Event Reflection: The Civil Rights Era Beyond Textbooks
Updated: Jan 28
Written by Annabelle Tran, SREA intern and student from Bentley University
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again” – Maya Angelou
Unfortunately, sometimes in history only part of the story is told. And, as many of us have seen, history can sometimes come across like a bad game of telephone. Things are lost in translation or simply removed entirely. This is especially true for the Civil Rights Era. Although we have heard of significant players in the movements, and those recognitions are more than well deserved, still others are simply lost through time. Whether it was due to an issue of intersecting identities or simple ignorance, there are more aspects to these events than we can ever imagine. Therefore, “The Civil Rights Era Beyond Textbooks: A Talk by Kiana Pierre-Louis” worked to uncover what had been ignored or lost by American history.
Beyond the Textbooks
To reflect upon the event, Kiana Pierre-Louis Esq. discussed key players in the Civil Rights Movement throughout American history. Attendees received a thorough but concise overview of the historical context of the Civil War through the civil rights era, then Pierre-Louis continued into the main idea of the session. Incredible individuals such as Claudette Colvin, Charles Hamilton Houston, Bayard Rustin, and A. Phillip Randolph, were all discussed and celebrated. Organizations like Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were also explored.
Regrettably, despite their great importance, many of these topics are ignored in the public education system. If you were unable to attend, a recording of the event is included below and will be available through the end of March. If you are interested in learning more, we have attached some great resources for you to explore! I would highly encourage you to do so.
Intersections of Identity
Another one of the main takeaways from the event for me personally was the talk of the intersection of identities for multifaceted individuals. To expand, everyone is multifaceted. However, when it comes to social justice, other parts of a person’s identity may be ignored. Unfortunately, if you have more than one marginalized identity, whatever those identities may be, you almost have to pick and choose which one to fight for first. This was especially evident in the discussion of Bayard Rustin. Although he was a key player in Martin Luther King Jr.’s work, he was placed in the background due to his past ties to the communist party and his identity as an openly gay man. Another instance of this was Claudette Colvin, who refused to move to the back of the bus well before Rosa Parks. However, due to her status as a lower-class individual, as well as her teen pregnancy and darker skin, she was not chosen as the point person. Although it is sad to know that remarkable individuals are sometimes not chosen due to how others may perceive them, it was something that truly opened my eyes in the fight for social equity.
Rallying Together and the Importance of Organization
Another key point that became evident throughout the session was the incredible attention to detail and care that went into planning these movements. The level of organization and dedication was truly extraordinary. Especially when put into context, you realize that wi-fi and cell phones were not even around at the time. However, despite that barrier, there was a huge sense of connectedness and togetherness. Furthermore, another key point is that everyone thinks they have to be excellent to make a difference. However, you don’t have to be the next Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr. You just simply have to know what you bring to the table… and then simply bring it to the table.
PBS Documentaries - (Access may require PBS Passport membership, a paid streaming service, or a rental fee. A link with free access or related resources have been given if available.)
Eyes on the Prize (some episodes are available here without PBS Passport)
Netflix Documentaries - (Requires Netflix paid streaming service):
13th (also available here: http://www.avaduvernay.com/13th for free)
I Am Not Your Negro
Amend: The Fight For America
More Information About Organizations:
Books (Young Adult nonfiction for middle schoolers, high schoolers, and adults):
This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce
The March Series by John Lewis
Reaching for the Moon by Katherine Johnson