lorraine Motel after the 1966 March Against Fear, and men holding signs stating, “I Am a Man” at the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis.

Now, it has emerged that while Withers was documenting the movement as a journalist, he was providing inside information to the FBI. According to the conclusions of an investigation by the Memphis Commercial Appeal, he was a paid FBI informant. The day before King’s assassination, Withers gave the FBI details of a planned meeting with so-called black militants; after King’s funeral, he told the FBI about plans to support a sanitation strike in Memphis. According to the investigation, Withers’s information played a key role in the successful disruption of the Invaders, a Black Panther-style group in Memphis that rose and fell in the late 1960s.

In short, Withers used the special access he gained through earning movement leaders’ trust to undermine the movement itself, particularly the more confrontational factions that emerged in the late 1960s. It is not clear if Withers had an agenda–he seemed to target “militant” activists and notably described James Lawson as a demagogue capable of inciting young people to violence–or if he simply wanted to earn some extra cash.

Civil rights veterans and friends have reacted with shock. A fellow black journalist and friend of Withers worried that Withers had not only betrayed the movement, but also black journalists’ pledge to their communities. On the other hand, Andrew Young quipped, “I don’t think Dr. King would have minded him making a little money on the side.”

This is not just a shocking revelation about civil rights history; it’s also a story about thorough research sparked, as it often is, by luck. Although the Justice Department refuses to release files on Withers’s role as an informant, the government did release details about a corruption probe that targeted Withers in the 1970s. A government censor missed a single notation of Withers’s informant identification number. The Commercial Appeal then used that number to comb through files released under a Freedom of Information Request in the 1970s. The result was a rich body of data about Withers, ME 388-R.