Robert Weisbrot, Freedom Bound: A History of America's Civil Rights Movement
List: 20th Century.
Subjects: Civil Rights.
Simply put, it's hard to imagine a much better one-volume synthesis of the Civil Rights movement than Robert Weisbrot's Freedom Bound. Beginning with the fateful decision by four college freshman in Greensboro, NC to take their rightful seats at the local Woolworth's lunch counter, Freedom Bound splendidly covers the successes and travails of the Civil Rights movement over the next three decades, following the story from the dusty roads of Alabama and Mississippi, through the streets of Chicago and Watts, to the corridors of power in Washington. Throughout, Weisbrot gives us not only eloquent, believable, and fair biographical portraits of civil rights luminaries like Dr. King, Bayard Rustin, Fannie Lou Hamer, Stokely Carmichael, and Eldridge Cleaver, but also a feel for what life was like on the ground for the legions of activists who fought Jim Crow throughout the South and across the nation.
According to Weisbrot, the "alliance between black and white liberals, which transformed American race relations during the 1960s, was a source of both power and disillusionment to civil rights advocates." (xiii) In the early going, when civil rights activists sought to secure the "equal protection of constitutional rights" for African-Americans, white liberals were very much in sympathy. Later, however, when Dr. King and others moved beyond the liberal vision of rights to scrutinize the structural reasons behind persisting social and economic inequality, their concerns seemed increasingly radical and dangerous to White America. Thus, "the liberal coalition of the 1960s [wrought] a self-limiting revolution that abolished formal barriers to equality while leaving intact the basic features of a system in which blacks had played a subordinate, marginal role." Moreover, Weisbrot argues, the "ascendancy of conservative politics at the close of the decade...highlighted the value of gains achieved through liberal coalition and made clear that the limits of liberal readiness for change represented to a great extent the limits of Americans generally." (xiv)
Whether you've never heard of Birmingham or Selma or you took part in the marches, Robert Weisbrot's Freedom Bound is an immensely valuable synthetic history of the American civil rights movement, arguably the most successful and enduring popular protest movement of the twentieth century.