Fifty years ago was a pivotal time in the Civil Rights Movement. As we prepare to celebrate the federal holiday on January 19 commemorating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this is an opportune moment to look back on 1965 and reflect on it as a watershed.
Against the backdrop of the recent protests over the shooting of numerous unarmed black men at the hands of police officers and the subsequent police protests over the criticisms, it also provides a “teachable moment” about the power of protest and the dangers of divisive hatred.
The year 1965 was one of high points and low points, sorrows and victories.
On Feb. 21, 1965, Malcolm X, the Black Nationalist leader and former spokesman for the Nation of Islam, was assassinated. The murder came after he had renounced the nation and embraced orthodox Islam, and his killing was attributed to Black Muslims. However, his death also reminded America of the stark choices between peaceful, nonviolent protest and his earlier calls to fight for freedom “by any means necessary.”
On March 7, 1965, state troopers and sheriff’s officers viciously attacked peaceful protestors attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in support of voting rights. The police used teargas, clubs, horses, dogs and water hoses to trample the marchers. The unprovoked violence of “Bloody Sunday” was shown on television around the world, inspiring more protestors to come to Selma at Dr. King’s invitation and attempt the march two more times with hundreds of supporters, including clergy from around the nation. The images drew sympathy for the protestors and set the stage for passage of a federal voting rights law. Finally, the protestors, 25,000 strong, stood at the state capitol in Montgomery on March 25.
On Aug. 6, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that had passed with overwhelming majorities in Congress, a victory attributed directly to the Selma demonstrations for the simple right to cast a ballot.
Only a few days later, on August 11, a riot broke out in Watts, an African-American neighborhood in suburban Los Angeles, over rumors of police brutality following a white officer’s arrest of a black driver and his relatives at the scene. A commission later found that the deeper causes were poverty, discrimination and inequality. Thirty-four people died and more than a thousand injured in six days of rioting. It was a harbinger of more violence to come in the festering urban ghettoes even as the peaceful Civil Rights Movement continued.
On Sept. 24, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued an executive order that for the first time required federal contractors to take “affirmative action” to assure equal employment, another important step toward racial justice and economic freedom. Johnson acted out of his belief that civil rights laws alone were not enough to remedy discrimination
No doubt we will learn of ceremonies and other commemorations of all of these milestones in history, but we cannot honor history unless we know it. This year presents an excellent opportunity to learn more about these turning points, to teach them and to discuss their relevance today.
DiverseBooks.net offers many books on related topics that can serve as resources for classes and discussions. Here are some titles from our publishers available at discount prices on our Website:
The Unfinished Agenda of the Selma-Montgomery Voting Rights March, edited by William E. Cox, $13.24 (List Price: $24.95), Wiley, February 2005, ISBN: 9780471710370, pp. 240.
This collection of narrative excerpts and essays was published to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery marches. The writers examined how much progress had been made and what remained to be done. The book has a foreword by Tavis Smiley, who said, “This book is an excellent argument for ceaseless vigilance and activism. As Dr. King said in his letter from a Selma jail, one of the most difficult lessons of the movement was that ‘you cannot depend on American institutions to function without pressure; real change depends on continued creative action.’”
Contributors include Joseph E. Lowery, Bill Clinton, John Lewis, Clayborne Carson, Ronald Walters, Andrew Young, Lani Guinier and Manning Marable. The book also includes chapters that examine the impact of the unfinished agenda for Asian American, Indian and Latino voters, and it has a timeline of civil rights history.
Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction and Beyond in Black America, 1945-2006, Third Edition, by Manning Marable, $22.50, (List price: $25) University of Mississippi Press, February 2007, ISBN: 9781578061549, pp. 320.
A political and social history of African Americans after World War II and into this century, this book has been acclaimed as an essential text in its subject area. It examines the impact of events like the Million Man March, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, as well as such phenomena as black neo-conservatism, welfare reform and hip-hop culture. He traces black culture from the period when a strong working class was taking hold in the cities, through the turbulent 60s when the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power Movement and urban riots upset the status quo, then the 70s and 80s as blacks gained political power, and into the era where urban unemployment, poverty and drugs decimated and defined cities.
The Civil Rights Movement in America, edited by Charles W. Eagles, $22.50 (List Price: $25), University of Mississippi Press, September 1986, ISBN: 9780878052981, pp. 144.
This is a collection of papers by scholars analyzing the Civil Rights Movement, including its reason for being, its leaders, tactics, successes and failures. An assessment from another scholar follows each paper.
Civil Rights Childhood, $22.50 (List Price: $25) by Jordana Y. Shakoor, University of Mississippi Press, January 2006, ISBN: 9781578068814, pp. 224.
Jordan Y. Shakoor’s memoir tells of her life growing up middle class in the North and her father’s life growing up in rural Mississippi as the son of a sharecropper when segregation was the law. Her father served in the armed forces, became a teacher and joined the civil rights movement. He lost his job as a result of his activism and moved the family to Ohio so he could find work. He kept a journal that he had shared with his daughter, and after his death, Shakoor, a consultant, began writing this book that incorporates excerpts, juxtaposing her voice and her life with his.
Other related titles available on diversebooks.net include:
A History of Affirmative Action, 1619-2000
Freedom Walk: Mississippi or Bust
The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission: Civil Rights and States Rights
Through its partnerships with leading publishers – representing university and independent presses, large and small – DiverseBooks.net brings you scholarly and academic titles that you will not find elsewhere about diversity, education, history and many other topics. Visit www.DiverseBooks.net to purchase books at significant discounts.