(L22 History 3670 11)

The Civil Rights Movement

and the Making of Modern America


Steven P. Miller, Ph.D.


Washington University in St. Louis

Summer I 2009, MTWRF 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.., Seigle Hall 306


Email: spmiller@wustl.edu (the best way to reach me)

Phone: 314-853-5495 (for emergencies only; no calls after 8:30 p.m., please!)

*** I am available after class—or contact me to arrange a meeting. ***


Course Description and Themes

The Civil Rights Movement stands as one of the central stories of United States history.  For many Americans, it represents an enduring struggle to create a more perfect union.  This course covers the African American Civil Rights Movement, broadly conceived, from the 1940s through the 1960s and beyond.  The Civil Rights Movement was the most significant American social movement of the twentieth century.  It was also a religious, political, patriotic, and—perhaps most profoundly—a personal movement.  This course explores the many facets of the Civil Rights Movement, noting how it involved a cast of actors much broader than Martin Luther King, Jr., and a set of goals much broader than ending the Jim Crow system.  Utilizing first-hand accounts, documentary film footage, and new historical findings, the courses covers such topics as the origins of the Civil Rights Movement, its strategic activism, its Christian and Gandhian influences, its Black Power and self-defense strands, and its influence on other struggles for social justice.  We will also study the opponents of the Civil Rights Movement.  Lastly, we will consider the civil rights struggle outside of the traditional South. 


Required Books/Readings

  • Lawson, Steven E. and Charles Payne.  Debating the Civil Rights Movement.  2nd Edition.  Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.  ISBN: 978-0-7425-5109-1 (paperback)
  • Marsh, Charles.  God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.  ISBN: 978-0-691-02940-5 (paperback) 
  • Tyson, Timothy B.  Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power.  Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.  ISBN: 978-0-8078-4923-1 (paperback) 
  • Readings posted on Telesis homepage in dated folders.


Class Structure and Expectations

Classes consist of discussions, short lectures, and other activities.  Lectures outline critical themes and frame key questions for subsequent discussions.  Fruitful discussion requires close engagement of the readings, listed just below each class date. 


Since this is a fourteen-session course, you are advised to attend every session.  Please clear foreseeable excused absences in advance.  In the event of emergencies—e.g., illness—please notify me of your absence in a timely manner.


If you require accommodations for exams or for lectures, please contact Cornerstone: the Center for Advanced Learning, located in Gregg Hall (935-5970, www.cornerstone.wustl.edu).  Cornerstone serves as the official University resource for approving and arranging students’ accommodations.  All information is treated as confidential.  I will provide accommodations for which you qualify as long as I receive the appropriate documentation from Cornerstone. 


I encourage you to take advantage of the many resources offered by the Writing Center: www.artsci.wustl.edu/~writing; email: writing@artsci.wustl.edu.



  • Participation, including written responses (20% of final grade)
    • Quality participation reflects engagement with the assigned readings.  Raising important questions represents one valuable way of contributing to discussions.  The participation component may also include extemporaneous in-class assignments. 
    • Prepare a 1-2 pp. written response to the daily readings (unless informed otherwise).  The main purpose of the response assignment is to serve as a starting point for in-class discussion—that is, a first draft interpretation of readings that we will “unpack” together in class. 


  • In-class midterm exam, Tuesday, May 26 (20%)


  • Response to (/case study of) God’s Long Summer.  Thursday, May 28 (20%)


  • Review essay on Radio Free Dixie, Wednesday, June 3 (20%)


  • Final exam.  In-class response to, and discussion of, assigned readings (20%)


Grading Scale:              A         93-100            C+       77-79

A-        90-92              C          73-76          

B+       87-89              C-        70-72

B         83-86               D         60-69

B-        80-82              F          0-59 

Course Schedule


Monday, May 18


What We Think About When We Think About the Civil Rights Movement

Roots of the Movement, I: The Strange Career of Jim Crow


Tuesday, May 19

Roots of the Movement, II: The Popular Front and World War II

The Making of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Montgomery & SCLC


READING for 5/19

(Try to do in order of listing.)

(Non-textbook readings are posted on Telesis in dated folders.)

Manning Marable, from Race, Reform, and Rebellion (3rd ed., 2007)

Taylor Branch, from Parting the Waters (1988)


Wednesday, May 20

Brown v. Board and Little Rock

What the Movement Was Up Against


                Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

Southern Manifesto (1956), in Debating, 59-64

Jane Dailey, “Sex, Segregation, and the Sacred after Brown” (2006)


Thursday, May 21

Nonviolence & Freedom: What They Meant to Movement Activists

Organizing and Campaigning


Richard B. Gregg, from The Power of Nonviolence (1959)

Ella J. Baker, from “Bigger than a Hamburger” (1960), in Debating the Civil Rights Movement, 159-160

Albany Movement Handbill (1962), in Debating, 161-162


Friday, May 22

“Extremists on Both Sides”: Southern Moderates

Postwar Politics, the Cold War, and Civil Rights


  Steven P. Miller, from Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (2009)

                  To Secure These Rights (1947), in Debating, 49-58

Monday, May 25

Memorial Day holiday


Tuesday, May 26


Mississippi: Local People in the Closed Society


                Violence in Mississippi (1961, 1963), in Debating, 163-165

                Bob Moses Interview (1993), in Debating, 170-188

                Eldridge W. Steptoe, Jr., Interview (1995), in Debating, 189-198


Wednesday, May 27



                Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)

                (Be reading God’s Long Summer)


Thursday, May 28

Freedom Summer

Theologizing Civil Rights


God’s Long Summer reflection DUE


Friday, May 29

Liberals, Civil Rights, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Selma and the Voting Rights Act of 1965


United States Commission on Civil Rights hearings (1958), in Debating, 70-78

                FBI and MLK (1963), in Debating, 79-81

                LBJ address (1965), in Debating, 90-100

Monday, June 1

Up South: Civil Rights Activism in the North

“Black Power!”


                Thomas Sugrue, from Sweet Land of Liberty (2008)

                Kerner Commission excerpt (1968), in Debating, 101-103


Tuesday, June 2

Taking on Jim Crow in Saint Louis


Wednesday, June 3

The Curious (or Not So Curious?) Case of Robert Williams

The Black Nationalist Tradition in Broader Perspective


            Radio Free Dixie paper DUE


Thursday, June 4

The Rights Revolution

Contested Memories and Uses of the Movement


Leigh Raiford and Renee C. Romano, “The Struggle Over Memory”; David John Marley, “Riding in the Back of the Bus: The Christian Right’s Adoption of Civil Rights Movement and Rhetoric”; and Sarah Vowell; both from The Civil Rights Movement and American Memory (2006)

            (Start reading for Final Exam)


Friday, June 5

Final Exam

A King for All Seasons: The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Discussion)


            READING FOR EXAM:

            Steven F. Lawson essay, in Debating, 1-46

            Martin Luther King, Jr., speech (1967), in Debating, 104-113

            Charles Payne essay, in Debating, 115-155