¶ … Turner's Sitting In and Nikki Giovanni's The Collected Poems, as well as the movie, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, demonstrate the way the black civil rights movement changed during the 1960s? What significant changes do they show? What was causing those changes?
Turner's remarkable book, Sitting In, demonstrates that range of ways in which the black civil rights movement experienced and manifested change during the 1960s. One of the tremendous ways in which this movement was able to transform and adapt was via the changes made by universities and the university experience for blacks. As Turner describes, these universities were able to be used as instruments of purpose, allowing for the democratization of education. While things weren't perfect during these times as so many Negro colleges lacked federal funding, there was still a massive expansion that included a greater black student body. This meant that in the 1960s, the civil rights movement was being fueled in part by a higher educated black student body. As Turner demonstrates time and again throughout his book, the activism of the 1960s was largely motivated by a student activism which was organized and intelligently categorized by non-violence. Turner is able to succinctly describe that while non-violent action to push for social change was not new, the fact that it had this student attachment to it created a range of multi-faceted consequences which were new. For instance, Turner cites a famous sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's counter in 1960, and refers to it as a historically different episode (2010). "In contrast to similar demonstrations, this one ignited a movement driven by students and unleashed a host of forces that affected southern politics, culture, and education throughout the decade. The sit-in movement introduced college students as independent political actors capable of altering the region's political landscape and provided a vocabulary and a cache of tactics that drove the movement for years" (Turner, 2010, p.45). This was indeed a drastic difference about the civil rights movement of the 1960s: it was largely driven by college students in many ways, and demonstrated how these young people could be seen as successful negotiators of societal politics. African-American students of the 1960s were asserting their power and doing so in an effective manner. As successful as this transformation was, it still wasn't simple. For example, this form of activism could be divisive on college campuses and it was at times a murky issue: sometimes the activism was directed at the institutions themselves, alluding to the entanglement between politics and education (Turner, 2010). Thus, one can attribute the bulk of these changes to the heightened availability of education, and the empowerment which developed among the rapidly growing student body. These changes were also brought about as a result of the powerful alliances that flourished as well.
The power of the student movement during the civil rights era of the 1960s is hauntingly and memorably demonstrated in Nikki Giovanni's collected poems. Giovanni's poems are able to touch upon the elusive and intellectual journey that is at the foundation of this civil rights movement for many of these students. The push and pull of this dynamic is apparent from the first stanza of the poem "Detroit Conference of Unity and Art": "We went there to confer/On the possibility of/Blackness/And the inevitability of Revolution" (2009, p.1). Here the sense of blackness is both being pondered in...
Blackness is both a skin color and the sense of the eventual, the opaque, and the sunset of humanity. In terms of this new awareness, Giovanni suggests that revolution was inevitable, as inevitable as the sun rising the next day. Things were changing so rapidly that the change could not be stopped and would just be gaining momentum to an even more aggravated degree.
Giovanni also suggests that the past is imprinting on the present to such a strong degree that it is impact on the present, motivating action and stimulating thought. This is the sentiment of the poem entitled "poem" where Giovanni states, "So I put my arms around you to keep you / From falling from a tree / (there is evidence that you have climbed / too far up and are not at all functional / with this atmosphere or terrain) / and if I had a spare/I'd lend you my oxygen tent" (2009, p.12). Here there is a clear reference to the era of U.S. Slavery and the lynchings which so often occurred; cleverly though, Giovanni alludes to a metaphorical lynching which could happen, which is connected to the rise and elevation of black students and professionals. She is able to temper this notion, with the suggestion of affection and how the strength in unity and solidarity could be a means of preventing violence. The change of the overall civil rights era of the 1960s is also referred to as a foreign terrain as it was indeed. The environment had transformed as had the actions of the people within this environment. In seeking to change the present and future, these empowered young people were smart to acknowledge the brutality of the past, and how history was leaving a trace so that they would not be inclined to repeat the past.
The changes thus portrayed in this volume of poems demonstrate a deeper sense of awareness within the African-American community. It demonstrates a heightened ability to understand how past events are impacting current ones. It presents the writer as someone who has a deeper understanding and a deeper comprehension of the ramifications of actions and how these consequences can extend through time.
The 1967 film, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, is a film which also demonstrated a strong manifestation of change within the African-American civil rights movement. The film tells the story about a young Caucasian woman from a wealthy family who becomes engaged to an African-American man. While such a thing might not sound terribly novel or groundbreaking to a modern audience, it was incredibly groundbreaking for the time. Actually, the fact that the film was even made and was successful and featured an inter-racial couple during the 1960s demonstrates a massive amount of change and progress for the civil rights movement in general. The film made over $70,000,000 worldwide. The fact that the film was so profitable is a clear demonstration of the progress of the times and reflects the progress of the civil rights movement in general. The fact that the film was able to be so profitable demonstrates that audiences were ready, willing and able to accept the idea of an interracial couple, and wanted the rest of the nation and the world to see and accept this as well, was a sign of progress by and large. Much of this transformation could be said to be attributed to the civil rights movement and the success that was hard won there.
This is largely presented through their portrayal of Sydney Poitier's character. This character is created by the writers in such a manner that it clearly and undoubtedly contradicts ethnic stereotypes. Sydney Poitier plays an idealistic and extremely well-educated young doctor: he's graduated from a superior medical school, he was doing work to better the health care situation in Africa, he would not engage in premarital sex with his fiancee despite her offering, and he even deposits cash on the desk of his father in law when he makes an expensive phone call. In this manner, the young African-American man was portrayed as well-educated, generous, visionary, pious and thoughtful. By creating such a multi-dimensional and benevolent character around this young man, it became apparent that no one could object to the union between them. The fact that this young African-American man was presented in such a positive light, was also…
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