UNDERSTANDING SELF-DEFENSE IN THE CIVILRIGHTS MOVEMENT THROUGH VISUAL ARTSBy

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  1. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Copyright © 2004 by Sonia James-Wilson www.civilrightsteaching.org1UNDERSTANDING SELF-DEFENSE IN THE CIVILRIGHTS MOVEMENT THROUGH VISUAL ARTSBy Sonia James-WilsonIntroduction—From “Freedom” to “Power!”For the past 30 years there has been an ongoing debate about the distinction betweenthe Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Some view the period from the mid1950s to the mid 1970s as two distinct eras in U.S. history, and suggest that by 1966race riots and the pervasive marginalization of African Americans marked the end of“the traditional southern-based, nonviolent Civil Rights Movement [which] had largelyground to a halt and was in its death throes” (Allen, 1970). This interpretation of eventsoften leads to the popularized representation of long-suffering, law abiding and well-behaved African Americans who petitioned peacefully, which is held in sharp contrast toportrayals of “militants,” rioters, and the disillusioned. As one reporter in 1967 suggested,the Black Power movement has often been viewed as a time when “Negroes patientlypraying on court house steps [were] replaced by angry mobs looting ghetto stores.”It is important to avoid presenting these movements as two binaries, or to suggestthat the latter is simply an extension of the former, because there were fundamentaldifferences between the ideologies that informed them. For example, for the leaders ofthe Black Power movement, self-determination was recognized as the highest aspirationof African Americans, whereas many civil rights leaders believed this goal alienatedsympathizers. The Black Power movement’s emphasis on blackness and the belief thatAfrican Americans could succeed independently was also criticized by prominent civilrights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., because they believed that AfricanAmericans (as a minority group) needed the support of the dominant group and multira-cial coalitions. Black Power proponents also argued that the African-American commu-nity should take the lead in the fight against racism, and rejected the notion that changecould only come by “appealing to the consciences of the rest of society.” Many sanc-tioned violence as a viable form of resistance and de-emphasized the ideal of “morality,”which was central to the efforts of civil rights activist (McCarthney, 1992).In what is to follow, I will suggest a framework that teachers can use for the devel-opment of activities that can help increase their students’ ability to understand howstrategies of self-defense were encouraged and employed by African Americans in thestruggle against white supremacy both in the Civil Rights Movement and the BlackPower movement. Through the integration of the visual arts, students can explore imagesand ideologies that have been downplayed or erased from the Civil Rights Movementstory as it is retold in mainstream social studies curriculum. They can also be encouragedto frame the ideas and actions of “radical” groups and individuals as important contribu-tions to the struggle against racism.Setting the Stage: Contextualizing Self-Defense withinthe Social Studies CurriculumIn “‘This Nonviolent Stuff Ain’t No Good. It’ll Get Ya Killed’: Teaching about Self-Defense in the African-American Freedom Struggle,” Emiyle Crosby introduces the keypoints that she emphasizes in her teaching to challenge students’ assumptions about thestrategies African Americans used in the struggle to gain the rights and freedomspromised to all Americans. These points include: (1) self-defense and nonviolence are
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    Peace!
    Isaiah
     
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