Locating the civil rights movement: An essay on the Deep South, Midwest, and border South in black freedom studies

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Abstract

Over the past few decades, scholars of the post-World War II civil rights movement have revisited key issues related to the goals, strategies, ideologies, participants, and periodization of black freedom struggles. As part of this conceptual remapping, historians of the African American experience have rethought how and where to locate the civil rights movement. This has geographically broadened the movement's scope to include previously understudied struggles in the North as well as in the South during the movement's heroic, "classical" period. Notwithstanding its significant insights, this emphasis on "nationalizing" the civil rights movement narrative carries the risk of flattening meaningful differences of historical place. Among other things, this approach can oversimplify the varying modes of white racial control and black agency across regions. This essay responds by suggesting that the task of theorizing the significance of region and place in movement narratives requires historians to more clearly delineate regional distinctions with regard to forms of black racial subordination, political and economic processes, and structures of opportunity and constraint on black mobilization and resistance during the 1960s and preceding decades. It argues in favor of the historical particularity of the South, especially the Deep South, and distinguishes this region historically from the Midwest. Finally, using St. Louis, Missouri as a focal point, the essay asserts the significance of the border South in histories of the civil rights movement more generally. Identifying this region illustrates simultaneously the instability and concreteness of regional distinctions in Black Freedom Studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbersht086
Pages (from-to)371-400
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Social History
Volume47
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

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