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Civil Rights, a Conversation Hosted by Africana Studies at Bryn Mawr College

Marchers with flag and vote; MLK, Malcolm X, and SNCC; protesters with signs against school segregation

Africana Studies at Bryn Mawr College invites you to spend a year reflecting on the history and the sustainability of the gains of the Civil Rights Era beginning on April 4, 2018 -- the 50th anniversary of the passing of Martin Luther King, Jr.  We will have this space available for commentary until April 3, 2019.  You are invited to post your questions, comments, photographs, suggested links, and insights over the year, especially in light of the seemingly relentless attempts in the current moment to undo many of those gains.

At the end of this anniversary year, Africana Studies -- with the support of a number of other offices, departments, and programs at the College -- will launch a culminating conference during the spring semester on the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and current challenges and opportunities for ongoing advocacy.  We want to look forward to the future with a sense of hope that a new generation will take up the ongoing struggle.  We are very excited that Angela Davis will serve as our commencement speaker in this anniversary year and hope there will be many who will write about her commencement speech and her iconic history.

Linda-Susan Beard
Associate Professor of English
Director of The Africana Studies Program

lbeard's picture
lbeard April 4, 2018 - 13:57

Here is a collage of pictures from the Civil Rights Era.  The pictures speak for themselves, only in part, because they tell a small section of a much larger narrative. They invite commentary and reflection.  We also encourage viewers to write about their memories of the time, talk about the memories that have been passed down to them, and post photographs of friends, relatives, and colleagues (then and/or now) who were involved in this important period of American history. Post links that are of particular importance to you in reflecting on this Era.

marchers with signs; we shall overcome; teargas; whites jeering; Fannie Lou Hamer


lbeard's picture

Almost 10 years ago, scholar Clarence Taylor made a number of key observations in reflecting on the [post] Civil Rights Era and Hurricane Katrina.  Writing in the July 2009 issue of the Journal of Urban History, Taylor explored three different understandings of the nation’s movement beyond the Civil Rights Era.  He asked if there were much more to the Movement than the end of segregation. Taylor also examined the debacle of Hurricane Katrina and its effect on the African American community as an example that “post Civil Rights” was a myth. We could add many more systemic examples of economic, educational, and legal inequality that persist even now as there are forces at work in dismantling many of those earlier gains.  I hope that one of the components of this year-long conversation will be an outlining of what those initial Civil Rights victories were and the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which they have eroded.

Serendip Guest's picture

Sharing this quote from the Teaching Tolerance project:

"Our discomfort with hard history and our fondness for historical fiction also lead us to make bad public policy. We choose to ignore the fact that when slavery ended, white Southerners carried the mindsets of enslavers with them into the post-emancipation period, creating new exploitative labor arrangements such as sharecropping, new disenfranchisement mechanisms including literacy tests and new discriminatory social systems, namely Jim Crow. It took African Americans more than a century to eliminate these legal barriers to equality, but that has not been enough to erase race-based disparities in every aspect of American life, from education and employment to wealth and well-being. Public policies tend to treat this racial inequality as a product of poor personal decision-making, rather than acknowledging it as the result of racialized systems and structures that restrict choice and limit opportunity.

Understanding American slavery is vital to understanding racial inequality today. The formal and informal barriers to equal rights erected after emancipation, which defined the parameters of the color line for more than a century, were built on a foundation constructed during slavery. Our narrow understanding of the institution, however, prevents us from seeing this long legacy and leads policymakers to try to fix people instead of addressing the historically rooted causes of their problems."