The blossoming of interest in black history since the 1950s was directly linked to the rise of Martin Luther King and the post-Second World War Civil Rights Movement. The advances achieved in desegregation and black voting rights since the 1950s suggested that this was a destination that King's children, and African Americans as a whole, would ultimately reach. In the inter-war years there were indications that some scholars were willing to examine the more depressing realities of black life, most notably in a series of academic studies on lynching. The book discusses the approach of Du Bois to the academic studies on black migrants from a sociological perspective. When African American history began to command more serious attention in the mid-1960s, the generation of historians who had had direct personal experience of the Great Depression and the Second World War began to reach the age of retirement. The book also examines the achievements of race leaders like Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, the Black Power Movement and Black Nationalism of the 1960s. In a 1996 study, political scientist Robert C. Scholarly debate on the African American experience from the 1890s through to the early 1920s gathered momentum with fresh studies on the spread of racial segregation and black migration to the cities. The rise of feminism and popularity of women's history prompted academic researchers to pay attention to the issue of gender in African American history. Stereotyped depictions of African Americans in US popular culture are also discussed.
rather than wrong or artificially imposed. Some historians, such as C. Vann Woodward, sought to examine the origins of racial segregation, the disfranchisement of black voters in the South and the careers of past blackcivilrights leaders like Booker T. Washington.
Many historians, such as Leon Litwack, August Meier, Mark Naison and Harvard Sitkoff, became active participants in civil rights protests. In their academic careers this commitment and idealism prompted unprecedented scholarly research into African American history. During the 1960s and 1970s most of
studies of the Movement that appeared in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. Moreover, early accounts concentrated predominantly on the life of one individual in particular, Martin Luther King, resulting in a ‘King-centric’ approach to the subject. 3 Admittedly, even in these first studies, no serious historian was naive enough to explain the rise of mass blackcivilrights protests solely with reference to King, but he invariably occupied a centre stage position, seeming to dominate the individuals and events around him through his determination and vision like a
. Reed concluded that it was this growing black political class that would provide the real solutions for the problems faced by African American communities.
By the mid-1990s the still all too obvious problems of ghetto poverty, race-related crime, and enduring racial tensions throughout the nation led scholars to adopt a gloomier prognosis. In a 1996 study, We Have No Leaders , political scientist Robert C. Smith concluded that since the 1970s the blackCivilRights Movement had ‘been almost wholly encapsulated into mainstream institutions; co-opted and
in the blackcivilrights struggle of these decades, scholars born after the Second World War were the first historians to experience the daily impact of television from their earliest childhood years. Unquantifiable though it may be, it is at least conceivable that this fact contributed to scholars of this generation becoming less condescending in their attitudes towards popular culture and more appreciative of its significance and meaning. Whatever the explanation, it is undeniable that in the final quarter of the twentieth century the academic study of popular
. When African American history began to command more serious attention in the mid-1960s, the generation of historians who, as young adults, had had direct personal experience of the Great Depression and the Second World War began to reach the age of retirement. The younger members of the profession who replaced them had had a different life perspective. Their formative years had been shaped by the Cold War, the conflict in Vietnam, and the rise of Martin Luther King and the blackCivilRights Movement within the United States. The labour historian Bruce Nelson thus
rather than more remote, and seemingly less relevant, events at the start of the century.
Moreover, the inspirational rhetoric of Dr King and the dramatic confrontations of the 1950s and 1960s encouraged historians to view the black freedom struggle in heroic, even romantic, terms. Any narrative history of blackcivilrights since the 1940s would inevitably include many instances of shocking violence and injustice but, in the racial climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s, it did appear to be a story that had a more or less happy ending. Although Martin Luther King
. It was thus easy for scholars in the 1960s and 1970s to conclude that the Black Power Movement was lacking in any true substance, meaning or accomplishments, and was therefore not worthy of serious study.
This negative perception was reinforced by the fact that more conservative civil rights leaders were often vehement in their denunciations of black radicals, blaming them, to some extent justifiably, for the declining levels of white support for blackcivilrights in the late 1960s and the growing internal divisions within the Civil Rights Movement. In a 1965
anti-Semitism and other kinds of oppression against minority groups’. Allan Spear, who published a similar study on black Chicago the following year, was born in 1937. He had personal experience of ‘dual marginality’, being both Jewish and gay, which gave him empathy for those ‘outside the mainstream’ and led him to become an active participant in the blackcivilrights struggle at university. 17
At the same time it was more than just personal or family background that attracted scholars to the study of black urban history. Growing awareness of the problems of the
This chapter focuses on four broad chronological periods of the study of black American history. The first era of scholarship in African American history lasted from 1882 down to 1909. The leading writers on black history in this period were African Americans. The second era of scholarship lasted from 1909 through to the mid-1930s. W. E. B. Du Bois was one of the leading figures of this period. The third era of African American scholarship lasted from the mid-1930s through to the end of the 1960s. In the late 1930s and early 1940s a new generation of black historians such as Benjamin Quarles and John Hope Franklin, began to take over academic leadership in African American history. The fourth era of scholarship in African American history dates from around 1970. The post-war Civil Rights Movement continued to have a profound influence on the development of African American historiography.