The Civil Rights Movement

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Newman, Mark. The Civil Rights Movement. (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2004).


Summary


Written by Mark Newman, The Civil Rights Movement chronicles the history of the civil rights movement in the 20th Century. In the book Newman, a British professor of American History takes a different approach in studying the subject. First, he explains the differences between de jure and de facto segregation. Also, while many who study the civil rights movement begin their study during the 1950’s, Newman takes a more holistic approach, tracing the civil rights movement back to the 1930’s. He argues that the civil rights movement began during this time period through the actions of various groups, such as the Black Nationalist movement led my Marcus Garvey, and the various legal actions taken by the NAACP to assist African-Americans and to campaign for anti-lynching legislation. At the same time, African-Americans also joined and supported labor unions, with which they sometimes had difficult relationships, and supported Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Support of the civil rights movement among African-Americans increased after the end of the Second World War. However, there were no major accomplishments, with the exception of the desegregation of the armed services, until the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. This increased the power of the civil rights movement, which, according to Newman had gained political power as a result of the African-American migration to the north during the 20th Century, thus giving more blacks the right to vote. During the late 1950’s through to the mid 1960’s the civil rights movement, through various organizations fought to achieve the end of de jure segregation. One of the reasons why Newman’s approach is different that others of study the civil rights movement is that he does not focus of the leaders of the movement, such of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Medger Evers. Instead Newman studies that actions of local and low level civil rights workers and the various organizations they created to further their goals. In the book he often discusses the differences and the conflicts between the often-competing organizations. He contrasts the actions of more moderate organizations, such as the NAACP, which was hesitant to take part in mass protest, to more radical organizations, such as the Congress of Racial Equality.

Although the civil rights movement, according to Newman, was able to end de jure discrimination and segregation, problems remained after their successes in the mid 1960’s. De facto segregation remained, as did widespread African-American poverty. Newman argues that while many African-Americans in the rural south were satisfied with the advances of the civil rights movement, many in the urban north and west remained unhappy with the problems facing Black America. These issues resulted in the riots and upheaval during the late 1960’s. Newman also argues that many of the problems faced by the African-American community, as a result of poverty and de facto discrimination were ignored after the presidential election of 1968 and throughout the more conservative political climate that followed.

Commentary


Jim Sweeney, Fall 2006

Given the emotions that often go with the civil rights movement, it was interesting to have the perspective of a non-American historian. With that being said, I think that Newman adds to the study of the civil rights movement by looking at the entire history of the movement, rather than the period studied by most historians. Although we often hear about what took place during the 1950’s and 1960’s, we hardly hear about what happened before. Also, I think that it is important that Newman looked at the various groups involved in the movement, and how their views were often differing. Too often when studying the civil rights movement, we look at it as one against the other conflict, simply; those in favor of civil rights for African-Americans versus those against civil rights. It was interesting to learn about those Whites in the South who were either more accommodating towards the civil rights movement, or did not wholeheartedly oppose it for their own economic reasons.

One area that I disagreed with Newman was on the political power of African-Americans in the North during the mid 20th Century. He argues that when African-Americans moved to the North their presence forced Northern Democrats to support their causes. However, Newman does not exactly provide support for this reasoning. I think it also overlooks the issues and problems, political and otherwise that African-Americans faced in the North. It also is a rather cynical approach to the actions of Northern leaders who supported the civil rights movement. Although I disagreed with this aspect of the book, overall I was pleased with the Newman’s approach to the subject.

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