BA Art History and History / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

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

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


The Civil Rights and Black Power struggles of the mid-twentieth century, referred to by scholars as the Black Freedom Movement (BFM), constituted one of the most transformative moments in U.S. history. Activists working through a variety of organizations waged a concerted nonviolent campaign to topple segregation, disenfranchisement, and other discriminatory practices. By the mid 1960s these efforts culminated in a series of legal and legislative victories before giving way to uprisings and calls for “Black Power!” This module traces the origins, evolution and legacy of the BFM, using a multidisciplinary approach and emphasis on the agency of local people. Particular attention is paid to how issues of gender, sexuality and generation mediated participation and informed grassroots struggles. We also engage recent debates about the BFM’s temporal and spatial boundaries that shed light on the movement’s global reach and role in inspiring a generation of activists from Harlem to Handsworth.


Restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes (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 consider the global dimensions of the U.S.-based Black Freedom Movement and its import for related movements in the UK in particular;
  • To critically assess the legacy of the modern Black Freedom Movement and its relationship to contemporary struggles for racial change

Knowledge and understanding

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

  • 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 the United States during the mid-twentieth century;
  • Recognise and discuss how issues of identity (including race, class, gender, sexuality, religion and generation) inform movement participation;
  • Evaluate the relationship between the U.S.-based movement, other transnational movements, 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

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

  • 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

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

  • Plan and execute independent research using a variety of sources including books, journals, electronic databases, online collections and archival collections;
  • Independently synthesize and organise 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

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

  • 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

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; Performance in oral presentations and small and large group discussions will prepare students for effective communication and cultural competency in an increasingly diverse workforce.

Assessment methods

Presentation   0%
Essay or Public History artefact                  50%
Essay 50%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback on the first formative presentation assignment which is designed to scope and develop project ideas for the first summative assessment.


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


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



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)

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

Rob Waters, Thinking Black: Britain 1964-1985 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019)

Nico Slate, ed., Black Power beyond Borders: The Global Dimensions of the Black Power Movement (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kerry Pimblott Unit coordinator

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