Saturday, January 31, 2009

University of North Carolina Press Publishes "the Long Civil Rights Movement"

The University of North Carolina and its Press has launched a publishing project devoted to the long civil rights movement, which is supported by a blog and a scholarly conference, The Long Civil Rights Movement: Histories, Politics, Memories, scheduled for April 2-4, 2009. Here is a description:

Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement seeks to inspire scholarly collaboration and develop new ways of creating and sharing scholarship on the civil rights movement.

Building on the extensive record of both UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Press in producing and publishing distinguished scholarship about civil rights and other movements for social and economic justice, especially in the American South, this collaborative project will focus on the long civil rights movement. Much of the intellectual scaffolding of this theme—and the first use of the term—can be found in the widely cited and anthologized essay, “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,” by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Spruill Professor of History and Director of the SOHP. The essay was delivered in 2004 as her presidential address to the Organization of American Historians and published the following year in the Journal of American History.

The project will encourage scholars in a wide variety of fields to rethink the conventional narrative that confines the civil rights movement to the dramatic decade-long effort to overthrow legal segregation in the American South. The project will expand the understanding of the civil rights movement in important ways—chronologically, demographically, thematically, and geographically—thus stimulating work that ranges widely in space and time. The project will stress the modern phase of the struggle that began in the 1930s and spawned a series of other social movements from the 1960s on. Although the project will focus primarily on the South, it will stress the region’s convergences with other parts of the U.S. and explore global influences and global resonances.

Reframing the traditional narrative in this way raises a host of intriguing questions. For example, how has the civil rights movement affected other freedom struggles around the world, and how has it been affected by them? How have the movements for economic, environmental, criminal, and social justice been influenced by global movements of labor and capital? What has been the effect of demographic change, whether internal migration or immigration? How different does the struggle for civil rights look when viewed through the lens of gender or the lens of class? How useful is the concept of southern distinctiveness? What has been the impact of popular culture, and what roles have the movie, music, and other cultural industries played in the long civil rights movement? How have individual and social memories of the civil rights movement affected legal outcomes and policy debates? Why is the resegregation of schools now on the rise? What are the relationships among the various movements spawned by the civil rights movement—for example, second-wave feminism, the gay rights movement, the Latina/o movement, and movements for Native American sovereignty? How have these and other movements, both progressive and conservative, appropriated the rhetoric, symbols, and legacy of civil rights? The list of questions ripe for scholarly exploration is seemingly endless.

The urgency with which the project partners approach these questions derives from their conviction that the world we live in today—whether examined on a local, state, regional, national, or international scale—was produced by the contradictory outcomes of the long civil rights movement. By collaborating in collecting, documenting, interpreting, and publishing materials related to this many-faceted phenomenon, the partners seek to overcome a false sense of closure that relegates the struggle for racial equality to the past and to a distinctive and benighted region of the country. They also seek to enhance scholarly understanding and public dialogue on the challenges that we, as a society and a people, now face.

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