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ENGL 3880S: The Modern Civil Rights Movement in Literature and Culture

ENGL 3880S: The Modern Civil Rights Movement in Literature and Culture

James Baldwin (1924-87), one of America's most well-known civil rights activists, has inspired his fellow citizens from author Toni Morrison to actor Marlon Brando.  Yet Baldwin was excluded from the speakers' list of the August 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, because the organizers were not sure that he would stay on message.  Critical thinking about citizenship was at the center of his writing, and this elicited from him a candor and willingness to engage in difficult dialogues that was not always welcomed by others.  His words, additionally, have proved prophetic. Fifty-two years ago, in his October 1965 "A Talk to Teachers," for example, Baldwin wrote that “The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”  

This new class focuses on such literature, as well as films, music, and photographs, created during the modern Civil Rights Movement and examining American society, from the military desegregation campaigns of World War Two through the Black Arts Movement, 1968-75. We will discuss contemporary memoirs, novels, essays, poems, documentary films, freedom songs, and graphic and text memoirs about this era.  This class includes an experiential learning component in which students will work in the archives of the Athens-Clarke County Library to help preserve and contextualize oral histories and videos by and about Athens' African American communities and community organizations during the 1960s and 1970s.  Other specific features of this class will include a mini film festival on the civil rights documentaries of Stanley Nelson (b. 1955); and discussions with local and national guests who were active in desegregation actions and court cases, and who are presently involved in modern civil rights issues such as addressing police violence and educational disparities.   Join us for this fascinating analysis of how Americans then and now define the stakes of civil rights and articulate the meanings of civil rights engagement.