Archives Unbound and African-American History and Life

The past few years have seen many anniversaries related to African American history and the Civil Rights Movement – 2013, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” stamped the Civil Rights Movement firmly in the minds of Americans and the worldwide community; 2014, the anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction; and, this year is the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which provided additional safeguards for African Americans to exercise their right to the ballot box.

But how did the Movement get to these points in time? How did this legislation translate at the local level? Beyond the prominent leaders and politicians, who were the men and women, black and white, Hispanic and Native American, young and old that joined the Civil Rights Movement?

These individuals put themselves in the “line of fire” daily from anti-civil rights elements. Some were killed or injured, but when one went down, many more would step forward and continue the effort. Through their selfless acts they provided the impetus for “the Dream,” the legislation, and the eventual election of an African-American president.

Archives Unbound will take you up the steps of the bus heading to Montgomery or Jackson through the words of the riders, to the March on Washington through the recollections of many of the participants, to the FBI investigations of the Mississippi Klan activities during Freedom Summer.

Archives Unbound also takes you into the minds and activities of the more radical elements that were fighting for civil rights –  supported by the Communist Party or Maoist ideologies, espousing the doctrine of armed self-defense, or debating the creation of an African American republic in the South. Many of these groups and individuals demanded reparations and full and immediate civil rights at the point of a gun. Black Power thrived in many of the black ghettos of the North, like Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. Watts in Los Angeles was a powder keg that was ignited in the summer of 1965, possibly fueled by the rhetoric of black nationalist groups that would coalesce into the Black Panthers a year later.

All of these perspectives can be found in the documents that comprise the various African-American Life and History collections in Archives Unbound. These Archives Unbound collections provide unique support to learning through the use of primary sources. These collections fortify the more general historical resources, by providing an opportunity for you to “dig into the past,” discover the background of the ideas and debates that have defined the Civil Rights Movement. These collections provide an opportunity for critical thinking through an examination of the historical problems facing America today.

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