Historical Analysis of Civil Rights Movement Term Paper

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Civil Rights

Coming of Age in Mississippi is Anne Moody's memoir of the civil rights movement in the United States. It therefore serves a different purpose as primary source historiography, rather than analytical secondary source historiography such as that written by David Garrow and Harvard. Moody grew up on a plantation, in conditions that are simply extensions of slavery. Her first hand awareness of what racism is, and what it does not just to individuals but whole communities, offers chilling contrast to the otherwise colder and more distant historical analyses. The "Childhood" section of Coming of Age in Mississippi details the harrowing conditions under which Moody was raised. Poverty and the grinding effects of racism on their souls have beaten down Moody's family, and they take out their anger and frustration on their children. Anne's father leaves the family for another woman, leaving Anne forced to work as a domestic servant when she is only nine years old because her family could not survive otherwise. Moody's experiences with rank poverty are what shape Anne's character and her response to racism.

Sitkoff likewise draws economic issues into the race equation, surmising that the two issues are technically inseparable. Racism and poverty coexist. In "The Preconditions for Racial Change," Sitkoff notes that race relations noticeably and measurably changed in the years ensuing the Great Depression. After World War Two, increasing numbers of African-Americans had access to factory jobs and related training programs. What Sitkoff also mentions is the fact that factory jobs and vocational training are not sufficient to overcome poverty and not enough for anyone to achieve upward social mobility. Black "buying power" might have improved as a result of economic growth, but black status remained unchanged.[footnoteRef:1] Sitkoff admits this fact as the historian traces the roots of the Civil Rights movement. Issues like pan-Africanism brought to light the unique status of African-Americans. [1: Sitkoff, Harvard. "The Preconditions for Racial Change," p. 359.]

As she matures and develops her political philosophy, Moody understands quickly that poverty and race are linked. She also understands that structural inequities will not be overcome if class conflict issues remain brushed under the rug. Because of her acute understanding of class-consciousness as well as race consciousness, Anne Moody cannot join in the celebrations on the bus to Washington when she concludes her narrative. Her growing cynicism is not a result of her disillusionment with the core spirit of the movement, but rather, with the seemingly insurmountable odds that are stacked against non-whites in America. What Anne Moody means to talk about is institutionalized racism.

Anne remains committed to the fundamental goals of the civil rights movement, but she recognizes that on some level the movement has failed to tackle the deeper issues that plague black communities. She does not use the phrase "institutionalized racism," but her worldview is predicated on an understanding that racism is institutionalized by restricting access to wealth and cultural capital.

Anne first starts to realize the value of cultural as well as financial capital when she moves in with her father and his new wife Emma. Emma has light skin, which raises the issue of her potential to achieve a higher social status, if not actually "pass." With Emma, Anne becomes increasingly aware of the social hierarchies that permeate American society and which are based on one being of the dominant European/white caste vs. The disenfranchised and subordinate classes. As she considers matters related to skin color, Anne is aware that her mother is dark-skinned. Her mother's lowly role as cleaner represents her being of the lowest social class, corresponding with her dark coloring. Moreover, Anne notices that racism has become so entrenched in American society that blacks are racist against other blacks. This level of deep discourse is not something that Sitkoff or Garrow discuss in their less detailed analysis of race relations. If blacks can be racist towards other blacks, then there is little hope that racism can be overcome. A deeper type of collective action, not just protesting in the streets, has become necessary. A whole consciousness shift is needed.

The civil rights movement is not monolithic, as Cobbs-Hoffman and Blum point out in the Civil Rights Revolution section of part two of Major Problems in American History. The civil rights movement extended to gays, Chicanos, women, and other disenfranchised groups. Occasionally these different groups joined forces, but its overall lack of unity is another reason why Moody finds it difficult to remain optimistic. Each of the disenfranchised…[continue]


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