WHY FACILE HISTORIES OF CIVIL RIGHTS ARE SO DANGEROUS

27 Feb

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted by Deputy Sheriff D.H. Lackey after being arrested for boycotting public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama, in February of 1956.

She refused to give up her seat on a bus.

He whistled at a white woman.

I have a dream.

Nonviolence.

By any means necessary.

These tableaux and these rallying cries have become the narrative centerpieces of the history of civil rights in America. They often feature accidental champions (Rosa Parks) or characters seemingly plucked right from a morality play (Martin Luther King Jr. and his embrace of non-violence on the one hand, Malcolm X and his ballot-or-bullet activism on the other). Yet there’s something uniquely dangerous in the various ways we remember these near-mythical stories: a broad preference that this history be palatable. That it be facile. That it remain in the past: We have, at last, overcome.

So begins Brandon Tensley’s interview with Professor Jeanne Theoharis about her new book. You may read the entire interview at Pacific Standard here.

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