Subscribe to Secularism is a Womens Issue

Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Home > Resources > USA: How Movements Are Made

USA: How Movements Are Made

Friday 26 August 2022, by siawi3


How Movements Are Made

Two books bring the history of the civil rights struggle to a modern audience.

by Norman Stockwell

January 20, 2021

2:03 PM

The deaths, on the same day this past July, of the Reverend C.T. Vivian and U.S. Representative John Lewis remind us that many of the leaders of past struggles for civil rights are passing away, just as a new generation of activists is reinvigorating these movements. Two new books bring this alive in a powerful and accessible way.

Screen Shot 2021-01-20 at 2.01.22 PM.png

W.E.B. Du Bois: The Lost and the Found” by Elvira Basevich Polity, 288 pages, published December 15, 2020.

In W.E.B. Du Bois: The Lost and the Found, a new monograph for the Polity series “Black Lives,” Elvira Basevich, a poet and assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, puts the early twentieth-century writing of Du Bois in the context of twenty-first-century anti-racist work.

Sociologist and civil rights activist William Edward Burghardt Du Bois published his classic work, The Souls of Black Folk, more than a century ago. In a combination of analysis, storytelling, autobiography, and gospel song, Du Bois sought to address what he saw as the crucial issue of the time: “the color line.”

As Basevich writes, “Against this flood of ignorance, as a young journalist and social scientist, Du Bois set to work to find a meaningful way to talk about racial differences that was both scientifically objective and that empowered vulnerable racial groups.”

Du Bois, Basevich explains, “charted the historical legacy of slavery in the twentieth century and identified key goals for future social justice movements.”

Du Bois built his model of leadership around the ideal of “direct community engagement and representation.”

He “remained absorbed with the same recurring questions that defined his storied life: How can the promise of a brighter future be delivered to African and Afro-descendant peoples?”

Screen Shot 2021-01-20 at 2.01.40 PM.png

“Julian Bond’s Time to Teach: A History of the Southern Civil Rights Movement” by Julian Bond Beacon Press, 400 pages, published January 12, 2021.

Similarly, Julian Bond’s Time to Teach: A History of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, a new collection of the legendary activist and educator’s writing, carefully compiled from Bond’s lecture notes and lightly edited for publication by Jeanne Theoharis and Bond’s widow, Pamela Sue Horowitz, brings the wealth of his movement experience to the young leaders of today.

Horace Julian Bond died on August 15, 2015, seven months after his seventy-fifth birthday. He helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960, participated in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and became one of a group of African Americans elected to the Georgia State Legislature in 1965 following the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Equally important were Bond’s more than twenty years as an educator at several universities. Following Bond’s death, Theoharis, a professor of political science at the City University of New York’s Brooklyn College and a former student of Bond’s at Harvard University, wrote that he taught her that “freedom movements don’t just happen, they are made—and not by charismatic leaders, but by everyday people possessing great courage.”

As Theoharis points out in her introduction: “Across the political spectrum, many have held up the civil rights movement to critique and chastise Black Lives Matter. These framings misrepresent the movements BLM activists are building across the country . . . . Calling out these myths, as Professor Bond would insist, is more than setting the historical record straight.”

Bond also saw many of the roots of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement in the work of Du Bois, as he told his students, “We think of racism in terms of individual behavior and individual actions, but it is a complex set of societal actions and attitudes.”

This century-old understanding of the impact of racism on both white and Black communities is essential to our understanding of racial injustice today. It is teachers like Du Bois and Bond that give us the tools to dismantle those injustices and build a new future.

Norman Stockwell is publisher of The Progressive.