The triumph of a several centuries-long struggle to remake American society in order to extend full citizenship to people of color was the result of the efforts by strategically and tactically minded people to move public opinion, while also challenging white elites to act in the latter's own long-term self-interest.
Ultimately, the visual of non-violent protesters fighting for civil rights dominates American public memory.
Likewise, a story about tired old ladies such as Rosa Parks--who in reality was relatively young, a secretary for the local chapter of the NAACP, and an agent who was part of a planned protest--dominates how many Americans remember and think about the Civil Rights Movement.
A more critical read of the struggle by Black Americans and their allies to win full citizenship rights reveals a much more complicated reality wherein those day-to-day struggles for freedom existed in the context of the Cold War, sophisticated planning by its leaders and participants, and what was for all intents and purposes, a type of military insurgency against the forces of racial terrorism and totalitarianism embodied by American Apartheid and Jim and Jane Crow.
In this newest episode of the podcast series here on We Are Respectable Negroes, I was lucky to talk with Mark Grimsley, professor of American History at Ohio State University. He is a scholar of military history and author of seven books including The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865.
I was compelled to reflect upon the "hidden history" of the long Black Freedom Struggle because the language of war is common to how so many of us think about the how African-Americans (and others) resisted white supremacy in the United States.
Words and phrases such as "resistance", "opposition", and "struggle" dominate that discourse. Moreover, given how violence was used against the Black and Brown Freedom Struggle by the forces of racial state, I am struck by how the dynamic nature of the Civil Rights Movement, one that combined the carrot and the stick, has been systematically erased from public memory.
Professor Grimsley does some great work here in locating the Black Freedom Struggle and Civil Rights Movement within a larger American tradition of dignity, struggle, resistance, and agency. Black Americans and our allies were sophisticated strategic and tactical thinkers who were engaged in (many cases) a literal war for freedom. Mark's work is invaluable as it serves as a corrective to a flattened version of history, and also validates what many people of color know, knew, and instinctively understand, about the full range of resistance that was marshaled against American Apartheid.
My conversation with Dr. Grimsley is central to many of the issues we have talked about here on We Are Respectable Negroes since its inception about race, citizenship, struggle, and resistance.
I do hope you enjoy the conversation.
3:30 How did you discover your interest in military history?
6:22 What was it like to go to the United Kingdom to study military history and then develop that into your research on the American Civil War?
8:22 Given the current college environment where the customer must be pleased at all costs and the importance of evaluations, what is it like to deal with students who think they know something about war and and conflict and you then have to challenge their assumptions?
12:18 How is history being taught in high schools? How is standard testing hurting the teaching of history in college? What are some common misunderstandings held by hobbyists about the causes of the Civil War and black slavery?
16:03 Why do some many people find the American Civil War so fascinating? How did the Civil War come to be some important to your own research and scholarly interests?
18:46 What are your thoughts on American Civil War reenactors? What is your professional opinion about the accuracy of movies such as "Glory?"
23:15 Is "Glory" an "accurate" movie about the tactics and strategies deployed by the forces fighting in the American Civil War? As an expert what do you think of the movie?
28:45 How is the long Black Freedom Struggle and Civil Rights Movement a type of military insurgency? How do you qualify your analysis?
33:45 What was the light bulb moment when you realized that theories of military science could be applied to the American Civil Rights Movement?
37:04 What was the response to your theories? Why did some scholars respond negatively to the suggestion that the American Civil Rights Movement was a type of insurgency?
40:11 When did the American Civil Rights Movement begin? Was it just in the 1950s or did it begin much earlier? How can we better understand Jim and Jane Crow as military domination and violence against Black Americans?
48:18 If the American Civil Rights Movement can be understood within a military science framework, how do you locate the Colfax Massacre and the events in Albany, Georgia within that narrative?
53:45 Why didn't the defenders of Jim and Jane Crow learn from what happened in Albany in order to defang and defeat the American Civil Rights Movement? Why did the forces of White Supremacy so grossly underestimate the sophistication of the forces working against them? Arrogance? Bigotry?
57:28 Why isn't the martial and armed resistance aspect of the Black Freedom Struggle and American Civil Rights Movement discussed more in the public discourse? How are black shepherds of the memory of the Black Freedom Struggle complicit in suppressing this aspect of the narrative?
64:54 Is the election of President Barack Obama a strategic or tactical victory for the Black Freedom Struggle and the American Civil Rights Movement? How do you qualify and locate his election within your theoretical frameworks?
69:14 What texts would you suggest for those listeners who are interested in learning more about the role of armed resistance and how the American Civil Rights Movement was a type of insurgency?
70:14 What books would you suggest for interested listeners who want to learn more about military history, both in terms of the United States, and globally?
72:30 Where can listeners find you online? What are your future projects?