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 home >> civil rights history project >> civil rights program series >> program descriptions & bios

Many Paths to Freedom:
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
at the Long Civil Rights Movement

June – September 2015

A Public Program Series of the Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave., SE
Washington, DC

Program Descriptions & Biographies

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Photo of Ken BilbyKen Bilby
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Ken Bilby
Research Associate, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution;
Adjunct Professor, University of Colorado

Memorialization and Justice as an Ancestral Imperative: Two American Cases: The role of orally transmitted ancestral memory in ongoing struggles to overcome past injustices is proving critical in the struggle for human and civil rights and justice. In this context, the presentation reflects on two path-breaking cases of recent public memorialization: the Moiwana Massacre, which took place in the Republic of Suriname, South America, in 1986, and the Sand Creek Massacre, which occurred in the U.S. territory of Colorado in 1864. At Moiwana, an undetermined number of defenseless Ndyuka Maroon civilians [officially at least 39], mostly women and children, were killed or wounded by the Surinamese national army; at Sand Creek, more than 150 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, many of them women and children, were killed by Colorado volunteer regiments of the U.S. Cavalry. These traumas span time and space (a century and the North and South American continents), involve distinctive political relationships between nation-states and indigenous communities, and have received official recognition in their respective countries only in the last decade or so. While the stories of these two events are very different in many ways, they are also comparable in others. In both cases, orally transmitted memories and clashing cultural concepts play an important role in public representations of traumatic historical events, and these will be discussed in relation to the process of memorialization and the quest for justice. The presentation explores the important implications of both cases for public understandings of the inter-related concepts of indigeneity, human rights, and civil rights in the future.

Kenneth Bilby is Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution.  He has taught at Bard College, Regis University, and the University of Colorado.  An anthropologist, ethnomusicologist, and cultural historian, he has carried out fieldwork in various parts of the Caribbean and in West Africa.  His most recent book, Words of Our Mouth, Meditations of Our Heart: Originators of Jamaican Popular Music (2015), traces the birth and development of one of the world’s most influential contemporary musical traditions in the words of its original creators. His earlier book, True-Born Maroons (2005) — a study of Jamaican Maroon oral narratives and historical consciousness based on fieldwork spanning nearly three decades—won the American Historical Association’s Wesley-Logan Prize. Enacting Power: The Criminalization of Obeah in the Anglophone Caribbean, 1760-2011, which he co-authored with Jerome Handler (2012), examines the use of state power and colonial legislation over two and a half centuries to suppress African Caribbean forms of religiosity (and thus freedom of conscience) throughout the British West Indies.   He was was one of the first to interview survivors of the Moiwana Massacre in Suriname, South America on November 29, 1986.  In 2004, when some of these survivors finally succeeded in having their case against the state of Suriname heard before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, he served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs.  Some three decades after the massacre occurred, he continues to be haunted by the testimonies of these survivors, and wonders how to write about such events.

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Emilye Crosby
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Emilye Crosby
Professor of History, Coordinator of Black Studies, SUNY- Geneseo; Research Scholar & Interviewer, Civil Rights History Project, LC & NMAAHC

Teaching the Civil Rights Movement from the Bottom-Up Fifty Years After the Voting Rights Act: What most people know about the Civil Rights Movement comes through a top-down lens that focuses almost exclusively on visible leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and major legislation, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This approach misses much of what is important about the modern Civil Rights Movement, including grassroots organizing, the slow, dangerous work often initiated by the young people of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, founded by the college students who initiated the sit-in movement); the crucial role of “ordinary people” in insisting on their citizenship rights and pushing for a broader “freedom"; and the reality of armed self-defense that was often found in conjunction with voter registration in rural communities. Working with SNCC field secretaries, Black citizens increasingly challenged white supremacy (whether cloaked in a Klan hood or a sheriff’s badge), creating a groundswell that ultimately convinced the president, Congress, and a majority of the American people of the need for stronger voting rights protections.
This presentation will highlight bottom-up movement history and the ways it introduces students to a wider range of tactics and to a history that begins before the big marches and extends after the passage of landmark legislation. This angle demonstrates the importance and power of taking action, even when there is no immediate tangible success, and perhaps most importantly, it highlights the role of “unexpected actors.” In particular, women are almost entirely invisible in the top-down narrative, yet they dominated the movement numerically and were essential participants, strategists, organizers, and speakers. Bottom-up history expands and changes our understanding of the movement, including who and what was important. Fifty years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act the lessons from bottom-up history are more important than ever.

Emilye Crosby is Professor of History and coordinator of Black Studies at SUNY Geneseo. She is the author of A Little Taste of Freedom: The Black Freedom Struggle in Claiborne County, Mississippi (University of North Carolina Press, 205) and editor of Civil Rights History from the Ground Up (University of Georgia Press, 2011). Her article "White Privilege, Black Burden: Lost Opportunities and Deceptive Narratives in School Desegregation in Claiborne County, Mississippi," was published in the Oral History Review and awarded the Oral History Associationís 2013 article award. She is currently working on a book-length project, Anything I Was Big Enough To Do: Women and Gender in SNCC, which has received support from the James Weldon Johnson Institute at Emory University, the National Humanities Center, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Crosby has been recognized with many awards, including the Chancellorís Award for Teaching, the Chancellorís Award for Service, the Harter Mentoring Award, the Spencer Roemer Supported Professorship, and the Presidentís Award for Scholarship.

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Photo of Robin Hamilton Robin Hamilton
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Robin Hamilton
Filmmaker, Silver Spring, MD

This Little Light of Mine: The Legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer (2015) is a documentary short that explores the life of an impoverished sharecropper who became a powerhouse in the battle for the right to vote in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. Along the way, Mrs. Hamer survived a vicious beating in a county jail, attacks against her family, and death threats.  Central to this film is Mrs. Hamer's testimony during the Democratic National Convention in New Jersey in 1964, when she exposed the savage treatment African Americans in Mississippi faced when fighting for equality and the right to vote.  
The film incorporates archival photos and speeches of Mrs. Hamer, along with recorded interviews with her daughter, and others who knew and worked with here, including activists in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), a group Mrs. Hamer helped create and organize in 1964. The MFDP's challenge of the all-white, segregationist Mississippi Democratic Party's delegation as legal representatives of all Mississippi citizens at the Democratic convention that year had enormous consequences for voting rights in the US.  The dramatic actions of the MFDP and Mrs. Hamer’s eloquent moral appeal to the nation are credited with integrating future delegations and adding critical momentum to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  This Little Light of Mine: The Legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer not only reveals the life of a remarkable woman, but enforces the importance of civic engagement and gives proof that every voice matters. (Watch trailer on Youtube: This Little Light of Mine: The Legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer)

Robin Hamilton is a journalist and filmmaker whose work has taken her all over the country and around the world.  She was drawn to journalism while in college at Duke University, when she was writing her senior paper about the desegregation of Durham.  During that time, she learned of Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer in a course about women in the Civil Rights Movement, with no realization that she would one day make a film on Mrs. Hamer.  Post graduation, she pursed a career as a television journalist and worked for network affiliates around the country, including Florida, New York, Boston, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C.  While at the Tribune television affiliate in Washington, DC, Hamilton hosted several award-winning documentaries about black history in the nation's capital. She has an MA in broadcast journalism (New York University) and an MPA with a focus in policy and media (John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University). This is her directorial debut.

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Photo of Gary MayGary May
(photo: Bill Moyers & Company)

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Gary May
Professor Emeritus of History, University of Delaware

Selma, the Voting Rights Act, and Reel History: August 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark civil rights public law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and language, among other provisions. The events leading up to the passage of the law were highly charged and far-flung, with battles being waged among and between the presidency, the federal legislature, state governments, and critically, front line activists who battled segregationists in the streets of Southern cities to obtain basic rights as American citizens. Hollywood finally focused its attention on those historic events in the film, Selma (2014). The film purports to tell the background story of one of the most dramatic and critical episodes in that protracted battle, the Voting Rights Campaign in Alabama, which culminated in the famous march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery in the spring of 1965. Selma has received both praise and criticism for its depiction of those extraordinary times and its portrayal of prominent individuals, such as Dr. Martin Luther King and President Lyndon Johnson. Dr. May had several conversations with Ava DuVernay, Selma's director, as she worked on the film and Bending Toward Justice was distributed to members of the cast. Nevertheless, Dr. May finds himself among several scholars who think the film seriously flawed. His presentation explores the significance and continuing importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and discusses both how the story of the Voting Rights Act is framed in the Hollywood lens and what such re-presentations mean for teaching and learning about history.

Gary May is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Delaware who specializes in American political and diplomatic history from 1945 onward. His recently updated book, Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy (Duke University Press, 2014) examines the origins of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, its impact on American democracy, and makes a case for its preservation as an instrument to fight modern voter suppression movements. It was cited by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in her eloquent dissent in Shelby County v. Holder and reviewed favorably by former Justice John Paul Stevens in The New York Review of Books. Invited to appear on Bill Moyers and Company, Moyers told Professor May: "You have written a book that could change this country again, if every citizen read it." His previous books include China Scapegoat: The Diplomatic Ordeal of John Carter Vincent (1979), Un-American Activities: The Trials of William Remington (1994), The Informant: The FBI, the Ku Klux Klan and the Murder of Viola Liuzzo (2005), and John Tyler in the American Presidents Series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and Sean Wilentz (2008). May is a member of the Harvard-based Scholars Strategy Network, and winner of the Allan Nevins Prize of the Society of American Historians.

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Guha Shankar Guha Shankar
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Guha Shankar
Folklife Specialist, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

Guha Shankar is a Folklife Specialist in the American Folklife Center, at the Library of Congress.  At the Center, he serves as Director of the national Civil Rights History Project. His other responsibilities at the Library involve multi-media production, developing standards for digital media creation and preservation, developing public programs for educational outreach (symposia, lectures and events), and teaching cultural documentation methods for academic and community-based initiatives. His research interests and publications include issues and challenges in indigenous intangible cultural heritage, diasporic community formations in the Caribbean, ethnographic media, visual representation, and performance studies. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas, Austin in 2003, from the Department of Anthropology, with a concentration in Folklore and Public Culture and a B.A., from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 1982, with concentrations in Radio, Television, and Motion Pictures and Political Science.

 

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   May 29, 2015
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