In the famous Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case of 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools violated the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. This decision marked a critical turning point in the American judicial system, which, since the Jim Crow Laws of the 1880s, had previously upheld the practice of segregation. The outcome of the Supreme Court case encouraged a growing challenge to segregation on all levels, thus creating a momentum that would, within a decade, lead to the Civil Rights and Voting Acts that definitively guaranteed African Americans equal protection under the law. The Civil Rights Movement itself, from 1954 to 1968, marked a climactic era in the struggle for political equal rights for African Americans. After World War II, the economic boom and America's advocacy of individual self-determination on the international scene made segregation in the United States more obsolete and even more unjustifiable.
Through a combination of charismatic leadership and grass-root support, the period saw the revocation of the segregationist laws that had pervaded American society for two hundred years. However, this famous era marks neither the beginning nor the end of the African-American fight for equality, and this book tells, through photographs, the story of the struggle in its widest scope for the first time. From the bonds of slavery to Civil Rights, from the Deep South to the northern metropolis, from the Harlem Renaissance to the riots in South Central L.A., this book reveals the African-American struggle for equality from the first photographic records in the nineteenth century all the way to the present. The photographs reveal the journey in all its complexity and nuance. They cover the struggle in its many different aspects: political, social, economic, and cultural, showing the incredible courage and determination of people fighting for a common goal, as well as the internal conflicts and contradictions. It is a story that has sometimes been in the front lights, but more often in the shadows, and which has changed American society and touched the lives of millions.
The selection of photographs presents milestone events, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., through famous as well as rarely-seen images; it shows iconic figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X in an unusual light; but it also includes a wide range of images of the everyday struggle and lives of the people, from the rural Deep South to the urban agglomerations of Chicago and Detroit, and to the very heart of modern African-American culture, Harlem. Renowned experts on the subject of African-American history Manning Marable and Leith Mullings give this book and its still highly controversial subject matter both thoughtful scholarship and unparalleled authority.
Manning Marable is the Founding Director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University in New York City and the author of more than 15 books on the subject, including the highly acclaimed Black Leadership (1998).
Leith Mullings is Presidential Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and the author of several books on race, class and gender in African American communities.
Sophie Spencer-Wood is a picture editor and researcher. She has worked with, among others, Colin Jacobson on Reportage magazine and been an assistant to Bruce Bernard on Phaidon's award-winning book, Century. Her other books include Gandhi and Family, both also published by Phaidon.