Central Question: Did individual African American activists spark the Civil Rights Movement?


Dynamics of Idealism- Volunteers for Civil Rights, 1965-1982 432x240

Textbooks present the modern Civil Rights Movement in the same way as other U.S. social movements -- a spontaneous, emotional eruption of saintly activists led by two or three inspired orators in response to momentary aberrations in the exercise of democracy. In particular, textbooks imply that, until World War II, African Americans had been relatively content with social, economic, and political conditions in the U.S. Then, suddenly, African Americans were angered that they could not fight on battlefields, play baseball, attend schools, or sit on buses with whites. Further, African Americans were the only people to observe and protest these conditions. Finally, to act on their discontent, African Americans required instructions from a benevolent federal government, or a single charismatic or sympathetic leader. A more accurate telling of the story of the modern Civil Rights Movement indicates that the “river of purposeful anger” has been long, wide and well populated.

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