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The Evolution of Freedom and Civil Rights in America

“The Evolution of Freedom and Civil Rights in America” (20 pts.)  See Canvas for due date.

 This writing assignment will require you to think critically by evaluating primary sources in order to answer questions about a historical development from our course (the changing definition of “freedom” in the U.S.)  With this assignment, you will use any of the previously assigned Primary Source/Sourcebook (Voices of Freedom) readings we have read that have to do with the fight for Civil Rights for Black Americans- specifically from the Post- WW II era.  (Part 1)  You will also read, analyze and utilize 2 readings from author and civil rights activist, James Baldwin:  Notes of a Native Son, 1955 AND The Fire Next Time, 1963, excerpt.  (Part 2- These are provided for you on Canvas.)



One of the main themes for this course has been the central role of race in shaping new definitions of “Freedom” in the U.S. and efforts to expand civil rights, from Reconstruction in the 1870s to the Black Power movement in the 1970s. To this day, the United States continues to struggle with the legacies of slavery and the best path toward racial equality, perhaps most evident in the current controversies and protests surrounding what has become known as the “Black Lives Matter” movement. 




Part 1:  The civil rights movement gained momentum in the 1950s and 1960’s, nearly a century after the Civil War and Reconstruction.   Explain why the movement finally took off in this era. What caused it to do so?  (For this part you may use any of the Primary Source Readings from the Voices of Freedom sourcebook to support your points.  Please use at least 2 that you were assigned from that book this semester.)

Part 2:  How did civil rights activists challenge the government and American citizens?  In answering this, consider author and civil rights activist, James Baldwin’s statement (in the introduction of Chapter 25 in the textbook) about the civil rights movement challenging the United States to rethink “what it really means by freedom.”  How is this reflected in his writings, in particular Notes of a Native Son (1955) and The Fire Next Time (1963)?  Analyze these writings and tie them to specific events in the history of this country.  How do Baldwin’s ideas help to point out the problems with American definitions of “Freedom?”

James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son, 1955

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, 1963, excerpt

Conclusion:  What impact has the Civil Rights movement had on the American idea of “Freedom” today?  How would you define and describe the development of race relations in the United States? Is this a story of consistent progress? If so, how did that progress build? If not, how do you understand the broader, historical trends in race relations and the reasons for the ups and downs in the struggle for racial equality? 


In general, the final essay should be more or less equally divided between the first part and the second part.  You need to substantiate and support your arguments with evidence drawn from the class and from the Primary Sources (from Sourcebook and those I provided from Baldwin.)  Complete essay answers will include an introductory paragraph with a clear thesis statement. They will also include a conclusion, which summarizes the previous pages and provides some context for why this information might be of broader importance or interest. In between the introduction and the conclusion students should express their ideas and explanations in organized paragraphs with clear topic sentences.

HINTS:  Please be sure to provide examples with adequate credit given to the author.  When you quote or paraphrase something please use either MLA citations (see for reference) or parenthetical citations to provide attribution.  Parenthetical citation should include the author’s name and a page number (if there is one) for where you found the information. If you were citing the textbook, it would look like this: (Foner, Give Me Liberty, p. 271). If you are citing one of the Sourcebook readings, it would look like this: (Foner, Voices of Freedom, #169: MLK Jr., “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” pp. 268-271). If you are referencing one of my lecture presentations, please just use my name and then give the presentation title.  There is no need to provide a time stamp for where you got the information from within the presentation. This is what that would look like: (Matthews, Week 10, Lesson 1).  There is no need for a works cited page.



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