Civil Rights Movements

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  • Black Lives Matter Touched off by a wave of high profile cases of racially motivated police violence, this vital current movement is raising a host of related civil rights issues around racially biased incarceration rates, the violence of poverty and ongoing structural racisms at all levels of society.
  • Civil Rights Movement Culture: History and Legacy

    Further Research

    Books and Articles

  • Burns, Stewart, ed. Daybreak of Freedom. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 1997. Excellent book that tells the story of the pivotal Montgomery bus boycott through firsthand accounts and documents from many perspectives.
  • Carawan, Guy, and Candie Carawan, eds. Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement through Its Songs. New York: Sing Out, 1990. Fine compilation of lyrics and songs with commentaries on each by the editors and other movement activists.
  • Carson, Clayborne. In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. 1981; repr. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. Best overview of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee.
  • Collier-Thomas, Bettye, and V. P. Franklin, eds. Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women of the Civil Rights–Black Power Movement. New York: New York University Press, 2001. Extends, updates, and deepens the work begun in Black Women in the Civil Rights Movement, edited by Crawford, Rouse, and Woods.
  • Crawford, Vicki, Jacqueline Rouse, and Barbara Woods, eds. Black Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993. Pathbreaking volume in the ongoing task of correcting the distorted gender picture in histories of the civil rights movement. Includes women foremothers preceding the 1950–60s movement.
  • Denisoff, R. Serge. Sing a Song of Social Significance. Bowling Green, KY: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1983. Includes much analysis of freedom songs, as well as other related protest songs, before and after the civil rights movement.
  • Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995. Important study focuses on ordinary folks struggling in one of the most dangerous areas the movement entered.
  • Hogan, Wesley C. Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC's Dream for a New America. University of North Carolina Press, 2007. Excellent study of SNCC and its wide influence on other movement groups.
  • McDonnell, John. Songs of Struggle and Protest. Dublin: Mercier Press, 1979. Places freedom songs in the wide tradition of folk rebellions going back centuries.
  • Morris, Aldon. Origins of the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Free Press, 1984. Excellent treatment of church culture and politics of the early civil rights movement.
  • Payne, Charles. I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. The best book on the movement culture of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the Deep South, and the richest treatment of the radically democratic culture growing out of the “organizing tradition” nourished by folks like Ella Baker.
  • Ransby, Barbara. Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Excellent biography of the great antileader of the civil rights movement.
  • Reagon, Bernice Johnson. “Songs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1955–1965: A Study in Culture History.” PhD diss., Howard University, 1975. Ann Arbor, MI: Xerox University Microfilms, 1975. The major study of music in the civil rights movement by the great participant-observer member of the SNCC Freedom Singers.
  • --. The Power of Communal Song.” In Cultures in Contention, ed. Douglas Kahn and Diane Neumaier. Seattle: Real Comet Press, 1985. Condensed statement of Reagon’s wisdom on music in movement struggles.
  • Sanger, Kerran L. 'When the Spirit Says Sing!' The Role of Freedom Songs in the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Garland, 1995. Solid, detailed study.
  • Seeger, Pete, and Bob Reiser. Everyone Says Freedom. New York: Norton, 1989. Collection of freedom song lyrics and music with commentary.
  • Walker, Alice. Meridian. New York: Pocket Books, 1976. Powerful novel about the civil rights movement and its transition into the black power phase.
  • Music and Film/Video

  • Eyes on the Prize (first series). Directed by Henry Hampton. Blackside, 1987. Six great one-hour documentaries tracing the whole history of the civil rights movement. Bernice Johnson Reagon did the music for the series, and it is therefore rich in freedom songs. See also the excellent companion PBS website,
  • A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict. Directed by Steve York and Peter Ackerman. York Zimmerman/WETA Production, 2000. PBS documentary that places the civil rights movement in relation to the long tradition of nonviolent struggle. Includes some freedom song audio clips.
  • Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Songs of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. Various Artists. Folk Era Records, 1994.
  • Freedom on My Mind. Directed by Connie Field and Marilyn Mumford. California Newsreel, 1994. Excellent documentary film using organizing in the crucial state of Mississippi as the lens through which to tell the movement story.
  • Fundi. Directed by Joanne Grant. Icarus Films, 1986. Documentary film on the life of the great organizer Ella Baker.
  • The Story of Greenwood Mississippi. Smithsonian Folkways Records. Traces the impact of freedom songs on one particular community in struggle.
  • Strange Fruit. Directed by Joel Katz. PBS Independent Lens, 2003. Places Billie Holiday's antilynching song "Strange Fruit" in the context of the wider history of freedom songs.
  • Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs, 1960–1966. Smithsonian Folkways Records. Excellent, extensive set of recordings.
  • We Shall Overcome. Directed by Jim Brown. California Newsreel, 1989. Documentary using the story of the most famous freedom song to trace the role of music in the labor and civil rights movements.