Books: Non-Fiction

Civil Rights History from the Ground Up: Local Struggles, a National Movement

Time Periods: 20th Century
Themes: Civil Rights Movements, Organizing


After decades of scholarship on the civil rights movement at the local level, the insights of bottom-up movement history remain essentially invisible in the accepted narrative of the movement and peripheral to debates on how to research, document, and teach about the movement. This collection of original works refocuses attention on this bottom-up history and compels a rethinking of what and who we think are central to the movement.

The essays examine such locales as Sunflower County, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; and Wilson, North Carolina; and engage such issues as nonviolence and self-defense, the implications of focusing on women in the movement, and struggles for freedom beyond voting rights and school desegregation. Events and incidents discussed range from the movement’s heyday to the present and include the Poor People’s Campaign mule train to Washington, D.C., the popular response to the deaths of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, and political cartoons addressing Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

The kinds of scholarship represented here — which draw on oral history and activist insights (along with traditional sources) and which bring the specificity of time and place into dialogue with broad themes and a national context — are crucial as we continue to foster scholarly debates, evaluate newer conceptual frameworks, and replace the superficial narrative that persists in the popular imagination. [Publisher’s description.]

Emilye Crosby, Judy Richardson, and Wesley Hogan at book launch. Photo by Rick Reinhard. Click image for more.

Roland Freeman, Emilye Crosby, Judy Richardson, and Wesley Hogan at book launch. Photo by Rick Reinhard, 2011. Click image for more photos of the event.

Download a PDF sample chapter, “Remaking History: Barack Obama, Political Cartoons, and the Civil Rights Movement” by Hasan Kwame Jeffries. [Must be logged in to the Zinn Education Project website to download.]

  • Emilye Crosby
  • John Dittmer
  • Laurie B. Green
  • Wesley Hogan
  • Hasan Kwame Jeffries
  • Charles W. McKinney Jr.
  • J. Todd Moye
  • Charles M. Payne
  • Judy Richardson
  • Robyn C. Spencer
  • Jeanne Theoharis
  • Amy Nathan Wright

Civil Rights History from the Ground Up, brilliant and rooted, provides the single most compelling interpretation of the African American freedom struggle in the South yet produced. National in scope, deep and concrete, empirical and analytical, clear and accessible, this collection clarifies virtually all the crucial scholarly debates while furnishing engaging examples for students and general readers. Crosby shows us a historic movement as deep as it is long, rooted in the black South, but speaking to the whole world.” —Timothy B. Tyson, author of Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power

“Provides an insightful look at many of the crucial issues central to teaching and studying the movement, bringing to life why we must have a history that takes seriously the people at the heart of the movement. Engaging and accessible for non-specialists and thought-provoking for scholars, this well-written, feisty book offers cutting edge historiography, tools for teachers, and insights for all of us. It is a must read for anyone interested in the freedom struggle and in a just, democratic society.” —Julian Bond, founding member of SNCC and former chair of the NAACP

“Contains a remarkable bounty of insights for teachers and advanced students of civil rights. Emilye Crosby has recruited ‘the best and the brightest’ for this phenomenal volume, and the result of that combination of talent is simply outstanding.” —Komozi Woodard, author of A Nation within a Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics

ISBN: 9780820338651 | University of Georgia Press

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