As the celebration of Black History Month continues, we take a look at both past and present day leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. No one can deny the pivotal role Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King and many others played in African American history. Unfortunately, alternative information has been used to hide the complete truth of our heroes and heroines.
Recently, the Los Angeles Sentinel had the opportunity to speak with author, scholar, and Brooklyn College professor, Jeanne Theoharis regarding her newly published book, “A More Beautiful and Terrible History,” which uncovers the uses and misuses of civil rights history.
“In terms of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, everybody knows who they are, except that is sort of what we think they are and the kind of fullness in what they believed in and what they did is very different,” said Theoharis.
“I think we are constantly honoring them and trying to live up to their legacy but what that means and what that requires of us in the present, once you see a fuller sense of who they were, is really different.”
In the 288 page book, Theohairs examines the nine key ways in which the Civil Rights Movement has been “sanitized for political purposes” along with other topics including: the history of Black activism prior to the mid-sixties uprisings in various cities and what she calls the “Great Man” version of civil rights history, which is said to render women involved in the movement as “passive” and “meek.”
“The heart of the book is drawing from my own research but also drawing from a huge body of research that has been published in the past 10 to 15 years and kind of synthesizing that,” said Theoharis.
“There is a huge hunger for more substantive histories and this was one way to make a more accessible form that I think people are really craving. I think we are in a moment in this country today, where we need that in terms of a more sober history of our nation’s history that [can] show us where to go from here.”
The civil rights book was created in hopes of being utilized in both a professional and classroom setting.
“What I hope readers take away from the book is that the Civil Rights Movement was longer, harder, broader (fighting for criminal justice to economic rights to global justice), wider (across the North and West, not only the South), faced more varied opposition, and was led by a diversity of people (from high school students to welfare moms to community elders) than we’ve realized,” said Theoharis.
“How they did it and what it took provides a more sober accounting of American history and lessons for how we continue the fight for racial and social justice today.”
Theorharis is a political science professor at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and the author of several books and articles on the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, politics, race and education, social welfare, and civil rights in post 9/11 America. However, Theoharis is widely known for her acclaimed biography, “The Rebellious Life or Mrs. Rosa Parks” which won the 2014 NAACP Image Award and the Letitia Woods Brown Award from the Association of Black Women Historians. Both books are available for purchase everywhere.
For more information on professor Theoharis and her work please email her at [email protected]