BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
The Black Freedom Movement, 1955-1975

Unit code HIST31751
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


The Civil Rights and Black Power struggles of the late 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, referred to by scholars as the “Black Freedom Movement,” constituted one of the most transformative moments in U.S. history. Activists working through a variety of movement organizations waged a concerted nonviolent direct-action campaign to topple Jim Crow segregation, political disenfranchisement, and other discriminatory practices. By the mid-1960s these efforts culminated in a series of legal and legislative victories before giving way to urban rebellions and calls for “Black Power!” This course traces the origins, evolution, and legacy of the Black Freedom Movement, using an interdisciplinary approach and emphasis on the agency of local people. Particular attention will be paid to how issues of race, gender, sexuality, and generation mediated participation and shaped grassroots struggles. Students will also consider key debates about the movement’s temporal and spatial boundaries with an emphasis on transnational linkages to related struggles in the wider African Diaspora including Britain.


HIST31751 is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas (please check your programme structure for further details).

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas. Available to students on an Erasmus programme subject to VSO approval.


  • To provide an intensive examination and develop foundational knowledge of the U.S.-based modern Black Freedom Movement of the late 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s;
  • To explore firsthand accounts of the movement and cultivate awareness of how it was experienced differently due to class, gender, sexuality, race, and generational identities;
  • To challenge traditional understandings of the modern Black Freedom Movement by approaching it through the young and rapidly growing historiography of “Black Freedom Studies”;
  • To critically assess the legacy of the modern Black Freedom Movement and its relationship to contemporary struggles for racial change.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:


Indicative Seminar Schedule

Week 1     Introduction: What is a social movement?

Week 2     Preludes to Insurgency?: Black Protest from WWII to the Cold War

Week 3     The Birth of a Movement and the Rise of Mass Direct Action

Week 4     The Brown Decision, Massive Resistance, and Armed Self-Help in the 1950s

Week 5     Sit-Ins, Freedom Rides, and the Formation of SNCC, 1960-1961

Week 6     Reading Week

Week 7     Southern City-Based Campaigns, 1962-1963

Week 8     Bloody Mississippi

Week 9     Fracture, Voting Rights, and the Roots of Black Power

Week 10   The Black Nationalist Renaissance

Week 11   From Zenith to Decline

Week 12   #Black Lives Matter: Toward a Black Freedom Movement for the 21st Century

Teaching and learning methods

This course consists of a weekly three-hour seminar, in which the primary teaching strategy adopted is the facilitated class discussion supplemented with interactive mini-lectures, analysis of audio-visual materials, and small group work. Appropriate time will also be dedicated to review of reading and note-taking methods, research practice, and other skill-building exercises designed to provide students with an opportunity to critically reflect upon their own study regimens.

Outside of the weekly seminar, students are expected to read and respond to instructor-selected primary and secondary readings as well as non-textual sources such as artwork, poetry, popular music, and documentary film. Each week one group of students will be tasked with developing and delivering a short presentation to the rest of the group on musical or visual culture selection.

In the weekly seminar, full class discussions will revolve around the major themes and questions posed in the course syllabus and generated by student presentations as well as course readings and non-textual sources. Small group work will focus on the close analysis of specific documents and the translation of findings to group members and the wider class.

Students also have access to one hour of additional office hours for this module in which they will be encouraged to meet individually with the instructor to discuss their ideas and progress in the course.

The course will make use of Blackboard. Required reading and reading lists will be made available on Blackboard. All assignments will be submitted through Blackboard and TurnItIn, with written feedback returned via Blackboard and oral feedback through optional tutor meetings.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Identify the defining hallmarks of social movements and those factors that contribute to their formation and efficacy;
  • Understand and assess the origins, evolution, and legacy of the modern Black Freedom Movement in twentieth-century America;
  • Recognize and discuss how issues of identity (including race, class, gender, sexuality, and generation) inform movement participation;
  • Evaluate the relationship between the movement and broader patterns of societal change;
  • Critically engage and craft persuasive assessments of secondary work in the history of the modern Black Freedom Movement, based on a mastery of key historiographic debates.

Intellectual skills

  • Critically assess the relationship between individual human agency, social movements, and larger structures of racial control (e.g., legal, political, economic, judicial, and cultural);
  • Apply social movement theories and approaches to a variety of historical and contemporary case studies in the service of greater comprehension and innovative interpretations;
  • Analyse primary source material from a variety of perspectives and genres (including aural, visual, and material artefacts) and employ in written and oral work;
  • Investigate and synthesize the secondary scholarship on specific historical phenomena and deliver persuasive interpretations in both written and oral forms.

Practical skills

  • Plan and execute independent research using a variety of sources including books, journals, electronic databases, online collections, and archival collections;
  • Independently synthesize and organize primary and secondary source material;
  • Communicate findings and interpretations in oral and written formats;
  • Constructively contribute to large and small group discussions

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Evaluate the quality, significance, and credibility of information found in books, journals and online;
  • Express themselves clearly and confidently in both oral and written forms;
  • Work effectively as part of a team to prepare and deliver cogent oral presentations to an audience of their peers;
  • Critically examine contemporary societal values as well as their own personal norms, attitudes, and cultural identities;
  • Demonstrate an ethic of social responsibility and commitment to life-long learning in matters pertaining to democracy, equality, and justice.

Employability skills

Oral communication
Performance in oral presentations and small and large group discussions will prepare students for effective communication and cultural competency in an increasingly diverse workforce;
Written communication
In written assignments students cultivate the ability to perform self-directed research related to a definable problem, craft and test hypotheses, and articulate persuasive lines of argumentation, all essential skills in a variety of professional contexts.
The content knowledge and intellectual skills acquired in this course will prepare students for employment in fields that demand an appreciation of the practice of democracy, equality, and social justice in a multiracial society. Students pursuing careers in law, social work, journalism, politics, civil service, and human and community development may find this course particularly valuable;

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 40%
Written assignment (inc essay) 60%

Feedback methods

Written feedback on assessed work; following history department policy all written feedback will provide ‘feed forward’ advice on improving future assignment/essay/exam performance - summative

Additional one-to-one oral feedback on assessed and non-assessed work, presentations and class participation (during consultation hours or by making an appointment - formative

Recommended reading

Manning Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction and Beyond in Black America, 1945-2006, 3rd Ed. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007)

Henry Hampton, Steve Fayer, and Sarah Flynn, Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1980s (New York: Bantam, 1991) 

Raymond D’Angelo, The American Civil Rights Movement: Readings and Interpretations (New York: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 2001)

Adam Fairclough, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000 (New York: Penguin Books, 2002)

Danielle L. McGuire, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance – a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Civil Rights to the Rise of Black Power (New York: Vintage Books, 2010)

Peniel E. Joseph, Waiting Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2006)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kerry Pimblott Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Assessment Methods

Primary Source Analysis (due Week 6), summative, 1500 words, 20%

Essay or Public History artefact (e.g., podcast, website, You Tube videos) (due Week 11), summative, 2500 words, 40%

Exam, summative, 2 hours, 40%

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