Civil Rights History from the Ground Up
Local Struggles, a National Movement

Edited by Emilye Crosby

A spirited assessment of the state of civil rights history, by the leading scholars of the movement


"Civil Rights History from the Ground Up, brilliant and rooted, provides the single most compelling interpretation of the African American freedom struggle in the South yet produced. National in scope, deep and concrete, empirical and analytical, clear and accessible, this collection clarifies virtually all the crucial scholarly debates while furnishing engaging examples for students and general readers. Crosby shows us a historic movement as deep as it is long, rooted in the black South, but speaking to the whole world."
—Timothy B. Tyson, author of Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power

"Provides an insightful look at many of the crucial issues central to teaching and studying the movement, bringing to life why we must have a history that takes seriously the people at the heart of the movement. Engaging and accessible for non-specialists and thought-provoking for scholars, this well-written, feisty book offers cutting edge historiography, tools for teachers, and insights for all of us. It is a must read for anyone interested in the freedom struggle and in a just, democratic society."
—Julian Bond, founding member of SNCC and former chair of the NAACP

"Contains a remarkable bounty of insights for teachers and advanced students of civil rights. Emilye Crosby has recruited 'the best and the brightest' for this phenomenal volume, and the result of that combination of talent is simply outstanding."
—Komozi Woodard, author of A Nation within a Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics

"This collection is essential for everyone interested in the past and present movement for social justice and human rights."
—Kenneth S. Jolly, Journal of American History

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After decades of scholarship on the civil rights movement at the local level, the insights of bottom-up movement history remain essentially invisible in the accepted narrative of the movement and peripheral to debates on how to research, document, and teach about the movement. This collection of original works refocuses attention on this bottom-up history and compels a rethinking of what and who we think are central to the movement.

The essays examine such locales as Sunflower County, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; and Wilson, North Carolina; and engage such issues as nonviolence and self-defense, the implications of focusing on women in the movement, and struggles for freedom beyond voting rights and school desegregation. Events and incidents discussed range from the movement’s heyday to the present and include the Poor People’s Campaign mule train to Washington, D.C., the popular response to the deaths of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, and political cartoons addressing Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

The kinds of scholarship represented here—which draw on oral history and activist insights (along with traditional sources) and which bring the specificity of time and place into dialogue with broad themes and a national context—are crucial as we continue to foster scholarly debates, evaluate newer conceptual frameworks, and replace the superficial narrative that persists in the popular imagination.

Contributors: Emilye Crosby, John Dittmer, Laurie B. Green, Wesley Hogan, Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Charles W. McKinney Jr., J. Todd Moye, Charles M. Payne, Judy Richardson, Robyn C. Spencer, Jeanne Theoharis, Amy Nathan Wright.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Introduction: The Politics of Writing and Teaching Movement History
Emilye Crosby

Part One. Local Studies as Case Studies

1. Local People and National Leaders: The View from Mississippi
John Dittmer

2. Challenging the Civil Rights Narrative: Women, Gender, and the “Politics of Protection”
Laurie B. Green

3. Finding Fannie Corbett: Black Women and the Transformation of Civil Rights Narratives in Wilson, North Carolina
Charles W. McKinney Jr.

4. The 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, Marks, Mississippi, and the Mule Train: Fighting Poverty Locally, Representing Poverty Nationally
Amy Nathan Wright

Part Two. From Local Studies to Synthesis

5. Focusing Our Eyes on the Prize: How Community Studies Are Reframing and Rewriting the History of the Civil Rights Movement
J. Todd Moye

6. Freedom Now: Nonviolence in the Southern Freedom Movement, 1960–1964
Wesley Hogan

7. “It wasn’t the Wild West”: Keeping Local Studies in Self- Defense Historiography
Emilye Crosby

Part Three. Creating and Communicating Movement History: Methodology and Theory

8. Remaking History: Barack Obama, Political Cartoons, and the Civil Rights Movement
Hasan Kwame Jeffries

9. Making Eyes on the Prize: An Interview with Filmmaker and SNCC Staffer Judy Richardson
Emilye Crosby, interviewer and editor

10. “Sexism is a helluva thing”: Rethinking Our Questions and Assumptions
Charles M. Payne

11. Telling Freedom Stories from the Inside Out: Internal Politics and Movement Cultures in sncc and the Black Panther Party
Robyn C. Spencer and Wesley Hogan

12. “That Movement Responsibility”: An Interview with Judy Richardson on Movement Values and Movement History
Emilye Crosby, interviewer and editor

13. Accidental Matriarchs and Beautiful Helpmates: Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and the Memorialization of the Civil Rights Movement
Jeanne Theoharis

14. Why Study the Movement? A Conversation on Movement Values and Movement History
Charles M. Payne

Conclusion: “Doesn’t everybody want to grow up to be Ella Baker?”: Teaching Movement History Emilye Crosby


Page count: 486 pp.
26 b&w photos, 11 illus.
Trim size: 6 x 9


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List price: $32.95

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Emilye Crosby is a professor of history at the State University of New York at Geneseo. She is the author of A Little Taste of Freedom: The Black Freedom Struggle in Claiborne County, Mississippi.