A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis tells the truth about all the work needed to made the civil rights movement “inevitable.” Her main premise is having the struggle transformed into stories and fables that minimize the processes and underplay the costs to individuals and communities. Using those fables (which include giving Martin Luther King, Jr. his own national holiday), the opposition positions themselves to argue that no further action is needed. Historical awareness, however, is not action.
The biggest myth, in my opinion, is the passive and meek portrayal of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King as “accidental” matriarchs. The biggest truth is that many people stood back because they saw no material advantage and valued their personal comfort (which sounds like Hitler’s Germany to me).
She explains the “lost our way” fable used to criticize black power and downplay the continuing struggle. The movement went astray by abandoning the ideal of assimilation and shared power in favor of anger and separatism (black power). This is currently used to diminish the message of BLACK LIVES MATTER, turning it into “All Lives Matter.” Black lives matter MORE because they are the ones being targeted, criminalized and killed.
She also outlines the ten important elements of successful movements. (This is my own paraphrase of those elements.)
- Perseverance and Relentlessness (Personal Courage and Comittment)
- Anger and Outrage (Leads to Action)
- Action (Leads to Possibility)
- Power of Collective Organizing
- Power of Disruption
- Sacrifice (Long-term Consequences)
- Community and Mentoring
- Importance of Learning and Sharing
- Coping with Blocking Tactics (Both Blatant and Subtle)
- Using Multiple Resistance Strategies