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