Teaching Race and Revolution: Doing Justice to Women’s Roles in the Struggle for Civil Rights

PSC49_03By Rosalyn Cooperman (University of Mary Washington), Melina Patterson (University of Mary Washington) and Jess Rigelhaupt (University of Mary Washington)

This paper describes a freshman seminar, Race and Revolution, which examines the Civil Rights Movement with an emphasis on less well known activists who fought for racial justice.  We elevate the agency of African American women in the Civil Rights Movement and the concept of intersectionality, the overlapping of social identities such as gender and race, as central course themes.  In political science courses, the Civil Rights Movement is often taught from the perspective that emphasizes the actions of a select group of charismatic leaders – all male – as responsible for its success.  Women such as Rosa Parks are included in the conversation but are often treated as accidental heroes rather than leaders in their own right.  In reality, women were actively engaged in peer education and outreach in communities across the US, particularly in the South.  Women were capable and effective agents of grassroots political change.  We focus on women’s activism because merely repeating the dominant narrative would perpetuate the misunderstanding of the Civil Rights Movement.  This inclusive approach is generalizable to other courses and encourages students to critically evaluate the dominant narratives around which other important historical and political events are understood and taught.

Read more here.

PS: Political Science & Politics / Volume 49 / Issue 03 / July 2016, pp 558-561 / Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016