THE CIVIL RIGHTS DOCUMENTATION
PROJECT AND THE RECONSTRUCTION OF
BLACK HISTORY

by THOMAS C. BATTLE

 

     [Delivered at "The Voices of the Civil Rights Movement, A National Working Conference on Civil Rights Movement Culture," January 30 – February 3, 1980, Session on Reconstructing History, The Smithsonian Institution Museum of History and Technology, February 2, 1980.]

     As we enter the 1980’s, it is only appropriate that we each reach back and carry with us the memories and experiences of the 1960’s. No matter how vivid they are to most of us, for many others they are dim or forgotten; for some, especially our youth, they are, sadly, unknown. Such is the way of time; such is the way of history.

     This National Working Conference on Civil Rights Movement Culture has been designed to "explore the Civil Rights Movement as a Black oral cultural phenomenon and the problems of researching, analyzing, and documenting that specific aspect of the Movement."1 Oral traditions have long been an important element in the transferring of Black culture and history from one generation to the next and have generally become a widely accepted method of scholarship. Today there are numerous projects dealing with specific individuals, particular events, broad social movements, popular trends and even individual and family history. For reconstructing the history of the Civil Rights Movement, this conference has brought together three important elements: songs reflective of the pathos and courage of the many brave Black and white Americans, and others, who risked their lives for justice and freedom from oppression; photographs which capture the spirit of the Movement and silently scream their messages in the focus of our mind’s eye;

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November 1999