Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements


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One day in , a black 42 year old woman called Rosa Parks got on a bus to return home from work.

She sat down near the front of the bus. Some white people got onto the bus, and she was expected to give up her seat. She decided not to move. The police were called, and she was arrested. They organised a Bus Boycott to protest against bus segregation. It was decided that black people in Montgomery would refuse to use the buses until passengers were completely integrated.

King and others involved in the Bus Boycott were harassed and intimidated by the authorities, but the protest continued. For thirteen months the black people in Montgomery walked to work or got lifts from the small car-owning black population of the city. The new organisation was committed to non-violence in the struggle for civil rights. To read more about these sit- ins, the people involved and related Civil Rights Movement developments, visit: www.

In , King wrote a book called 'Stride toward Freedom' which detailed the success of the Montgomery bus boycott and explained King's views on non-violence.


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King was not only a good writer; he was also an excellent public speaker. To inspire people to become involved in the civil rights movement King travelled to many places in the country making speeches. In early , motivated and inspired by King, a small group of black students in Greensboro, North Carolina decided to take action.

They began a student sit-in at the restaurant of a local store that had a policy of not serving black people. They took their seats and ordered coffee, but were refused service. In just two months the sit-in movement spread to 54 cities in 9 states. The students were often physically assaulted, but they followed King's strategy and did not fight back. All over the Deep South, black students began to follow King's non-violent strategy.

There were successful campaigns against segregated transport, restaurants, swimming pools, theatres, libraries, beaches and public parks. The campaign to end segregation at lunch counters in Birmingham, Alabama, was less successful. In the spring of , police turned dogs and water hoses on the demonstrators. King and a large number of his supporters, including schoolchildren, were arrested and jailed. King always stressed the importance of the vote. Although they were a minority, once the vote was organized, African Americans could determine the result of presidential and state elections.

This was illustrated by the African American support for John F. Kennedy that helped give him a narrow victory in the election. Kennedy took a long time to put forward legislation to give African Americans their rights. The Civil Rights bill was only brought before Congress in In an attempt to persuade Congress to pass Kennedy's proposed legislation, King and other civil rights leaders organized the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

A newspaper reporter wrote, " no one could ever remember an invading army quite as gentle as the two hundred thousand civil rights marchers who occupied Washington. King was the final speaker and gave his famous I Have a Dream speech. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression; will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children one day will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character". Kennedy's Civil Rights Bill was still being debated by Congress when he was assassinated in November, The new president, Lyndon Baines Johnson , was able to get the legislation passed.

The Civil Rights Act was passed in African Americans could no longer be excluded from restaurants, hotels and other public facilities. In , at the age of 35, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. The Peace Prize is awarded "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

King now turned his attention to achieving a voting-rights law. This legislation proposed to remove the right States had to impose restrictions on who could vote in elections. Literacy tests and extra taxes would no longer be allowed to prevent African Americans from voting.

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In March , a protest march took place from Selma to the state capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama. State trooper's attacked the marchers.

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King was not with the marchers when they were attacked. The Voting Rights Act was passed in It gave the national government power to register those whom the southern states refused to put on the voting list. It is interesting to note how the number of African Americans registered to vote increased as a result of this legislation:. After the passing of these two important pieces of legislation, King concentrated on helping those suffering from poverty.

He also voiced his strong opposition to the Vietnam War. King linked poverty to the War - he argued that the money being spent on the war could be better spent on improving America's welfare system. The mission of the FBI is to uphold the law through the investigation of violations of federal criminal law; to protect the United States from foreign intelligence and terrorist activities. Hoover led the FBI from to 48 years. Hoover is a very controversial figure in American history. Hoover was obsessed with the threat of Communism.

Rumours were spread to discredit King. King was made out to be an instrument of the Communist Party who had a relationship with the Soviet Bloc. This posed a serious threat to the security of the USA. The city government stubbornly refused to recognize the Sanitations Workers' Union or to meet workers' demands.


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  8. However, the strike served to unite the African American community of Memphis. The temperature was 61 degrees and climbing. Downtown would soon be stifling. Yet, as strikers and their families and supporters gathered, expecting King at 10 a. This was the day they would show Mayor Henry Loeb the power of a united black community allied with unions, students and people of goodwill, white and black.

    Hundreds of workers carried placards reading "I Am A Man. It would be a grand march'. Source: hnn. However, the deepening divide in the civil rights movement was growing. One author describes the tensions within the Civil Rights Movement at the Memphis march as follows:. Thus far, black sanitation workers had been the core of most marches, and their non-violent discipline remained rock solid. Not so with many of the new participants in the movement.

    Nobody could do anything with them," said the black City Councilman Fred Davis. Marchers were ordered to refrain from any acts of violence. However, the march turned sour when a group of students used the signs they were carrying to break shop windows, and loot their wares. Police moved into the crowds with sticks, mace, tear gas and gunfire. King was escorted from the scene. Sixty people were injured, and a sixteen-year-old boy, Larry Payne, was shot dead by the police who claimed he was a looter.

    An eyewitness said that Payne had his hands up when shot. These events were regarded as a turning point in the Civil Rights Struggle. King was convinced that the Memphis march violence had been caused by FBI provocateurs. A few days later, King made a speech at the Clayborn Temple in support of the striking sanitation workers referred to as the I've Been to the Mountaintop speech. It ended with the following words:.

    Taking the Power of the Past History in Building Social Movements to Heart

    But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life - longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain.

    And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. After the meeting, King and his party were taken to the Lorraine Motel.

    The following day, 4 April , King was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony of the motel. His death was followed by rioting in cities and resulted in forty-six people being killed. Two months later, James Earl Ray , a career criminal and open racist, was arrested in London and extradited to the United States.

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    He pleaded guilty to King's murder and was sent to jail for ninety-nine years. He spent the remainder of his life attempting unsuccessfully to withdraw his guilty plea and secure the trial he never had. People close to King were convinced that the government was behind the assassination. You can read more about his assassination on this external link: news. You can read more about the conspiracy theories surrounding King's assassination on this external link www. In , John F. Kennedy was elected American president. Many African Americans had voted for him as they believed he was sympathetic to the civil rights movement.

    However, Kennedy made promises in his campaign that he was slow to keep once he was in office. Their plan was to defy Jim Crow laws and to challenge the public's non-compliance with a US Supreme Court decision that prohibited segregation in all interstate public transportation facilities.

    This prohibition had been declared 3 years prior to the Riders arrival in the South. The Riders were trained in the discipline of non-violence. Blacks and whites were seated together on the bus; an act already considered a crime in most segregated states in the South. At stops along the way, the Freedom Riders whites went into blacks-only areas and blacks went into whites-only facilities. They were not disobeying the law, as the Supreme Court had already declared segregation illegal. But, as expected, the Freedom Riders met with resistance from racists in the South. This was a test for Kennedy's government to step in and enforce the law.

    Along the way, Freedom Rider buses were stoned and firebombed, tires were slashed and the Riders were beaten up by white mobs. Hundreds of Freedom Riders were arrested for 'breach of peace' violations. Rather than posting bail immediately however, the Freedom Riders chose to remain in jail for forty days, the maximum amount of time one could remain in jail before losing their right of appeal. On one occasion, as the Riders entered the Montgomery bus terminal, they were met by a vicious white mob that beat up many of the riders as they got off the bus.

    When news of the Montgomery attack reached Washington, Robert Kennedy sent federal marshals to the city. As night fell, a mob of several thousand whites surrounded the church. Martial law was declared and state police and the National Guard were sent in. The mob dispersed and those inside the church left safely. The Freedom Riders forced the Kennedy administration to take a stand on civil rights, which was their intent in the first place. In addition, at the request of Robert Kennedy, the Interstate Commerce.

    You can read extracts from Raymond Arsenault's book Freedom Riders: and the Struggle for Racial Justice and listen to him speak on the external link: www. Commission outlawed segregation in interstate bus travel that took effect in September, The ruling was more specific than the original Supreme Court mandate. The Freedom Riders therefore made an important and lasting contribution to the civil rights movement. Five months after the first Freedom Rides left on their historic ride, the Interstate Commerce Commission ICC in conjunction with the US Attorney General Robert Kennedy issued a tough new Federal order banning segregation at all interstate public facilities based on "race, colour or creed.

    Birmingham was probably the most segregated city in the US, and had one of the South's most violent Ku Klux Klan groups. Dozens of unsolved bombings and police killings had terrorised the black community for many years. The bombing came without warning. By the end of the day, riots and fires had broken out throughout Birmingham and another 2 teenagers were killed. Grief was not only felt in the African American community, but white strangers expressed their sympathy to the families of the four girls. At the funeral of three of the girls, Martin Luther King gave the eulogy, which was witnessed by 8, mourners, both white and black.

    The FBI led the initial investigation into the bombing. The Birmingham FBI office recommended prosecuting the suspects. Hoover, however, blocked their prosecution and by , charges had not been filed, and the FBI closed the case. The case was reopened in In , Robert Chambliss was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. The case was again reopened in Herman Cash died before a case could be brought against him. In , Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry were charged with the murder of the four girls. Both men were tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney were part of the Mississippi Summer Project, a group of hundreds of young volunteers who were helping to register black voters.

    In , these three civil rights workers, two white and one black man, disappeared in Mississippi. The FBI was called in to investigate the crime, and it took decades to bring the perpetrators to justice. Activity: If you can, try to watch the movie based on this case, called 'Mississippi Burning'. Their bodies were found buried six weeks later. The three civil rights workers had been shot at point blank range, and their bodies were buried on a dam site at the Old Jolly Farm. The farm was owned by a Klan member.

    Local residents were tight-lipped. Finally informants from within the Klan or KKK became the government's key witnesses to the crime. Nineteen men were arrested and the trial began in in the courtroom of Judge William Cox, a racist judge who had previously referred to a group of African Americans as ' a bunch of chimpanzees. A jury of seven white men and five white women convicted some but not others. The convictions in the case represented the first ever convictions in Mississippi for the killing of a civil rights worker.

    The History Teacher, Vol. 34, published by the Society for History Education

    A former Klan preacher, Edgar Ray Killen who was prosecuted, escaped conviction in Many civil rights activists struggled tirelessly to get the case re-opened so that Killen, who had walked free, could be punished. In , the state reopened the investigation. In , Edgar Ray Killen, by now aged 79, was sentenced to serve three year terms, one for each conviction of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner in During King's career, South Africa was in the grip of apartheid.

    On many occasions he spoke out against racism beyond United States borders. King sought to build ' an international alliance of peoples of all nations against racism' and to promote non-violent action to quarantine the racist South African regime with its capital in Pretoria. Non-violent resistance was first introduced by M.

    K Gandhi during his time in South Africa. King wrote in his last major work; Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community :. Its national policy and practice are the incarnation of the doctrine of white supremacy in the midst of a population which is overwhelmingly Black. But the tragedy of South Africa is virtually made possible by the economic policies of the United States and Great Britain, two countries which profess to be the moral bastions of our Western world.

    In our struggle for freedom and justice in the United States, which has also been so long and arduous, we feel a powerful sense of identification with those in the far more deadly struggle for freedom in South Africa. We know how Africans there, and their friends of other races, strove for half a century to win their freedom by non-violent methods. We have honoured Chief Luthuli for his leadership, and we know how this non-violence was only met by increasing violence from the state, increasing repression, culminating in the shootings of Sharpeville and all that has happened since.

    Clearly there is much in Mississippi and Alabama to remind South Africans of their own country, yet even in Mississippi we can organise to register Negro voters, we can speak to the press, we can in short organise the people in non-violent action. But in South Africa even the mildest form of non-violent resistance meets with years of imprisonment, and leaders over many years have been restricted and silenced and imprisoned.

    We can understand how in that situation people felt so desperate that they turned to other methods, such as sabotage. Today great leaders - Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe - are among many hundreds wasting away in Robben Island prison. Against the massively armed and ruthless state, which uses torture and sadistic forms of interrogation to crush human beings - even driving some to suicide - the militant opposition inside South Africa seems for the moment to be silenced: the mass of the people seems to be contained, seems for the moment unable to break from oppression.

    I emphasise the word "seems" because we can imagine what emotions and plans must be seething below the calm surface of that prosperous police state". The struggles of the Civil Rights Movement continued to inspire the anti-apartheid movement around the world. In an email exchange with South African political anti-apartheid activist, Albie Sachs , was asked:. During your years involved in politics, what degree of awareness did you have about the occurrences in the U. I had actually gone to jail in the early s as part of a civil rights campaign against segregation in South Africa -- I sat on a seat marked "non-whites only"!

    We read the news eagerly and identified unconditionally with those who were demanding their basic rights. It seems to me that great gains have been made in the USA since then but that, unfortunately, huge difficulties still remain. Maybe an African majority, with wise leadership and drawing on its cultural strength and experience of struggle, will turn out to be more generous and accepting of a white minority than the white majority in this country.

    What gives me great pleasure is to welcome people from the USA to South Africa, to what we are doing, and to share experiences with us. In particular, I enjoy the opportunity to thank Americans for the very strong support they gave us in overcoming apartheid, especially in the late s. I think it was threat of intensified sanctions from the USA that finally persuaded the then South African government that apartheid was doomed.

    So, thank you. Hundreds of thousands of Americans mobilized to oppose apartheid in the s, and built successful behind-the-scenes links between African liberation movements and American activists, both black and white. Finally, in , the U. The Civil Rights Movement, and the new laws that were passed as a result, led to progress in gaining equality for black Americans.

    In reality, prejudice still existed. African Americans still experienced racial discrimination, lower wages than whites and higher crime rates in their inner city neighbourhoods.

    Why Do Young People Get Involved in Social Movements? - National Geographic

    Many young African Americans in particular wanted to speed up real social change. They saw the Civil Rights Movement as too mainstream, and unable to give blacks the same opportunities as whites - socially, economically and politically. They felt that the Civil Rights Movement was based more on white perceptions of civil rights than black perceptions. By the mids, dissatisfaction with the pace of change was growing, and the Black Power Movement arose out of this dissatisfaction. The Black Power Movement argued that that in order to achieve genuine integration, blacks first had to unite in solidarity and become self-reliant.

    The Black Power Movement was very broad, and should perhaps be more accurately described as the Black Power Movement s and aimed to express a new racial consciousness among black people in the United States. The Movement had various meanings and interpretations. Significant aspects included the following:. Racial dignity and self-reliance. This meant freedom from white authority in both economics and politics. An emphasis on cultural heritage, history and black identity.

    This was referred to as Black Consciousness. The necessity for black people to define the world in their own terms. At times this included a call for a revolutionary political struggle to reject racism and imperialism in the United States. We want black power. It is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations. He was frequently arrested, and spent time in jail. He became increasingly influenced by the ideologies of Malcolm X and Kwame Nkrumah. Guinea is a nation in West Africa. Guinea is sometimes called Guinea-Conakry Conakry being its capital, to differentiate it from the neighbouring Guinea-Bissau Bissau being its capital.

    In , the publication of previously-secret Central Intelligence Agency CIA documents revealed that Carmichael had been tracked by the CIA as part of their surveillance of black activists abroad. Watts is a residential district in southern Los Angeles, California. The term Watts Rebellion refers to a large-scale rebellion which lasted six days in the Watts neighbourhood in August It was the first major racially-fuelled rebellion of the s, an event that foreshadowed the widespread urban violence of the latter half of the decade.

    In Watts, as in other American inner cities, there were feelings of injustice, anti-police sentiment, racial tension, overcrowding, unemployment and inferior schools. In , Watts was experiencing a summer heat wave which added to the simmering tension in the neighbourhood. A seemingly small incident sparked massive racial violence.

    The 'small incident' occurred on 11 August Marquette was with his brother, Ronald. While police questioned Marquette and Ronald, a group of people began to gather. When the onlookers began to taunt the policeman, a second officer was called in. A struggle ensued shortly after Frye's mother, Rena, arrived on the scene. All three family members were arrested. According to eyewitness accounts, the second officer hit members of the crowd with his baton.

    The news of this act of racist police brutality soon spread throughout the neighbourhood. The incident sparked off the riots, which lasted six days. He was a member of the Student Strike Coordinating Committee which led a mass rally, teach-in and demonstration on May 1, More than 15, people jammed the Yale campus from Friday through Sunday to protest the arrest and murder trial of Black Panther leader Bobby Seale. In the fall of , Green was appointed an assistant professor of history at Brandeis University. An influential Radical America article by Green and co-author Allen Hunter outlining the history of school desegregation in Boston prior to the school-busing crisis, "Racism and Busing in Boston.

    Green received his Ph. Green studied under the legendary historian C. During this time he also was involved in the anti-war movement , which eventually sparked his interest in the history of radicalism in the United States. Green took a position as a lecturer in history at the University of Warwick during the to term. He became involved in the British History Workshop , a group of historians who focused research on workers and local movements rather than national trends, markets and large organizations. Green's subsequent work was heavily influenced by the practices of the History Workshop, and he became an active proponent of the " new labor history " movement in the U.

    In , Green left Brandeis and was appointed an associate professor of history and labor studies in the College of Public and Community Service at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He was a full professor until he retired in In December of that year and into early , Green worked in West Virginia , covering a national strike by coal miners who had defied for a few days a Taft-Hartley Act back-to-work order by President Jimmy Carter.

    The project brought workers and academics together to explore labor history and to identify common concerns and issues. He wrote a number of articles on this effort to democratize social history as well as a number of reflections in his autobiographical book " Taking History to Heart.

    Green's interest in radicalism and his experiences in West Virginia led him to become involved in the American labor movement in the s. In , he created a labor studies major at UMass-Boston, and started teaching leadership training workshops for unions such as the United Mine Workers of America. Green's interest in labor history and involvement in the American labor movement has led him to become involved with a number of documentary films.

    In , Green was supporting coal miners who had struck the Pittston Coal Group. Documentary film-maker Barbara Kopple , commissioned to create a centennial history of the United Mine Workers, was there filming the strike and employed Green as a consultant. He received an associate producer credit on the picture. In and , Green worked as a research director and consultant on "The Great Depression," an award-winning seven-part documentary series produced by Blackside, Inc.

    Afterward, he served on the community advisory board of local Boston public television station, WGBH , from to The film later aired on PBS. The program will air nationwide in Green's research focuses on radical political and social movements in the U. Green writes social and political history from "the bottom up. One of Green's earliest published works, The World of the Worker, is noted for its revisionist take on American labor history. The work came about after historian Eric Foner challenged Green to write the history of the American labor movement from a new labor history or rank-and-file perspective.

    Green's book, Taking History to Heart , had a deep impact in the academic history community. The book is a semi-autobiographical account of the role historical awareness plays in forging powerful, effective social movements. Writing in a colloquial style, Green discussed how important historical events such as the Haymarket riot , the Bread and Roses strike, and the civil rights movement influenced his own life. He vividly describes these events, and ended up not only writing popular historical narratives but showed how those stories encouraged his own participation in various causes.

    In many ways, the book is a written example of Green's lifelong struggle to take history out of the ivory tower and make it come alive and be relevant to working people and community activists. The book received praise from academics for encouraging the reconnection of academia to society. In , Green published Death in the Haymarket, a popularized history of the Haymarket riot. Although not noted for its path-breaking research, the book was a best-seller that was reviewed favorably in various publications like The New Yorker , The Nation , Chicago Tribune , and was chosen by The Progressive as one of the best non-fiction books of the year.

    Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements
    Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements
    Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements
    Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements
    Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements
    Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements
    Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements Taking history to heart: the power of the past in building social movements

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