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Women and the Civil Rights Movement

Learn about women’s roles in the U.S. civil rights struggles of the 1890s to the 1990s.

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Course at a Glance

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About the Course

This course examines the U.S. civil rights movement from the vantage point of women, considering both women’s involvement in the legal campaigns and political protests and the impact of civil rights struggles on women’s status and identity.  Taking a “long civil rights movement” perspective, we begin in the late nineteenth century and consider events, organizations, and personalities through the twentieth century.

Throughout we will consider issues which have preoccupied historians, social movement theorists, and historians alike:  developing and sustaining political commitment, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of various forms of political organization, maximizing influence and securing long-range objectives.  We will also examine competing definitions of leadership; class, race, and gender dynamics within the movement; and the cultural dynamics of political organizing and social change. 

In the process, we consider not only how the movement altered the status of African Americans in the U.S. but the legacy of these struggles as they changed understandings of citizenship and rights more broadly.   Our concern throughout the course will be to not only understand the historical narrative but also to see how historians work to make sense of the past.

Recommended Background

There is no prerequisite but the course will be conducted at the level expected of advanced undergraduates. 

Suggested Readings

The course includes significant reading of primary historical documents of the civil rights movement and historians’ analyses.

Course Format

Each week I will offer a series of video discussions, including an analytical overview of the week’s topics and themes and shorter case studies of specific activists, organizations, events.  I will also offer video discussions of the major readings.  There will be weekly quizzes and throughout the course students will be asked to write short essays offering insights into the reading.  After a student has submitted an essay, the student will be given access to the essays written by several fellow students and be asked to read and comment on those.  The course will include an optional online forum where students may raise questions about the historical material and engage the contemporary implications of our discussions of citizenship, rights, and political organizing.  The forum will be monitored and in some cases I will reply in the forum or post a supplementary video clip for the class based on issues raised in the forum.