Origins of the Civil Rights Movement

The Civil Rights Movement has inspired libraries of popular and scholarly books and articles. Its influence on the study of social movements and collective action processes is remarkable. Yet even something so thoroughly studied yields new insights to these processes. This dialogue is prompted by a recent article written by Doron Shultziner about the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. In his piece (Mobilization, June 2013) he distinguishes between factors that explain a movement’s emergence from those that explain its momentum – in particular, the important role of humiliation and shame in sparking the boycott.

In light of Shultziner’s arguments, we asked scholars and activists to reflect more generally on the origins of social movements. What do we now know about the origins of the Civil Rights Movement? What are the implications of that for other social movements, given that so many theories developed with that movement in mind? In what ways has scholarly focus on this particular movement highlighted or obscured collective-action processes at different stages and in different places?

We are posting 8 great contributions now and several more later this month. Many thanks to our all-star cast of contributors:

Kenneth (Andy) Andrews, UNC Chapel Hill (essay)
Kim Ebert, North Carolina State University (essay)
Jo Freeman, feminist scholar and activist (essay)
Joseph Luders, Yeshiva University (essay)
Anthony (Tony) Oberschall, UNC Chapel Hill (essay)
Deana Rohlinger, Florida State University (essay)
Doron Shultziner, independent scholar (essay)
John Skrentny, UC San Diego (essay)

As always, we invite you to join the dialogue by posting your reactions to these essays in the comments sections.

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, and Dan Myers

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Civil Rights, White Supremacist, and Racially Conservative Movements

By Kim Ebert

One of the most significant achievements of the Civil Rights Movement is the steady decline in overt racism and de jure discrimination. This accomplishment is among the reasons why scholars of social movements are encouraged to continue to study and learn from the origins, maintenance, and consequences of the Civil Rights Movement. The decline in explicit racism also has generated considerable research on the somewhat puzzling persistence of the white supremacist movement within a social and political environment that ostensibly is hostile to such blatant forms of racism. Yet while the scholarship on social movements has offered great insight and clarity on the dynamics of racism and racial inequality, this tendency to focus on the extremities of racial-political activities – the Civil Rights and white supremacist movements – has unintentionally obscured the transformation of racism and the new ways prejudice and privilege manifest in social movements.

While scholars within the field of racial and ethnic relations have investigated the post-civil rights shift in racial ideologies, comparatively little research has been done on a corresponding transformation in racial-political organizing of racial conservatives that act to protect white interests. Continue reading

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What do the ALS ice bucket challenge, Alberta oil, and Leonardo DiCaprio have in common?

10142156Hollywood star, Leonardo DiCaprio, was in Alberta for a new documentary about the environmental impacts of the oilsands (a.k.a. tar sands). He met with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations who have been protesting against developing the oilsands. DiCaprio is among a host of celebrities speaking out against the oilsands. Others include Desmond Tutu, Neil Young and James Cameron. They join other celebrities who have been vocal opponents of the Keystone pipeline including Mark Ruffalo, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Kevin Bacon.

Proponents of the oilsands and the pipeline, including the Prime Minister’s office, have dismissed celebrity involvement in Alberta’s oil industry. According to Yahoo Canada News, the Prime Minister’s Office has commented in the past about “the energy-demanding lifestyle often afforded to such celebrities” and Tim Moen, leader of the Libertarian Party of Canada, referred to it as celebrity cheap talk demonizing Alberta’s oilsands. Moen told Yahoo Canada News that “The people I take seriously are people who actually create solutions. People that find ways to get cheap clean energy into the hands of people who want it.”  Continue reading

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The global body politics of attending the ASA; or the political consequences of mundane occurrences

Staying at the Best Hotel in the Tenderloin area of San Francisco is a sociologically informative experience. The Best Hotel is splendidly located only two blocks away from the two ASA conference hotels and it is relatively cheap ($120 per night as opposed to $300), booked only ten days in advance; yet, I am guessing, it is not among the most desirable housing options for conference participants. The hotel reviews depict the place as located in an area where homeless people, drunks, and drug addicts loiter. Some reviewers even report bed bugs, which horrifies a San Francisco friend of mine most of all. While waiting for my room to be ready−I was being treated to a brand new bed [a sigh of relief!]−the manager, who is also a concierge, repairs guy, and anything else that he needs to be, regretfully informs me that “My only problem is the homeless and the drug dealers in front”. Indeed, the place isn’t that bad. The room is large and clean (I am not a fan of the smell of the cleaning products used but I can live with that for a few days, I try to convince myself). It has a bathroom en suite, free Internet, and coffee 24 hours: the traveler’s essentials. Continue reading

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Discussing Ferguson

I left the ASAs feeling inspired by all the amazing work people in our field are doing. On leaving, I stopped for dinner in a bar in D.C. during my layover. During my dinner, CNN reported another young black man was killed in Ferguson, MO who had wielded a knife against a police officer.

Watching the coverage, a law enforcement agent at the bar began a public conversation about how the unrest in Ferguson is outrageous and uncalled for. He said how based on his experiences, this whole conflict over the Michael Brown murder is about class not race. I vociferously disagreed, yet I was clearly the minority voice (in terms of numbers and my own racial identity) in the conversation.

I was surprised when, in raising the complexities of the Ferguson case such as issues of racial profiling, discrimination in legal processes, militarization of police forces, and systematic economic and spatial inequality, the police officer responded by strongly supporting racial profiling in law enforcement. He immediately dismissed many of the underlying complexities of the situation which I raised. Others supported his position. I left the conversation frustrated by how difficult these issues are to discuss with non-sociologists and in general. I was frustrated with my own inefficacy in explaining the many complexities of the issue which I am acutely aware of due to my background in sociology.

As the semester looms, I wonder how we can draw upon the literature we know about race, protest, and collective uprisings to sociologically unpack this case and discuss it with students and broader audiences in a more effective way.

Yet as the police officer was leaving, he went out of his way to come by and thank me for sharing my opinions. He said he hoped I would not hold his perspective against him.

I left the situation horrified by how nearly everyone in the bar viewed the situation in quite simplistic, and I believed deeply racist, ways yet was encouraged by how this man went out of his way to support raising these issues in public spaces.

As sociologists, educators, and movement scholars, how can we use what we know to open broader conversations and dissect such emotionally fraught, tense, and complex issues in more nuanced and insightful ways—in which people from a wide array of backgrounds can participate in and learn from? Although it is easy to always talk to each other about these issues, we have an important voice to contribute to broader public discussions.

I’ve been thinking of hosting a teach-in at Hamilton College and am lucky to have a department that supports the idea.  I’d love to hear others’ thoughts or insights on this issue.

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China Labor Protests Dataset

With the acceleration of market reforms in the 1990s, the Chinese economy and society underwent a series of major changes. The radical shift of economic system records aggregate GDP growth rate of about 10 percent every year. However, recent waves of mass protest across the country reveal the dark side of China’s economic boom. While citizens’ standards of living are continuing to increase, income inequality has grown to a factor of threat. Individuals belonging to losing groups amidst these wrenching changes have increasingly protested. The number of mass incidents, especially the labor incidents is large and increasing, but the exact number is unknown.

In the absence of official government statistics, I would like to recommend two crowd-mapped data sets on labor strikes in China:

1. China Labour Bulletin

This data set keeps tracking of strikes, protests and other contentious, collective actions taken by Chinese workers to defend their rights and interests. It covers the years 2011 to present and its regular research reports have used Chinese newspapers’ websites, dissident blogs, and information from the organization’s call-in radio show. It is constantly being updated.

2. China Strike

This data set is maintained by a PhD candidate in Political Science at Cornell University. It collects news reports of worker protests between January 1, 2008 and April, 2013, counting more than 800 incidents. According to the instructions, “only contentious, collective actions by workers over workplace issues are included. Thus, land disputes or environmental protests, though important in their own right, are excluded from this site.”

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A Multi-Stage Approach to Social Movements

By Doron Shultziner

The Civil Rights Movement (henceforth, CRM) is the best known case of social movements in both theory and action. It was one of the earliest, most dramatic, politically important, and internationally influential cases of a social movement. As such, the CRM was (and still is) the paradigmatic case study that has informed and shaped the field of collective behavior and social movements theory. Central theoretical and conceptual contributions are based on studies of the CRM (e.g., Morris 1983; McAdam 1982).

These approaches and accounts of the CRM have various merits, and they highlighted important factors that are part of the vocabulary and thinking about social movements, such as resource mobilization, political opportunities, and framing. However, there are also many agreed limitations in the field of social movements (della Porta and Diani 2007: chapter 1; for insiders’ critiques see Morris 2000 and McAdam 2004). The field is ripe with various explanatory factors, and there are new cases of social movements that are not well explained by existing approaches. Continue reading

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On the Origins and Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement

By Kenneth (Andy) Andrews

Movement scholars have been attempting to make sense of the civil rights movement for many decades, and important studies were being carried out as the movement itself was still in its ascendency. With several decades of accumulated scholarship, studies of the black freedom struggle constitute defining contributions to our understanding of movement origins, participation, organizations and leadership, gender, collective identity and culture, repression, and movement consequences. Reflecting on this line of scholarship provides an excellent opportunity to gauge what we have learned and chart new directions.

I argue that movement scholars would benefit from paying closer attention to the recent work of historians. Over the past ten years, historians have developed a broad reinterpretation of the civil rights struggle that has revealed important but underappreciated dynamics. The “long civil rights movement” perspective sees the civil rights movement as one phase of a larger struggle for racial equality and civil and human rights (Hall 2005). Continue reading

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