Civil Rights and the Idea of Freedom

Richard H. King

Lessons of freedom, self-respect, and solidarity from the civil rights movement


"A well documented, scholarly analysis of the impact of ideas on activists."

"Stimulating and subtle, the author's arguments are also refreshingly forthright. . . . King's book is a salutary and thought-provoking reminder that the civil rights movement, for all its limitations, did extend the boundaries and meanings of freedom in a creative and compelling manner."
Journal of Southern History

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Civil Rights and the Idea of Freedom is a groundbreaking work, one of the first to show in detail how the civil rights movement crystallized our views of citizenship as a grassroots-level, collective endeavor and of self-respect as a formidable political tool. Drawing on both oral and written sources, Richard H. King shows how rank-and-file movement participants defined and discussed such concepts as rights, equality, justice, and, in particular, freedom, and how such key movement leaders as Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Stokely Carmichael, and James Forman were attuned to this "freedom talk."

The book includes chapters on the concept of freedom in its many varieties, both individual and collective; on self-interest and self-respect; on Martin Luther King's use of the idea of freedom; and on the intellectual evolution of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, especially in light of Frantz Fanon's thought among movement radicals.

In demonstrating that self-respect, self-determination, and solidarity were as central to the goals of the movement as the dismantling of the Jim Crow system, King argues that the movement's success should not be measured in terms of tangible, quantifiable advances alone, such as voter registration increases or improved standards of living. Not only has the civil rights movement helped strengthen the meaning and political importance of active citizenship in the contemporary world, says King, but "what was at first a political goal became, in the 1970s and 1980s, the impetus for the academic and intellectual rediscovery and reinterpretation of the Afro-American cultural and historical experience."

Page count: 296 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


List price: $28.95

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Richard H. King is a professor in the American and Canadian Studies department at the University of Nottingham. His books include A Southern Renaissance and Dixie Debates, which he coedited with Helen Taylor.