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Civil Rights “Assembling” and Black Power “Speaking”: The Black Freedom Struggle and the United States Constitution in the Post-Brown Era

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Abstract:

Huddled masses of black bodies sitting on courthouse steps; hundreds of African Americans marching and picketing up and down busy streets; dozens of blacks asking for basic services at convenience stores and lunch-counters; a handful of blacks distributing pamphlets and leaflets during demonstrations; individual blacks attempting to use bathroom facilities; and black orators and proselytizers making speeches of one kind or another. What do these “acts” of assembling and speaking have to do with the First Amendment to the Constitution? During the 1960s, these acts of assembling and speaking were part of a larger black freedom struggle that used the courts and the first amendment to achieve social progress. I argue that though the Fourteenth Amendment shaped civil rights activity from its passage in 1868 to the 1960s, the modern black freedom struggle, especially the Civil Rights and Black Power phase was essentially a First Amendment movement in the areas of speech and expression. To say that Civil Rights and Black Power was a First Amendment movement is to know how black citizens used their “bodies” as vehicles of communication as well as the public space, or what I call First Amendment geographies of protest, to break the back of Jim Crow. I give the First Amendment primacy in examining the Civil Rights and Black Power movement by making two major observations, first, the Courts via the First Amendment left the black freedom struggle a mixed bag of results: judicial successes and triumphs unavailable to blacks through the legislative process on the one hand (the “judicialization” of civil rights), and on the other, the simultaneous attempt by the state via the courts to limit the prerogatives of the movement by arresting, prosecuting, and upholding lower court convictions of black activists and ordinary citizens. My second major observation is that the historiography of Civil Rights and Black Power has failed to recognize the movement’s contribution to the evolution of the U.S. Constitution. Instead of demonstrating how civil rights and black power raised the legal bar in our understanding of the complexities of the First Amendment, scholars, historians, theorists, have instead underscored the contribution to the First Amendment in cases involving hate speech and obscenity. Though there is a scholarly tradition of civil liberties historiography, few works in the area fail to provide even a nod to the Civil Rights and Black Power contribution to the First Amendment.
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Association:
Name: 95th Annual Convention
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http://www.asalh.org


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p435734_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Mayes, Keith. "Civil Rights “Assembling” and Black Power “Speaking”: The Black Freedom Struggle and the United States Constitution in the Post-Brown Era" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 95th Annual Convention, Raleigh Convention Center, Raleigh, North Carolina, Sep 29, 2010 <Not Available>. 2014-11-27 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p435734_index.html>

APA Citation:

Mayes, K. , 2010-09-29 "Civil Rights “Assembling” and Black Power “Speaking”: The Black Freedom Struggle and the United States Constitution in the Post-Brown Era" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 95th Annual Convention, Raleigh Convention Center, Raleigh, North Carolina <Not Available>. 2014-11-27 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p435734_index.html

Publication Type: Individual Paper
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Huddled masses of black bodies sitting on courthouse steps; hundreds of African Americans marching and picketing up and down busy streets; dozens of blacks asking for basic services at convenience stores and lunch-counters; a handful of blacks distributing pamphlets and leaflets during demonstrations; individual blacks attempting to use bathroom facilities; and black orators and proselytizers making speeches of one kind or another. What do these “acts” of assembling and speaking have to do with the First Amendment to the Constitution? During the 1960s, these acts of assembling and speaking were part of a larger black freedom struggle that used the courts and the first amendment to achieve social progress. I argue that though the Fourteenth Amendment shaped civil rights activity from its passage in 1868 to the 1960s, the modern black freedom struggle, especially the Civil Rights and Black Power phase was essentially a First Amendment movement in the areas of speech and expression. To say that Civil Rights and Black Power was a First Amendment movement is to know how black citizens used their “bodies” as vehicles of communication as well as the public space, or what I call First Amendment geographies of protest, to break the back of Jim Crow. I give the First Amendment primacy in examining the Civil Rights and Black Power movement by making two major observations, first, the Courts via the First Amendment left the black freedom struggle a mixed bag of results: judicial successes and triumphs unavailable to blacks through the legislative process on the one hand (the “judicialization” of civil rights), and on the other, the simultaneous attempt by the state via the courts to limit the prerogatives of the movement by arresting, prosecuting, and upholding lower court convictions of black activists and ordinary citizens. My second major observation is that the historiography of Civil Rights and Black Power has failed to recognize the movement’s contribution to the evolution of the U.S. Constitution. Instead of demonstrating how civil rights and black power raised the legal bar in our understanding of the complexities of the First Amendment, scholars, historians, theorists, have instead underscored the contribution to the First Amendment in cases involving hate speech and obscenity. Though there is a scholarly tradition of civil liberties historiography, few works in the area fail to provide even a nod to the Civil Rights and Black Power contribution to the First Amendment.


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