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“The Movement” by Thomas C. Holt: the struggle of black Americans, beyond its icons

Movement. The struggle of African Americans for civil rights

by Thomas C. Holt (translated by Jean-Claude Zancarini)

The Discovery, 192 p., € 18

The civil rights movement has had its heroes, celebrated around the world for their courage and strength. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King are the recognized figures of this fight which, from 1955 to 1965, rocked the United States. But this struggle cannot be reduced to these figureheads, as charismatic and as powerful as they are. And it is this effort of perspective that the historian Thomas C. Holt happily engages in, in a very didactic and instructive work, in particular for a French audience.

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In his story “from below” of this fight, this professor emeritus at the University of Chicago provides a very complete panorama of a complex and ancient history. Before Rosa Parks, men and women refused to leave their seats; before Martin Luther King, men and women spoke eloquently for the cause of black Americans. What many researchers have called the Movementclassic rights, which spanned the decade from 1955 to 1965, must in fact be seen as an exceptional moment in the long history of African-American resistance and struggle against racist oppression. , writes the author.

Irene Morgan, Elizabeth Jennings, Claudette Colvin …

The French reader thus discovers the name of Irene Morgan who, in 1944, refused to leave her seat in a Greyhound bus which took her from Virginia to Maryland and was arrested, or that of Elizabeth Jennings who, almost a century earlier , was kicked off a streetcar in New York. We also meet Thurgood Marshall, one of the great advocates of segregation slayers, and Claudette Colvin who, at 15, also remained seated.

In this fascinating little work, the author also endeavors to recall the structural evolutions which explain why, for example, Rosa Parks, and not Irene Morgan, played such a role in history – in particular because of the post-war urbanization, and therefore the growing weight of bus journeys in everyday life. We also measure the different strategic approaches between the generations, the elders preferring to act in the courts, the younger ones in the street. And the reader can better appreciate the courage of those involved in a fight that was certainly not won in advance.


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