The struggle for equality is one of the defining themes of American history. In recent issues of HISTORY NOW scholars and teachers have charted the movements to end slavery, to insure women’s suffrage, and to provide opportunities for immigrants equal to those of native-born citizens. In this issue, we focus on the modern movement to complete the quest for African American equality: the civil rights movement. The essays in this issue go beyond such familiar milestones as Brown v. Board of Education, and such celebrated figures of the movement as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks. They explore the historical context in which the movement arose and flourished; the social factors that determined its successes and failures; the anonymous activists who sustained the struggle; and the cultural contributions of the movement. 

In our first essay, “Different Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement,” Anthony Badger uses the career of President Jimmy Carter to frame the questions of change in the American South and the relative impact that economic modernization, nonviolent protest, and armed self-defense had on the end of segregation and the steps taken toward political and social equality. Next, Brian Ward brings to life the folk songs and freedom songs that buoyed the spirits of the activists, spread the message of the movement, and captured the resiliency and determination of the women and men who marched, sat in, rallied, protested, and lobbied for change with his essay, “‘People Get Ready’: Music and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.” In our next essay, “A Local and National Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Post-War Washington, D.C.,” Wendell Pritchett shows how desegregation efforts in our nation’s capitol helped to establish a precedent for fighting racism in the rest of the country. In “African-American Religious Leadership and the Civil Rights Movement,” Clarence Taylor reminds us that we must look beyond the charismatic leadership of the African American clergy to understand the role of the church in the movement. While towering figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesse Jackson were indeed inspirational, it was the church’s clubs, choirs, missionary societies and other auxiliaries that inculcated the cooperative values and the commitment to democracy and equality that were hallmarks of the movement. Finally, in “The Civil Rights Movement: Major Events and Legacies,” James Patterson provides an overview of the movement, reminding us that the roots lay in the early twentieth century with the founding of the NAACP and the National Urban League and that efforts to secure equality continued through the 1940s and the postwar years. Patterson shows the variety of arenas in which the modern civil rights movement operated, from the courtrooms and legislative halls of the nation to the streets of Birmingham and the highways of Alabama and Mississippi, and he carefully assesses the movement’s victories and defeats. 

As always, gifted and experienced teachers from around the country have contributed lesson plans that you can use in your classrooms or adapt to your own curriculum. If you want to design your own lessons on the civil rights movement, Mary-Jo Kline, our librarian extraordinaire, has provided a broad, and richly varied, collection of both Web and print sources. And, finally, our interactive feature, a jukebox of protest songs, should spark your imagination and creativity—and delight your students. If you have questions or comments on this issue, we welcome them.

With this issue, HISTORY NOW completes its second year of online publication. We wish you all a happy and productive summer—and we encourage you to visit us in September, when our first issue of the new school year will focus on The American West.

Carol Berkin                                                           
Editor, History Now                                            

Carol Berkin is Professor of History at Baruch College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is the author of several books including Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Conservative, First Generations: Women in Colonial America, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, and Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence.

 

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