A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History

Jeanne Theoharis. Beacon, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8070-7587-6
Theoharis (The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks), professor of political science at Brooklyn College, illuminates how the conventional wisdom about America’s civil rights story erases much of the movement’s radicalism and abounds in comforting clichés. She points out that by the mid-1980s the civil rights movement had become “a way for the nation to feel good about its progress.” Theoharis discusses how focusing on Southern desegregation ignores the physically and emotionally violent controversies that accompanied attempts at greater integration in supposedly liberal Northern cities such as Boston; similarly, depicting white Southerners as racist rednecks obscures the more genteel forms of discrimination practiced by people motivated by “indifference, fear, and personal comfort.” Rosa Parks is famous for having refused to give up her seat on a bus, but she and her fellow activists organized around much broader issues of social justice, many of which remain to be sufficiently addressed. Citizens and politicians of the 21st century revere Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. as heroes, yet many criticize Black Lives Matter activists as unworthy of their memory. Theoharis’s lucid and insightful study challenges that view, proffering a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the civil rights movement’s legacy, and showing how much remains to be done. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/18/2017
Release date: 01/30/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 280 pages - 978-0-8070-6348-4
MP3 CD - 978-1-5200-9551-6
Compact Disc - 978-1-5200-9550-9
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