THE STRUGGLE FOR BLACK EQUALITY, 1954-1980 by Harvard Sitkoff


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A brief interpretive history of the Civil Rights movement that recaptures the crusading spirit, highlights the historic moments, defines the role of individuals and groups--and generally gives shape, responsible shape, to the course of events from the Brown decision, in 1954, to the assassination of Martin Luther King, in 1968. Developments since are merely summarized, in terms of the loss of momentum, the white backlash, the economic non-progress: Sitkoff notes that ""Black Power made blacks proud to be blacks, a psychological precondition for equality""; but he is too uncomfortable, still, with Stokely Carmichael and later militants to really confront or appraise their impact. (The Panthers are mentioned in passing--re ""deterioration of the public perception of the black struggle."") In striking contrast, his opening, Reconstruction-to-Brown chapter registers forcibly--especially on why blacks did not immediately press forward after their WW II gains. One can sympathize: the dust of post-King strife has barely settled, and Sitkoff was after a kind of consensus history--one that would inspire, moreover, as well as instruct. That he has achieved. The euphoria of Brown, and the succeeding letdown; Little Rock (federal troops--so federal support now?); Rosa Parks, ""dignified, intelligent, respectable, and married . . . the perfect symbol""; King in command at Birmingham --""forging the precepts of nonviolent direct action into a weapon congenial to Southern blacks and admired by whites""; the spontaneous Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins; the first Freedom Ride; Mississippi Summer (and attendant black/ white strains)--all these, straight through to Meredith's March Against Fear, which split the movement, and King's anti-war stand, which sapped its influence, are clearly and discerningly set forth. So this is a fine introducton to the movement per se, and the best one around for students; future accounts that aspire to cover the time-span, however, will also have to deal with latter-day Marcus Garveys like Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1981
Publisher: Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux