History is more than a timeline, though the order in which events occurred help to structure it. It is more than the biographies of presidents and generals, and while history is often presented as a story, it is more than a simple narrative of cause and effect or change over time. At their best, historical narratives help us step outside of our contemporary reality by showing us how and why we as a society have evolved as we have. When our present is the result of choices rather than kismet, we can imagine a new future.
In this class, we will move beyond a rote memorization of names, dates and stories. We’ll discuss how to analyze information by evaluating what we hear and read and then using the information to draw conclusions. We will become a learning community. To do this, we’ll discuss how to communicate your ideas clearly through both the written and spoken word, and then we’ll learn to engage one another in thoughtful, respectful ways.
We will also approach the Black Freedom Struggle from a different perspective than you have perhaps experienced in the past. Rather than looking at how the classical phase of the Civil Rights Movement (usually dated from 1954-1968) played out in the American South, we will consider how the struggle for equality occurred across the nation, and in particular in the North. Our study will begin with World War II and continue through today.
Now, is there a chance that we can actually cover everything that happened across the nation for the last sixty years? Nope. Not at all. Instead, we will pan over the landscape of the struggle, dipping down periodically to peer more closely at specific case studies or incidents that are illustrative of the evolving nature of the fight for educational, economic, social, political, medicinal and cultural equality. Along the way, we will ask whether recentering our narrative both geographically and chronologically changes our understanding of the past, and we will ask what the new story of the past reveals about the contemporary state of racial (in)equality in America today.
You will have two other types of readings to do. First, there are scholarly articles and chapters from other books. Most of the articles are available through the libraries databases. I will upload PDFs of any that are not available there to the course website. PRINT ALL OF THESE and bring them with you to class.
Second, there will be documentaries and primary documents, all of which are available online. I have included the URLs for these for each assignment. I have checked each of these before composing this syllabus. If for some reason the link does not work when you attempt to complete your assignment, please email me to let me know.
Though there will be some lectures, this class will be heavily discussion based. Though I have been a student of history for more years than you (probably) have been, I value your insights and the perspective that each of you will bring to the material. As a result, most of our class time will be devoted to discussions of the materials we have read (this along with the reading schedule you will need to keep will also help prepare you should you choose to go to graduate school). So that you can participate in the conversations, please come to class having read the materials. Some weeks, this may be a challenge. Plan ahead. I do not have an attendance policy, but participation is 30% of your grade. You cannot participate if you are not in class.
There will be four engagement papers due. Each of these papers should be four to five pages long. I will not ask you a specific question for them. They are your opportunity to engage with the questions of the class and the readings you have done for the class. For each engagement paper, choose one of the course’s recurring themes and put the readings and primary documents into dialogue. These are not journal entries: be sure that each paper you turn in makes an argument and then cites evidence from the readings completed in the course thus far to support your point. Remember that these are your opportunity to demonstrate that you have done the readings. Be sure to include them in your papers.
For the final project, identify the most important ongoing battle of the Black Freedom Struggle and then trace the question over time. Schedule a time to meet with me during Week 6 to discuss one-on-one what topic you have chosen and what form each of your projects will take. Possibilities include a research paper (eight to ten pages in length), a proposal for a museum exhibit, a treatment for a historically accurate movie based on the topic you chose, etc. For the final project, you may rely heavily on your readings and class notes, but you will probably find that you need additional information to create a well-informed paper. Follow proper citation guidelines.