OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Laurie Green

Portrait of Laurie Green

Laurie Green is an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is also affiliated with the Center for Women's and Gender Studies, the African and African diaspora studies department, and the American studies department. She teaches courses on civil rights history from a comparative perspective, women's history, social and cultural history, and the history of gender, race, and national identity in twentieth-century America. Her first book, Battling the Plantation Mentality: Memphis and the Black Freedom Struggle (2007), won the Philip Taft Labor History Book Award and was a finalist for the OAH Liberty Legacy Foundation Award. Her current book project is entitled "The Discovery of Hunger in America: The Politics of Race, Poverty, and Malnutrition after the Fall of Jim Crow."

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

In this decade of 50th anniversaries of the Civil Rights Movement, the antipoverty movement is usually left out of the picture. But is it just an accident that President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the War on Poverty into law the very next month after signing the Civil Rights Act? Or that a large proportion of community antipoverty activists got their start in civil rights struggles? This lecture addresses the crucial, if largely obscured relationship between these two crucial dimensions of 1960s activism.
Beginning in 1967 with the "discovery of hunger" in the Mississippi Delta by a committee of U.S. senators, the shocking existence of hunger and malnutrition within the so-called "affluent society" became one of the key targets of antipoverty activism and legislation of the era. This conflict attracted more public attention than nearly any other aspect of the War on Poverty, yet it has been nearly invisible in historical accounts of this period. This lecture also highlights the significance of this conflict for shaping ideologies of race in the post-civil rights era. Other themes can include gender and the mass media.
Although most books on the Civil Rights Movement refer to it as a "freedom struggle," far fewer delve deeply into the meanings of freedom a century removed from the Emancipation Proclamation. In addition, most works focus nearly exclusively on the well-known campaigns against segregation and disfranchisement. In this talk, Green brings a new view to this history by discussing struggles of the quarter century after World War II as challenges to the "plantation mentality." This term, used by many local activists, encompasses not only these best known protest movements, but also those addressing such issues as labor, the censorship of popular culture, neighborhood problems, and police brutality.
Photographs of the Memphis sanitation strikers bearing their "I AM a Man" placards in 1968 now appear on book jackets, in films, and elsewhere, but where did that slogan come from? What did it mean to those who held the signs and to observers at the time? Ironically, not only the striking men but working-class women and more privileged African Americans also identified with this declaration of manhood by the poorest and most degraded Black laborers. This lecture explores these questions while also considering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s participation in the strike and his tragic assassination just days after these placards first appeared on the streets of Memphis.
It is not surprising that reporters, filmmakers, television producers, radio deejays and documentary photographers would all cover incidents of the Civil Rights Movement. What may be less known is that in many cases, the mass media became central to the history itself, whether in attracting and shaping public attention, or provoking controversy through its own productions. After World War II, censorship boards in the South banned movies with Blacks outside servant roles, while radio producers initiated Black-appeal programming. In the 1960s, documentary television producers and photographers found themselves either celebrated or under assault for their images of racial injustice and poverty. This lecture offers both an overview of these issues and key examples of controversy involving specific media formats.