This work examines how the civil rights movement crystallised views of citizenship as a grassroots-level, collective endeavour and of self-respect as a formidable political tool. Drawing on both oral and written sources, the book shows how rank-and-file movement particiants defined and discussed such concepts as rights, equality, justice and, in particular, freedom, and how such key movement leaders as Martin Luther King Jr, Ella Baker, Stokely Carmichael and James Forman were attuned to this “”freedom talk””. The book includes chapters on the concept of freedom in its many varieties, both individual and collective; on self-interest and self-respect; on Martin Luther King’s use of the idea of freedom; and on the intellectual evolution of the Student Non-violent Co-ordinating committee, especially in light of Frantz Fanon’s thought among movement radicals.
In demonstrating that self-respect, self-determination, and solidarity were as central to the goals of the movement as the dismantling of the Jim Crow system, King argues that the movement’s success should not be measured in terms of tangible, quantifiable advances alone, such as voter registration increases or improved standards of living. Not only has the civil rights movement helped strengthen the meaning and political importance of active citizenship in the cotemporary world, says King, but what was a political goal became the impetus for the academic and intellectual rediscovery of the Afro-American cultural and historical experience.
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