Dr. Gregory Kaliss, History

The Long Civil Rights Movement

Course Syllabus: HIST 211

With the support of the Valley & Ridge workshop, I set out to incorporate issues of sustainability into a new history course I am offering, “The Long Civil Rights Movement.” My course reconsiders the Civil Rights Movement from broader thematic and temporal perspectives. As such, it starts earlier (the 1930s) and ends later (the present) than most traditional Civil Rights Movement history courses, and it incorporates perspectives often ignored in mainstream narratives. When I first decided to participate in Valley & Ridge, my thought was that I might insert a topic or two into my semester-long schedule; instead, after hearing from the various speakers, visiting local sites, and working with my fellow faculty members, I realized that issues of sustainability were central to my new course. I would not simply add in a few new topics; instead, I would fundamentally reconsider the central themes of the course.

To that end, I added two definitions of sustainable development to my syllabus’s introductory section, indicating that they would be guiding ideas to conceive of black activism throughout American history. By using sustainability as a central theme, we can explore how the long Civil Rights Movement spoke to desires for long-term economic stability and safety for the African American community. Campaigns against racial lynching, economic boycotts of discriminatory businesses, efforts to desegregate residential areas, and activism against environmental racism all spoke to sustainability’s central importance. To emphasize these connections, one of the two required texts for the course focuses on African Americans’ relationship to the environment. Other readings pay special attention to differing visions for black Americans’ economic future. One week will be spent on the environmental justice movement. And the major research paper will require students to explore the history of a local movement for racial justice through the lens of sustainability.