Where Local Meets Global
I like Kevin’s idea of centering on a few stories – to show the different faces and feelings of the spirit of the sixties and the civil rights revolution. I wonder, too, if touchstone events could draw out some of the gripping storylines. I’ve also used music to tell the stories, with “We Shall Overcome” followed by “People Get Ready” and then onto “Mississippi Goddamn.” (quick mention here of an amazing book on civil rights music and local politics: check out Suzanne Smith's Dancing in the Streets on Motown and the cultural politics of Detroit). One that students may be familiar with (but probably don’t know that much about) is the September 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. As an event, it hits on so many points and it links to a bunch of themes in the Major Problems readings. I’ll mention a few of the themes and connections here.
|Church after bombing|
1: Violence. We know the fire-hoses, and we know the assassinations. We can read about them in documents from Robert Williams, as he defends “self defense” in 1962 or in the short essay from Tim Tyson. But at Birmingham, we see militancy moved to sacred places – a church bombed on a Sunday morning.
2: Highs and lows, gains and setbacks. Coming only three weeks after the excitement of the March on Washington, the church bombing brings us back down to the sad realities of racial discrimination. MLK was prominent at both, and students could compare and contrast his “I have a dream” speech with his eulogy at Birmingham. I think the next edition of Major Problems probably needs a document showing the sadness of civil rights gains and multiracialism under assault so that we can understand the ups and downs of movement people.
3: Media technology transformed local events into national ones. This is evident in the marvelous essay by Henry Louis Gates Jr., discussing civil rights moments on television, and for Birmingham, it can be connected to Anne Moody. She heard the story on the radio, and her response was visceral (all of which she details in her memoir, and I would nominate her for one of the stories that Kevin could narrate; and maybe her response to Birmingham can get a place in the next Major Problems edition).
|Wales Window for Birmingham|
4: International interest: we know King won the Nobel Peace Prize, and we know events in India and Africa were crucial to the storyline of the age. The Birmingham bombing story traveled throughout the world and a group in Great Britain commissioned a new piece of stained-glass to repair a window destroyed by the bombing. The new sacred symbol, the “Wales Window for Birmingham” connected the violence in Alabama with apartheid in South Africa as part of an overall sacred challenge to any form of racial colonialism.
What other touchstone events would folks use?