Program Description

November 1, 2012

Dear Colleague:

Thank you for your inquiry regarding the 2013 NEH Summer Institute on “African American Struggles for Freedom and Civil Rights,” sponsored by the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. will host the institute. Waldo E. Martin, Jr. (University of California, Berkeley) and Patricia Sullivan (University of South Carolina) will manage and direct the institute program, which will be held from July 1 to July 26, 2013. Its faculty includes leading scholars, writers, and filmmakers in the fields of African American history. Among them are Leon Litwack, Bettye Collier-Thomas, Steven Hahn, Blair Kelley, Kimberly Phillips, Stanley Nelson, Gerald Early, Peniel Joseph, and Peter Guralnick.

The 2013 NEH Institute is part of an ongoing effort provide for a deeper understanding of African American efforts to secure full citizenship and civil rights, and to situate that movement within the broader context of American history. During the four week-long program, teachers will engage in an intensiveprogram of reading and discussion with leading scholars, reviewing new and recent scholarship as well as a rich array of sources – oral histories, memoirs, documentary films, music and archival sources. Participating teachers will work in small groups to revise courses they currently teach, develop plans for new courses, and/or create units on specific topics or texts.

The institute is organized chronologically and topically into four parts:

  • From Reconstruction to World War I
  • America between the Wars
  • World War II and Its Aftermath
  • The Civil Rights/Black Power Era

The institute will meet Monday through Friday in morning and afternoon sessions, normally not later than 3:00. Participants will have time later in the day, in the evenings and on weekends to work on curriculum projects, meet individually with visiting faculty and project directors, and use library resources at Harvard.

A brief outline of the focus and content of the program follows. Some topics bridge the eras outlined here. Also, minor adjustments may be made, but this describes the general format with regard to formal sessions and meetings.

I. From Reconstruction to World War I

The program will begin with a session focusing on the Reconstruction era, how we teach about it and the ways in which that history serves as a foundation for the evolution of civil rights in the United States. Many of the major themes and questions that will be addressed throughout the course of the institute are introduced here.

Steven Hahn will lead a discussion of the major themes of his book, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration, developing a broader historical framework for identifying a black political tradition, rooted in slavery and informing the ways in which southern blacks navigated the fractious political terrain from Emancipation up to World War I. Hahn’s work provides a fresh analysis on the rise and significance of Marcus Garvey, A viewing of “Marcus Garvey Look for Me in the Whirlwind” will be arranged.

Blair Kelley will lead a discussion of Right to Ride: Street Car Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Aftermath of Plessey v. Ferguson a major new addition to the scholarship on civil rights struggles in the early twentieth century. Focusing on the cities of Savannah, Richmond and New Orleans, Kelley’s book recovers a history of direct action protests in an era referred to as the “nadir” and long associated with Booker T. Washington and accommodation. While the boycotts ultimately did not succeed in reversing streetcar segregation, Kelley raises important questions about the meaning of failure, and explores the complex nature of black leadership and community activism at the dawn of the Jim Crow era.

Patricia Sullivan’s session at the end of the first week will shift the focus to the North, where black migration during the first decade of the twentieth century gave rise to the development of segregation trends in northern cities, racialized attitudes about crime, and growing racial tensions around labor and housing. It is within this environment that the NAACP was founded, initially in an effort to keep so-called southern patterns from spreading north. This session will review recent scholarship that focuses on race relations in the North during the Progressive era and on the rise of the NAACP, which for its first decade focused on the problems of racial discrimination and black exclusion outside of the Jim Crow South.

The second week will begin with a field trip to Great Barrington, birthplace and home of W.E.B. Du Bois. In recent years, Du Bois’s history in the town has been actively recovered and commemorated with excavations, markers, exhibits and the ongoing participation of the University of Massachusetts.

II. America Between the Wars

Martin and Sullivan will lead two back-to-back panels that consider the World War I era and the Depression/New Deal years, two eras in modern American history that were formative for African Americans and the shifting landscape of race and race relations in the United States. The World War I era is critically important in terms of the war experience, migration and major social and economic changes at home, and the violence that erupts after the war and the enactment of the 19th amendment. How does scholarship focusing on black life during the war years change our approach to World War I as a topic in the U.S. history survey? What is the relationship of this history to the long term struggle for civil rights?

The Depression/New Deal era has been the subject of numerous books in recent years, as a time of expanding black political activism on multiple fronts, the beginnings of the NAACP’s legal campaign that culminates with Brown, and one of the most vibrant eras of interracial activism – including the labor movement, the Communist Party, pockets of New Deal activism, and Southern radical activities. This session will survey the scholarship in this area, and will be followed by a curriculum workshop which focuses on varied teaching resources and approaches.

We will spend several sessions with Leon Litwack, who has spent nearly two decades documenting black life and race relations in the South during the Jim Crow Era, from the 1890s up to the Brown decision. In his first session, he will provide an overview of the period from 1890 to 1920, and will discuss the methodology he has used both in reconstructing and teaching this history. Litwack draws on a variety of sources, including autobiographies, music, folklore and film. Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow will provide the basis for discussion.

Leon Litwack will discuss his current research on the Black South during World War II and the vast collections of primary source materials that he draws upon to reconstruct black life in the South and the experiences of south black soldiers in the Armed Forces during the war years. Patricia Sullivan will look at the broader context of black political activism and national political developments, focusing on the role of the NAACP and other organizations in elevating civil rights as an issue of national consequence. She will also discuss the shifting politics of civil rights from the post war era into the early Cold War years.

III. World War II and its Aftermath

We will begin this section with a discussion with Ezra Edelman, the noted documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on race and sports, capturing pivotal historical moments in African American life and race relations from the late 1940s to the 1980s. (During the previous week, there will be evening screenings of Ezra Edelman’s films: The Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush; The Strange Career of Curt Flood; and A Courtship of Rivals: Magic Bird and Magic Johnson. Our discussion will focus on Edelman’s films and teaching applications.

Gerald Early’s will lead a discussion on the Desegregation of the Armed Forces, focusing on President Truman’s 1948 order desegregating the Armed forces and its implementation during the Korean War, the first military engagement that the United States fought with officially integrated armed forces. Early will draw on personal narratives of Korean War veterans in a discussion of the racial integration of the military during the Korean War and its impact on the broader struggle for civil rights. During the afternoon, he will introduce participants to a series of films featuring black soldiers which offer a measure of attitudes in the broader culture and their development during the 1950s.

Kimberly Phillips new book, War, What is It Good For? Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq demonstrates how the military and military service has been at the nexus of a vibrant and ongoing debate among African Americans about the meaning of black citizenship, the connections between African American freedom struggles and anti-colonial movements during the Cold War decades, and the relationship of black struggles for equality and opportunity to service in the Armed Forces, particularly since the Korean War. Phillip’s panel will focus on the period from World War II through Vietnam, exploring major themes addressed in her work, and what they reveal about the struggle for civil rights during these decades.

A panel featuring Gerald Early, Leon Litwack and Kimberly Phillips will provide the forum for a wide ranging discussion on the implications of their work for the study and teaching of the era spanning the decades from World War II to the 1960s.

Bettye Collier Thomas’s newly published book, Jesus, Jobs and Justice: The History of African American Women and Religion (2010) will enrich and inform a discussion of the kinds of roles women have played in the struggle for civil rights, and the formative role of religion in shaping civic consciousness, activism and political networks. Attention will be paid to Collier-Thomas’s close and careful study of the interracial movement that evolved through black and white churches, and what it reveals about the promise and limits of cross racial alliances in struggles to advance racial justice and the practice of equality.

Waldo Martin’s Brown v. Board of Education: A Brief History with Documents and Patricia Sullivan’s close research of the NAACP’s litigation campaign combine to provide a fresh approach to the Brown decision: its history, consequences, and legacies. They will lead a discussion of the history of the Brown decision from a legal, social, and cultural perspective, and ways to teach about Brown and develop lesson plans, drawing from Martin’s edited book of documents and other resources. In the afternoon, Clark Johnson, director of “Boycott,” an award winning docu-drama on the Montgomery bus boycott, will participate in a panel discussion on the film, and on his current project on featuring his parents journey through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

In a session on “Black Cultural Politics in the Postwar Era,” Waldo Martin will sketch out major themes discussed in his book of essays, No Coward Soldiers. The group will identify and discuss cultural representations – from visual art, film, music, clothing – that can be used to illuminate developments in black political consciousness and activism during the two decades following the war.

Movement participants have continually brought the power of personal experience and insight to our program, and sessions with them have afforded a rare opportunity for scholars and teachers to engage individuals who helped shape the history we study and write about. Following a model we developed during the 2008 institute, we plan to have a panel with women who were active from the 1930s to the 1960s: Esther Jackson and Dorothy Burnham, who organized for the Southern Negro Youth Congress in Birmingham in the 1930s and 1940s, and continued their activism in New York during later years, and Margaret Burnham, daughter of Dorothy Burnham, who was active in SNCC in Mississippi and worked as a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

IV. The Civil Rights/ Black Power Era

A major feature of the institute program is an ongoing exploration of the interaction between culture and politics, within and across racial boundaries, as it relates to racial consciousness, black protest and community activism. Peter Guralnick, the noted biographer of Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke and author of Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom has been a regular participant in the institute program. He will examine how developments in popular culture, music, and mass communication interfaced with the growing political challenge to racial barriers during the 1950s and 1960s.

Raymond Gavins, professor of History at Duke University and a founder of the “Behind the Veil” project, a multi-year oral history project that documented black life in the South during the Jim Crow era, will lead an oral history session, direct a curriculum workshop, and participate on in a panel discussion on Civil Rights Leadership in the 1960s.

There will be a series of panels, approaching the movement during the 1960s through several different topics that take into account recent literature and evolving interpretative frameworks. They include: “The Era of Direct Action Protest in the South;” “1963: pivotal year in southern and northern based struggles for civil rights;” and “the Roles of Women in the Movement.”

Peniel Joseph’s widely acclaimed Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power, covers the period from 1954 to 1965, providing a “parallel” history to the dominant narrative of the civil rights movement. He will lead a discussion of his book and the ways in which it broadens and complicates our understanding of the Black Power movement and its relationship to the civil rights struggles of this period. Waldo Martin will lead a discussion on the Black Panther Party, placing it within the broad context of movement history and culture, the pivotal year of 1968, with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., and the rapidly shifting racial and political landscape of the late 1960s.

During the final week, an afternoon will be devoted to a discussion with Stanley Nelson. During the course of the program, we will screen four of Nelson’s films: The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords; Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind; The Murder of Emmett Till; and Freedom Riders. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss the particular films and Nelson’s approach to his subjects in a question and answer session.

On the final day, we will consider current assessments of the Civil Rights Movement and its legacy. Discussants will include Lewis Steel, who has worked as a civil rights lawyer since the early 1960s, and Robert Moses, former leader of SNCC in Mississippi who sees his current work on behalf of Algebra literacy as an extension of the civil rights movement.

Application qualifications: (INSERT LINK to application instructions regarding eligibility.) Several factors contribute to the selection of participants. Most important is the individual applicant’s statement regarding their interest in the institute and how it relates to their teaching, and what they hope to achieve as a result of their participation. Another factor is whether applicants have recently participated in an NEH Institute.

Stipends: Participants will receive a $3,300 stipend. One half of the stipend will be issued at the start of the institute, and the balance will be paid at the midpoint of the program. Stipends are intended to help cover travel expenses to and from the project location, books and other research expenses, and living expenses for the duration of the period spent in residence. Stipends are taxable. Adjustments in cases where the stipend is insufficient to cover all expenses are not possible.

Academic Resources: The library has extensive holdings in the area of African American history, including the microfilmed collection of the NAACP Papers, Tuskegee Institute newspaper clipping file, and resources of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, as well as newspapers, periodicals and government documents. There are a number of relevant archival collections housed at Harvard, particularly at the Schlesinger Library.

Housing: Housing accommodations will be offered and Harvard University. Details regarding facilities and cost will be posted as soon as those arrangements are finalized.

Status of participant at Harvard: NEH Summer Institute participants will be appointed as visiting fellows of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, providing them with full access to the Harvard libraries and computer facilities, free admission to the museums at Harvard, and all other privileges afforded to visiting scholars and faculty.

Application procedure and deadline: Application information is included with this letter. Your completed application should be postmarked no later than March 4, 2013 and should be addressed to:

NEH Summer Institute
W.E.B. Du Bois Institute
Harvard University
104 Mt. Auburn Street, Fl. 3R
Cambridge, MA 02138

Thank you for your interest in the NEH Summer Institute on “African American Struggles for Freedom and Civil Rights.”



Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Waldo E. Martin, Jr. Patricia Sullivan

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