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The African Americans: Rubenstein Recap #5

Each Tuesday, PBS is showing the next installment of a six-part series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Written and narrated by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the documentary traces African American history from the shores of West Africa to the election of Barack Obama. Join us each week as we feature documents from the John Hope Franklin Research Center that resonate with the previous week’s episode.

From the outbreak of war in Europe to the chants of black power in Mississippi, Episode 5: Rise! (1940 – 1968), told the story of how African Americans came together in a mass movement for freedom. During World War II, black citizens used the rallying cry of patriotism to demand both victory abroad and victory at home over racism. However, Jim Crow followed black soldiers overseas, while the South’s commitment to white supremacy only grew deeper.

In 1940, Claudia Jones, a black woman and a member of the communist party, wrote about the United States’ history of racial discrimination and its influence on the war in Jim Crow in Uniform.  Claudia Jones. Jim Crow in Uniform. New York: New Age Publishers, 1940.
In 1940, Claudia Jones, a black woman and a member of the communist party, wrote about the United States’ history of racial discrimination and its influence on the war in Jim Crow in Uniform. Claudia Jones. Jim Crow in Uniform. New York: New Age Publishers, 1940.

But the mobilization of black veterans and activists fueled new possibilities. Shortly after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision struck down segregation, black men and women in Montgomery took to the streets, demanding an end to racial discrimination on the city’s buses.

Brown v. Board decision marked the culmination of nearly two decades of effort by the NAACP to legally dismantle segregation. In this June 1954 letter to historian John Hope Franklin, the assistant counsel of the NAACP expresses his thanks to Franklin as one of the many who contributed to the landmark decision. John Hope Franklin papers.
Brown v. Board decision marked the culmination of nearly two decades of effort by the NAACP to legally dismantle segregation. In this June 1954 letter to historian John Hope Franklin, the assistant counsel of the NAACP expresses his thanks to Franklin as one of the many who contributed to the landmark decision. John Hope Franklin PapersClick to Enlarge.

With Martin Luther King Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) serving key leadership roles, nonviolent protests and voter registration drives spread across the South.

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Faith Holsaert, a white SNCC member, was an organizer in Southwest Georgia during the early 1960s. In this letter to a friend, she describes the multitude of difficulties – personal, physical, and political – that movement activists faced in the rural South. Faith Holsaert PapersClick to Enlarge.

The brutal retaliation against protesters was broadcast into America’s living rooms. For the first time since Reconstruction, the federal government stood to protect the civil rights of black Americans. As nonviolence and federal action failed to uproot black poverty and exclusion, a rising consciousness of black power in the late sixties pushed the freedom struggle in new directions.

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In The Angry Children of Malcolm X (1966), Julius Lester discusses the failure of nonviolence and argues that black power, or self-sufficiency and self-government for black people, was the only direction for African Americans to turn. Faith Holsaert papers.

Post contributed by Karlyn Forner, John Hope Franklin Research Center, Graduate Intern




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