The national commemoration of Martin Luther King's birthday is looming, along with the month of February, which is 'black history month," (about which Spike Lee has been attributed as observing something like, "You know they'd give us the coldest month," but if that is true or not I don't know.)
Reading about this new book, published, of course, at this time of the calendar, brings the sober realization that in the U.S. the struggle for civil rights has been going on so long that it can now be studied as an historical movement of 'longue durée" ("a term used by the French Annales School of historical writing to designate their approach to the study of history"):
Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950 by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore.
[ Forgotten Revolutionaries
How Southern communists, socialists and expatriates paved the way for civil rights.
Willful amnesia has been a chronic problem in American historical thought. Many of us, it seems, have preferred a simplified and sanitized version of national history, one that smooths out the rough edges that might complicate comforting visions of harmony and progress. This mythic approach to the past was especially popular during the two decades following World War II, when patterns of violence, extremism and political discord were either ignored or discounted. Politics, in the two-party context of American exceptionalism, had been reduced to a mere quibbling over details. In this fulsome view of the great American success story, there was no room for radical dissent, no place for systemic failure.
Recent decades, of course, have witnessed a withering assault on this attitude by an increasingly diverse cadre of professional historians, many of whom have shown a special interest in the evolution of social and political movements and the history of marginalized groups such as African Americans, women and the poor. Shining a light on the darkest recesses of U.S. history, revisionist scholars have challenged the presumptions of American exceptionalism. In the process, they have fostered a greater appreciation for the power of dissent and disorder, uncovering the radical roots of everything from the American Revolution and abolitionism to populism and organized labor. In the burgeoning field of civil rights studies, such an appreciation has been an important undercurrent for at least a decade. But with the publication of Glenda Gilmore's remarkable new book, Defying Dixie, the left-wing origins of the civil rights movement have risen to the surface of historical debate.
Gilmore, a North Carolina native and Yale history professor, transformed our understanding of the Southern progressive movement with her first book, Gender and Jim Crow, published in 1996. Defying Dixie promises to do the same for the emerging freedom struggle of the post-World War I era. The early stages of what Jacquelyn Dowd Hall has aptly labeled "the long Civil Rights Movement" have attracted considerable scholarly attention in recent years, so much so that most historians no longer feel comfortable with accounts of the movement that begin in the mid-1950s with the Brown decision or the Montgomery bus boycott. But even the most enlightened civil rights historians will find new material and much to ponder in Gilmore's richly textured study of the Southern communists, socialists and expatriates who challenged Jim Crow during the three decades following the Bolshevik Revolution. ]
My o my, isn't Senator Obama a long duration away from all this!
But -- and this is a most significant qualifier -- how much further away than this is Hillary Clinton's latest denial scramble re Martin Luther King and his effect upon the Civil Rights Movement. Just like her scramble that insists she thought she was voting for something other than the specifically titled, "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002." Feh.