Documenting the Modern Black Freedom Struggle in Charlotte, NC

Willie Griffin, Ph.D., History, UNC Charlotte

“Despite an avalanche of personal recollection, historical tomes, and other attempts at remembering, much is left undiscovered and untold today. And much of what we are told now about then is simply wrong.” —Julian Bond

“You didn’t see me on television, you didn’t see news stories about me. The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come. My theory is strong people don’t need strong leaders.” —Ella Baker 

Using the latest scholarship, oral and digital histories, along with records from the mainstream and black press charting the movement’s trajectory, this seminar aims to reshape what Julian Bond referred to as the “master narrative” of the Civil Rights Movement. Racial integration and voting rights have been promulgated as the primary, and often only, objectives of the Modern Civil Rights Movement. Politicians, public school curricula, and mainstream media have helped to cultivate this belief over the course of several decades.  We will reconsider this belief, interrogate the successes and failures of the movement, and examine the crucial dimension of economic justice to better analyze the legacy of structural inequity in areas such as policing, employment, education, and housing. Charlotte’s local history, often overlooked in Civil Rights scholarship until the 1970s, will be central to our exploration  of the historical roots of the Modern Black Freedom Struggle, its development into the mid-twentieth century, as well as its legacies in the twenty-first century. We will seek to gain a better understanding of how African Americans waged battles for social and economic justice and the systematic responses to their struggle.

Major topics include, but are not limited to, the Black Radical Tradition, White Supremacy, Jim Crow, the Great Migration, Black Nationalism, Civic Organizing, Leadership, the NAACP, the New Deal, Labor Organizing, World War II, Women, Violence vs. Non-Violence, Rosa Lee Ingram, Emmett Till, Mass Mobilization and Grassroots Organizing, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King, Jr., SCLC, the urban and rural South, the North, Sit-Ins, Freedom Rides, SNCC, Freedom Songs, Black Power and White Backlash, Black Panther Party, and the Black Arts Movement.