Winning Proposal to the Hanes Walton, Jr. Endowment: 2014 Competition

Project Title: Boston’s Black-Brown Freedom Struggle: Racial Politics and Coalition-Building, 1965-1985

Graduate Students: Tatiana M. F. Cruz and Matthew Countryman

Project Description

The dominant narrative of the civil rights movement has neglected crucial dimensions of postwar struggles for black freedom and equality. However, through frameworks such as Jacquelyn Dowd Hall’s “long civil rights movement,” many historians have explored where this master narrative falls short. Some have challenged the focus on charismatic male leadership and others have sought to expand the periodization and regional scope of the movement. In my research I build off this recent scholarship, highlighting the importance of local movements particularly in the urban north and the role of women and “everyday people” in struggles for freedom and equality.

Yet despite considerable developments in the field, Boston is rarely considered a significant place in the history of the civil rights movement. The limited scholarship on Boston’s racial history centers on the “busing crisis” of the 1970s and white working-class “backlash” to court-mandated desegregation of public schools. This work often portrays white Bostonians as northern liberals in a movement to protect “neighborhood schools,” and not as devout segregationists. It downplays the role of the state in enforcing racial segregation and sustaining the racial inequalities in the city. Recently, some strides have been made to challenge this dominant narrative and recover the history of Boston’s educational movement, yet this emerging scholarship furthers a black-white binary that renders all other groups such as Latinos invisible. In fact, the activist history of both African American and Latino communities in Boston is rich during the postwar era and encompassed much more than the struggle for educational equality.