[We have the following press release from the Organization of American Historians about former LHB Guest Blogger Susan Carle!]
Atlanta, GA-April 12, 2014. At the 2014 OAH Annual Meeting, OAH President Alan M. Kraut and OAH President-Elect Patricia Limerick presented Susan D. Carle, American University, with the 2014 Liberty Legacy Foundation Award for the best book by a historian on the civil rights struggle from the beginnings of the nation to the present.
In Defining the Struggle: National Organizing for Racial Justice, 1880-1915 (Oxford University Press), Carle has written a paradigm-shifting study of the struggle for civil rights in the United States by moving the lens to focus on organizations that flourished during the period 1880-1915, before the heyday of the NAACP and the National Urban League. This deeply-researched book recovers the history of lesser-known, forerunner organizations that, she persuasively argues, laid the intellectual and organizational groundwork for these better-known organizational giants of the civil rights movement. The forerunner organizations introduced in Carle's account include the National Afro American League, the National Afro American Council, the National Association of Colored Women, and the Niagara Movement. These groups engaged in myriad struggles to improve the quality of life for black Americans long before the formation of the NAACP and the Urban League. Many of the early efforts focused on the economic needs of population-a variety of activism that later organizations often have been accused of overlooking. These early organizations also engaged in legal reform efforts-activities lost to historical memory after the NAACP won its famous battle to dismantle Jim Crow. By recounting the range of activities that these forerunner organizations undertook, Carle shows that lesser-known organizations provided a foundation that directly informed which battles later civil rights leaders would take on and which arguments and legal tactics they would draw upon to win them.
Through a deft, accessibly-written reconceptualization of the organizational foundations of the civil rights movement, Susan Carle makes an invaluable contribution to the historiography of the long civil rights movement in Defining the Struggle. Carle beautifully recovers the history of the nineteenth-century visionaries who powerfully shaped struggles for racial reform decades later. Thanks to Professor Carle, we now know that leaders of the Second Reconstruction owe these visionaries a great intellectual debt.