2006.04.01: April 1, 2006: Headlines: COS - Liberia: University Education: Historiography: Civil Rights: African American Issues: History Cooperative: Review of Cynthia Griggs Fleming (RPCV Liberia). In the Shadow of Selma: The Continuing Struggle for Civil Rights in the Rural South

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Liberia: Peace Corps Liberia : Peace Corps Liberia: Newest Stories: 2007.02.21: February 21, 2007: Headlines: COS - Liberia: University Education: Historiography: Civil Rights: African American Issues: The Daily Beacon: Liberia RPCV Cynthia Fleming is an oral historian at the University of Tennessee : 2006.04.01: April 1, 2006: Headlines: COS - Liberia: University Education: Historiography: Civil Rights: African American Issues: History Cooperative: Review of Cynthia Griggs Fleming (RPCV Liberia). In the Shadow of Selma: The Continuing Struggle for Civil Rights in the Rural South

By Admin1 (admin) (adsl-70-240-139-254.dsl.okcyok.swbell.net - 70.240.139.254) on Saturday, April 07, 2007 - 9:39 am: Edit Post

Review of Cynthia Griggs Fleming (RPCV Liberia). In the Shadow of Selma: The Continuing Struggle for Civil Rights in the Rural South

Review of Cynthia Griggs Fleming (RPCV Liberia). In the Shadow of Selma: The Continuing Struggle for Civil Rights in the Rural South

Most students of the civil rights movement know about the pivotal role that the dramatic confrontations between demonstrators and police in Selma, Alabama, played in convincing the federal government to pass the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Less well known is the story of civil rights activism that occurred in neighboring rural counties of Alabama during this period. Cynthia Griggs Fleming recounts the experiences of the "forgotten" rural black people of Wilcox County whose participation in the movement, although not as highly publicized as the Selma protests, was equally important to its achievements.

Review of Cynthia Griggs Fleming (RPCV Liberia). In the Shadow of Selma: The Continuing Struggle for Civil Rights in the Rural South

Cynthia Griggs Fleming. In the Shadow of Selma: The Continuing Struggle for Civil Rights in the Rural South. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield. 2004. Pp. xix, 349. Cloth $72.00, paper $24.95.

Most students of the civil rights movement know about the pivotal role that the dramatic confrontations between demonstrators and police in Selma, Alabama, played in convincing the federal government to pass the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Less well known is the story of civil rights activism that occurred in neighboring rural counties of Alabama during this period. Cynthia Griggs Fleming recounts the experiences of the "forgotten" rural black people of Wilcox County whose participation in the movement, although not as highly publicized as the Selma protests, was equally important to its achievements. 1

Following other scholars who have located the origins of the civil rights struggle well before the 1950s and 1960s, Fleming discusses the history of slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow in Wilcox County before moving to an analysis of black activism at mid-century. Much of what she recounts in the first few chapters reinforces what historians of the South's plantation regions have found in other states. Sharecropping, economic dependence, inadequate school facilities, and violence severely circumscribed the lives of black people in the county and limited their ability to engage in open protest. Beneath the contented masks presented to white people, however, African Americans harbored strong feelings of resentment and participated in subtle acts of resistance. Traditions of support for education and of armed self-defense against white violence existed in Wilcox County as in other parts of the rural South. In the 1930s, federal intervention in the form of New Deal programs began to shake the social order. African Americans in the all-black community of Gee's Bend, in particular, benefited from a Farm Security Administration project that transformed them from tenant farmers into landowners. As in Mississippi and Louisiana, black landowners and veterans of World War II took the lead in establishing local civil rights groups in the 1940s and 1950s. Activists from national organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference assisted local people in their struggles for political participation, school integration, and improved public services in the 1960s. 2

Unlike most studies of the civil rights movement, Fleming extends the story into the decades after 1965. The last three chapters of the book offer a detailed account of the long struggle to wrest political control of the county from white supremacists (an effort that did not succeed until the 1980s) and the problems encountered by black elected officials who proved unable to effect significant change. Using material gained from interviews with local residents, Fleming reveals the strength of white opposition and the often vindictive measures taken by county officials to prevent black empowerment. Economic reprisals, arson, and violent attacks on activists continued well into the late twentieth century. Local authorities ended the ferry service that connected Gee's Bend to the town of Camden, forcing residents to drive ninety miles around a peninsula to reach the town instead of taking a quick trip across the Alabama River. In response to a court order to integrate the faculty as well as the student body of the county's schools, the superintendent randomly reassigned teachers without regard to their subjects of specialization. White flight from the public schools into private, all-white academies left segregation intact and ensured inadequate funding for the county schools that black children attended. When African Americans gained control over the school board in 1982, they were left without the money they needed to fix a decrepit educational system that many believed had been deliberately sabotaged. 3

As Fleming notes, the persistent poverty and failing schools that still characterize Wilcox County today are problems that are shared by other black communities throughout the nation. White residents, like their counterparts elsewhere, deny any responsibility for these conditions, attributing them instead to genetic or cultural traits that supposedly hinder black achievement. Yet Fleming's study powerfully demonstrates that white racism, not black deficiencies, is to blame. "As America moves into the new millennium," she concludes, "it is imperative that national policy makers begin to come to grips with the reality of these links between past exploitation that resulted in an incredible maldistribution of wealth and present degradation of the victims of this process" (p. 313). 4

Greta de Jong
University of Nevada,
Reno




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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Liberia; University Education; Historiography; Civil Rights; African American Issues

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