Week 11 Reading Guide

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Monday Readings

1) Gerstle Chapter 7, "Civil Rights, White Resistance, and Black Nationalism, 1960-1968."

• Why does Gerstle argue that civil rights activism in the 1960s had their roots in the 1940s? What are the different dynamics that were important in the forties for founding the sixties civil rights movement?
• On page 274, Gerstle argues that Martin Luther King Jr. "had little difficulty weaving into [the American civic nationalist tradition] his religiously based universalism and anticapitalism." What does he mean by this? Does this surprise you given the Cold War dynamics we have been discussing? How does this square with Gerstle on page 277 who argues that King showed a "reluctance to incorporate his critique of capitalism into his most public expositions of the American Dream"?
• Why did civil rights activists in the South have a long-standing philosophy of non-violence? Why did the events in Mississippi in 1963-4 lead to black leaders to not only question this strategy but also to questing the power of civic nationalism?
• How did President Lyndon Johnson go far beyond any president before him in his support of civil rights? Why did this ultimately not matter to African American conventioneers at the 1964 Democratic national Convention? Why did the controversy around the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party ultimately undermine Johnson's triumphing of his achievements?
• How did the convention fight lead to distrust by black activists thereafter and to the rise of black power activism? How does Gerstle define black power activism? Gerstle argues that the rise of black power leaders like Malcolm X show a shift in African American activism in the mid-sixties in the areas of civic nationalism, nonviolence and integration - why? Although black nationalists were relatively small in number, why did they still have enormous power?

2) Course reader document 23, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), "The Port Huron Statement," (1962)

• This document may seem strangely matched with Gerstle's chapter when you first read it, but its connection to the civil rights movement will be made in lecture. The Port Huron Statement represents the growing "student movement" of the early sixties that, at first, drew strength from the civil rights movement and would later come together with more radical black power politics in resisting the Vietnam War.
• How does this manifesto take strength from the civil rights movement and against the Cold War?
• What, according to the authors, is the problem with students on campuses across the country? How do university administrations contribute to these problems? How does this position relate to the wider world?
• How, despite these drawbacks, do the authors argue that the university can be a site of social change? How can a "New Left" organize itself in universities?

Wednesday Reading

1) Assata, Both Forwards, Trial Chronology, and Chapters 2, 4, and 6

You are reading the autobiography of Assata Shakur. Shakur is still alive today and living in exile in Cuba. As you can glean from the first Forward to the book, she was tried and convicted in the 1970s as an accomplice to the murder of a New Jersey state trooper. As you can see from the trial chronology at the beginning of the book, she was tried for many, many crimes, but this was the only crime she was convicted for. In the second Forward, Lennox Hinds addresses the problems surrounding her conviction. In 1979 she escaped prison and has been in Cuba since the mid-1980s.

Most of the chapters you will be reading from her memoir are the personal narrative of her life up to her imprisonment. Only in week 14 of class will we return to a few of the chapters which deal with her imprisonment. Shakur's is an autobiography of a black woman and her journey through the life and through the various African American political movements we have been reading about in Gerstle. Despite some early experiences with sixties civil rights movement, Shakur is most known for her commitment to various radical black power political movements in the late sixties and early seventies. Questions to consider as you read:

• In the Forwards, how do Angela Davis and Lennox Hinds attempt to situate Shakur's imprisonment and near constant arrests in the early seventies? How do they attempt to explain these occurrences?
• In Chapter 2, why does young Joanne Byron seem to have two minds regarding her grandparents? What does she appreciate and what does she not?
• Shakur spent much of her childhood living in both the South and the North. How did this influence her outlook? What argument does she make about the merits of integrated versus segregated schools? Why does she keep returning to the study of history in these schools?
• Much of Shakur's book will focus on the idea of dominant cultural standards and their contribution to racism. How do you see this in her narrative so far? What subtle ways are used to enforce the idea that "white = good and black = bad"? How does she argue such feelings are inculcated in children from a very early age? Why does she argue that she was often living a "double existence" (37)? What did TV have to do with this?
• In Chapter 2 and Chapter 4, Shakur mentions the dominant Cold War family model that Elaine May discusses. How did she think of this model as a child and how does she question it as an adult? How does she argue that it ultimately hurt African Americans?
• In Chapter 6 (at age 13, keep in mind), Shakur has her first work experiences. What does this teach her about the way racial and gender discrimination work together? How do her work experiences bring her to certain understandings about black and white men and the way they view black and white women? What are these understandings? Why does she argue that these understandings--and the sexual violence that can come with them--should be related back to slavery?
• Language is clearly important to Shakur. She will talk about her name change later in the narrative, but why do you think she did this? Why does she use "i" and not "I"? Why does she spell "America" with the alternative spelling "amerika"?

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This page contains a single entry by Jason Stahl published on November 9, 2012 3:00 PM.

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