In this essay I will provide some examples of the multiple struggles of the New York civil rights movement, but my primary focus will be to explain why they matter, and to illustrate how the northern movement alters the larger portrait of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Revising the chronology and geography of the Civil Rights Movement has many implications.
To be sure, scholars have documented northern segregation since the antebellum period, but writing on the civil rights movement still tends to frame the story of segregation in an exclusively southern context.
The agenda of the New York civil rights movement, or as activists called it, "the struggle for Negro Rights," was more expansive than the agenda of the southern civil rights movement.
This is an extremely important point to appreciate, since it is commonly asserted that "the civil rights movement did not address economic issues." But the northern civil rights movement certainly did--although this does not mean that such goals were realized.
One of the major consequences of the omission of the northern civil rights movement from the narrative of the civil rights movement is that labor has been neglected.
One of Branch's greatest accomplishments and contributions has been to master the complicated characters of the Civil Rights movement, not just King, Johnson, and Carmichael, but lesser figures, too, the liberal New York lawyer Stanley Levison, the FBI man Deke Deloach.
Here is Branch, for instance, summing up the difference between the two presidents King had to deal with: "Whereas Kennedy had charmed King while keeping him at a safe distance, harping in private on the political dangers of alleged subversives in the civil rights movement, Johnson in the White House was intensely personal but unpredictable--treating King variously to a Texas bear hug of shared dreams or a towering, wounded snit." These are the kinds of distinctions on which history, in delicate moments, can turn.
When the black civil rights movement
began, notes the Washington libertarian, "all blacks were visible, and they all in some way represented their race.