Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement: New Directions in Civil Rights Pedagogy

Endorsed by the OAH Committee on Teaching

Friday, April 3, 2020, 8:00 AM - 9:30 AM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: African American; Public History and Memory; Teaching and Pedagogy


The civil rights movement transformed America. Its achievements as well as its failures provide tremendous insight into the promise, practice, and unrealized potential of democracy in America. Unfortunately, the version of the movement that is typically taught frames the struggle incorrectly. This “master narrative” overemphasizes marches, nonviolence, and federal legislation, and de-emphasizes grassroots organizing, armed self-defense, and community control. This session will examine how to teach civil rights history accurately and effectively by interrogating the “master narrative” and suggesting new approaches and practices for civil rights instruction.

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Ohio State University
HASAN KWAME JEFFRIES is associate professor of History at The Ohio State University where he teaches courses on the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement. He earned a BA in history from Morehouse College in 1994 and a PhD in American history with a specialization in African American history from Duke University in 2002. He is the author of Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt (NYU Press, 2009). He is also the editor of Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement (University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming), a collection of essays by leading civil rights scholars and teachers on how to teach the Civil Rights Movement. Professor Jeffries has worked on several public history projects including the five-year, $25 million renovation of the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. He also hosts the podcast Teaching Hard History: American Slavery for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Commentator: Nicole Burrowes, University of Texas at Austin
Nicole A. Burrowes is an Assistant Professor in the African and African Diaspora Studies Department with affiliations in History and Latin American Studies at the University of Texas, Austin. Her research and teaching interests include comparative histories of racialization and colonialism, social justice movements, Black transnationalism and the politics of solidarity. For a decade, Nicole served as Assistant Director for the Schomburg-Mellon Summer Humanities Institute in Harlem mentoring underrepresented students to pursue graduate studies related to the African Diaspora. Beyond academia, Nicole draws on an extensive portfolio of experience in community organizing and documentary film.

Panelist: Emilye Crosby, State University of New York at Geneseo
Emilye Crosby is Professor of History in the Department of History at SUNY Geneseo. She earned her Ph.D. in history from Indiana University in 1995. She is the editor of Civil Rights History from the Ground Up: Local Struggles, a National Movement (UGA, 2011) and the author of A Little Taste of Freedom: The Black Freedom Struggle in Claiborne County, Mississippi (UNC, 2005). She is the winner of SUNY Geneseo’s Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching (2002).

Panelist: Charles L. Hughes, Rhodes College
Charles L. Hughes is Director of the Memphis Center at Rhodes College. He received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2012. He is the author of Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South (UNC 2015). His course offerings include Beale Street: The Past, Present and Future; Elvis Presley and America; and The Music of the American South.

Panelist: LaTaSha B. Levy, University of Washington
La TaSha Levy is a Black Studies scholar whose research interests include post-WWII African American political history, social movements, Black intellectual traditions, and intersectional racial discourse. She is completing a book that explores the dramatic shift in Black Republican politics from liberal to conservative during a period of heightened Black political consciousness and a burgeoning conservative movement in the U.S., from the late 1960s through the 1980s. Her research examines the diverse and conflicted strategies among Black Republicans to advance a Black empowerment agenda, underscoring the limitations of U.S. democracy and the two-party system. She teaches a range of African American Studies courses that span U.S. history and contemporary politics.

Panelist: Charles Wesley McKinney Jr., Rhodes College
Charles McKinney is Associate Professor of History in the Department of History and the Director of the Africana Studies Program at Rhodes College. He earned his Ph.D. in history from Duke University in 2002. He is the author of Greater Freedom The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina (UPA, 2010). He courses include The Civil Rights Movement, Civil Rights in Memphis, and African-American Activism.