As you may know, I’ve been on the job market this year. I spent these past two years at the University of Kentucky as a post-doctoral scholar, first in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Dean’s Office and then in the History Department. Well, I have good news! I will be joining the Luther College faculty in the fall as a visiting assistant professor. I’m teaching three courses in the fall–an introductory seminar on Big Questions that all incoming freshmen have to take, African American History since the 17th century, and the Black Freedom Movement.
Today, I’d like to write about some of my ideas for the Black Freedom Movement course, particularly my idea to structure the course according to historiographical debates rather than primarily chronologically. There are so many historiographical choices I need to make, in addition to pedagogical ones. When do I start the course? If it is a Civil Rights Course, then maybe WWII (or if it is the Long Civil Rights Movement, 1930s-1970s). If it is a true Black Freedom Movement course, then I could start way back with abolitionists, slave revolts, the Haitian Revolution, or on-ship rebellions. The newly adopted course description helps me make some of these decisions (This year represents the first year that it will be called the Black Freedom Movement rather than the Civil Rights Movement).
AFRS 235 The Modern Black Freedom Movement in the United States
Now the obvious choice for this course would be to go chronologically. However, I have become enamored of a different approach and I wonder what you think. I would like to structure the course around historiographical debates, using the book Debating the Civil Rights Movement. It offers two essays and several primary documents; the essay by Steven Lawson argues that it was the national government’s intervention and the leadership of national figures that had the greatest effect on the Civil Rights Movement, for good and ill, while the essay by Charles Payne argues that it was the grassroots movement that effected change, by organizing rather than mobilizing.
I am thinking of starting with the national view, including the government and prominent individuals, doing an interactive exercise on the 1964 Democratic Convention, and ending with the grassroots movement (one week of which would be spent in the archives researching the black student takeover of Luther’s Dean’s Office). The interactive exercise would break students up into five groups–media, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Bayard Rustin and the SCLC, the Dixiecrats, and LBJ and the Democratic leadership–and ask them to inhabit the point of view of their group. They would need to do research and then a presentation. I’m thinking that everybody would read a Fannie Lou Hamer biography during the “major individuals” section of the course, with one week for the research and one week for the presentations. That may not be enough time–I may have to give them the materials and then ask them to present on the different groups. I wish there was a “Reacting to the Past” curriculum already created for this. Even though this is not the most important moment in the Black Freedom Movement, I want to highlight it because it is such a dramatic clashing of so many different viewpoints and shows the power of the grassroots, the power of government, and the limits of both group’s power.
I need to figure this all out asap so that I can order books. Do you think this works, or should I arrange it chronologically? This is what I’m thinking right now:
Week 1: Overview, The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History
b. Martin Luther King Jr. (Speeches online and 1965 Meet the Press interview) Have students do individual research in The King Center archives
f. JFK and LBJ
Weeks 10- 15
Final exam question: Which of the three groups (major figures, the government, or the grassroots) influenced the course of the Civil Rights Movement the most? Why? Give concrete examples.
Ironically, considering it’s the period I study, this syllabus gives short shrift to the Depression era. I’d also like to stretch the other side of the time frame by including Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Perhaps what I need to do is start working on the topics and assignments for individual days and see if I can trim here or there to add more. I’m also not sure there is enough focus on the new historiography discussing the northern aspects of the movement.
I also think that Fannie Lou Hamer and Stokely Carmichael may not belong in the “View from the Nation,” but I want to have the students read the Hamer biography before the 1964 Democratic Convention Project. Perhaps I should move the project to the end of the course and give them a heads up about it several weeks prior so they have time to do the research.