But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle

Glenn T. Eskew, Author
Glenn T. Eskew, Author University of North Carolina Press $59.95 (456p) ISBN 978-0-8078-2363-7
Paperback - 456 pages - 978-0-8078-4667-4
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The mass demonstrations in Birmingham in the spring of 1963 are often cited as the turning point in that city's struggle for racial desegregation and a watershed for the national civil rights movement. Georgetown State Univ. assistant professor of history Eskew agrees, but goes on to present a provocative revisionist study of civil rights in Birmingham that challenges a number of myths of the movement. With a historian's thoroughness and detailed notes, Eskew argues persuasively that Birmingham's black community was deeply splintered in the early 1960s and remains so today. Martin Luther King Jr. and the SCLC, brought in at the invitation of local activists led by Fred Shuttlesworth, were unable to provide the adrenaline boost needed to revive a flagging campaign and unite the various disparate black elements, according to Eskew. He contrasts the agendas of the local and national movements to highlight the disunity within, and to emphasize how King compromised the 1963 campaign. ""As a member of the traditional Negro leadership class, King accommodated empty biracial negotiations that granted him prestige."" He also argues that King's compromise actually transferred local authority to the elite black classes who opposed the sit-ins and demonstrations from the start, and as a result ""[t]he movement had gained access for a few while never challenging the structure of the system."" Not a broadside or expose, but a well-documented, objective analysis, this volume deserves a prominent place in any library of the civil rights movement. (Dec.)
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