We thank our colleague Guha Shankar of the Library’s American Folklife Center for the post from which this was excerpted. You can find the complete, original text published on the Folklife Today blog.
Freedom – the latest Story Map from the Library of Congress illustrates the mid-to-late twentieth-century movements led by African Americans to achieve justice and equality in all walks of life – the culmination of centuries of resistance to and struggle against oppression dating back to the arrival of enslaved African people in the New World. The contemporary period is commonly referred to in scholarship and popular understandings by the phrases “modern civil rights movement” or “civil rights era.” The Story Map’s title, by contrast, reflects the insistence of movement participants and scholars to foreground “freedom” as the foundational principle for the many actions for change that permanently altered American society in that time.
In one of the several recorded oral histories embedded in the Story Map, Ruby Sales, activist and educator, succinctly articulates the complex connections between the modern freedom movement, its historical antecedents, and its broader aims:
[It] was not only a movement for civil rights, but it was also a movement for human dignity. It was also a movement to abolish the violence and terrorism that whites executed against black people for more than a hundred years during segregation. …And I think that when you limit it to “civil rights,” you obscure, first of all, the horrors of segregation. You do not have to come to terms with the violence. You do not have to come to terms with the economic oppression. You do not have to come to terms with white people who wanted to turn black schools into plantations. You do not have to come to terms with the fact that no black girl was safe from rape in that society. No black girl was safe from rape in that society! You obscure all of that. And, at the same time, you obscure the long hard years of black struggle and the blood and the sacrifice that we have poured into that struggle.
Ruby Sales interview in Freedom Story Map.
Ruby Sales’s interview for the Civil Rights History Project (CRHP) along with several others from that collection largely populate the Story Map. The selection of materials in the Freedom Story Map can only aspire to be a representative sampling of the Library’s collections about these immensely complicated topics.
- Webcast on the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968.
- Webcast on the establishment of the radical, black-owned bookstore, Drum and Spear, and other community-centered cultural organizations that developed in the movement’s latter years.
- “In Her Own Words,” an exhibition featuring items from the Rosa Parks collection.
If you use this, or another, Story Map with your students, please let us know how they respond.