Teaching the Civil Rights Movement Dr. Malcolm McLaughlin, UEA. North American History Teachers’ Network University of East Anglia, 25 January 2013. Teaching the 'Dream'. The Political Uses of the Past:
Teaching the Civil Rights Movement
Dr. Malcolm McLaughlin, UEA
The Political Uses of the Past:
How can we step back, critically, and put 'history' back into a topic that is still so very highly charged, still endlessly invoked? King stands at the centre of a moral drama - which makes for bad history. He serves political causes today, but the people who invoke his name might have been among the first to criticise him in his day! This task became even harder after President Obama took office. Would King really have seen Obama as his natural heir?
Civil Rights memory serves the consumer economy in an era of identity politics and in the postmodern aftermath of the New Left insurgency and the counterculture. Civil Rights becomes integrated into the marketplace - and free market politics.
President of the Organization of American Historians in 2004. This is a revised version of her Presidential Address. It is a commanding synthesis of Civil Rights historiography, and it has been hugely influential since.
Recognizes the popular 'I have a dream...' image of King at the Lincoln Memorial is only part of the story – what about his opposition to US imperialism (Vietnam War); his support for sanitation workers and their union; his support for a Poor People's Campaign? And, let us not forget that the March on Washington in '63 was for jobs and freedom. Engages with the idea that people today can profess admiration for MLK without sharing his political beliefs. Neoconservatism, Dowd Hall points out, emerged as conservatives dropped support for old-style white supremacy, and accepted the new settlement. But they never accepted the more left-wing beliefs that were part of King's vision.Complicates the meaning of racism – encourages new generations to think of King not as the centre of a moral drama but as a controversial political figure, as he was in his day, whose ideas remain contentious. And it places his legacy squarely at the centre of political debate today.Eight years on from her article, we can bring the same lens to the Obama presidency: how would his intensification of drone war in Asia look to King, for example?
Van Gosse's notion of a 'movement [composed of lots of small] movements' to describe the wider context of Civil Rights radicalismPeniel Joseph, championed the idea that historians need to connect Civil Rights and Black Power activism if we are to understand the meaning of both. We end up with a more radical view of the Civil Rights movement and a more nuanced view of Black Power.