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The civil rights movement was among the most important historical developments of the twentieth century and one of the most remarkable mass movements in American history. Not only did it decisively change the legal and political status of African Americans, but it prefigured as well the moral premises and methods of struggle for other historically oppressed groups seeking equal standing in American society. And, yet, despite a vague, sometimes begrudging recognition of its immense import, more often than not the movement has been misrepresented and misunderstood. For the general public, a singular moment, frozen in time at the Lincoln Memorial, sums up much of what Americans know about that remarkable decade of struggle.
In The Movement: The African American Struggle for Civil Rights (Oxford UP, 2021), Thomas C. Holt provides an informed and nuanced understanding of the origins, character, and objectives of the mid-twentieth-century freedom struggle, privileging the aspirations and initiatives of the ordinary, grassroots people who made it. Holt conveys a sense of these developments as a social movement, one that shaped its participants even as they shaped it. He emphasizes the conditions of possibility that enabled the heroic initiatives of the common folk over those of their more celebrated leaders. This groundbreaking book reinserts the critical concept of "movement" back into our image and understanding of the civil rights movement.
Marshall Poe is the editor of the New Books Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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