1) After fighting fascism overseas in World War II, more than one million African Americans came home ready to fight to end apartheid in the United States.
The veterans constituted only one segment of a larger constellation of Black business leaders, pastors, women, and students, who marched and organized, led sit-ins and boycotts, got beaten up and arrested, experienced psychological terror and physical torture, and even got murdered by police in cold blood. It’s at times a more beautiful and terrible history, which reveals our national failures, shows us our limitations, and highlights perhaps our most inspiring mass movement that sought to bust up the legal, institutional, and cultural pillars of racial apartheid and Jim Crow.
First, what were the goals of the movement?
What major achievements could it claim by the mid-1960s?
What role, if any, did the federal government play in realizing those goals?
What civil rights organizations were crucial in embracing the new mood, imperatives, and cultural aesthetic of Black Power?
What goals of the movement were not realized in the 1960s?
What happened to keep us from realizing these goals for the past fifty years?
Why do politicians and business leaders invoke a mythic national fable of some heroic civil rights era that locates the history of the struggle in the distant past?
And how have activists from 2010 to 2020 made it clear that there is no disconnect?
The rich traditions of protest, community organizing, self-defense, and civil disobedience are available at all times. History can be quite an immersive tool in raising consciousness. The original goals of the Civil Rights Movement—substantive desegregation of schools, drastic overhaul of the criminal justice system, federal and state antipoverty programs, universal suffrage and felon enfranchisement, and the meaningful incorporation of African American history into school curriculum—continue to require our attention, our intelligence, and our energy if we ever hope to bring about a more equitable society, build a more participatory democracy, dismantle our broken justice system, address new problems such as the re-segregation of public schools, and embrace a more useful past to which we have a strong and resilient connection and that can give us confidence for the future.