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About Aram Goudsouzian
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During the second half of the nineteenth century, Memphis, Tennessee, had the largest metropolitan population of African Americans in the Mid-South region and served as a political hub for civic organizations and grassroots movements. On April 4, 1968, the city found itself at the epicenter of the civil rights movement when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel. Nevertheless, despite the many significant events that took place in the city and its citizens' many contributions to the black freedom struggle, Memphis has been largely overlooked by historians of the civil rights movement.
In An Unseen Light, eminent and rising scholars offer a multidisciplinary examination of Memphis's role in African American history during the twentieth century. Together, they investigate episodes such as the 1940 "Reign of Terror" when black Memphians experienced a prolonged campaign of harassment, mass arrests, and violence at the hands of police. They also examine topics including the relationship between the labor and civil rights movements, the fight for economic advancement in black communities, and the impact of music on the city's culture. Covering subjects as diverse as politics, sports, music, activism, and religion, An Unseen Light illuminates Memphis's place in the long history of the struggle for African American freedom.
Well-paced, accessible, and engagingly written, Goudsouzian's book chronicles anew the characters and events of the 1968 campaign as an essential moment in American history, one with clear resonance in our contemporary political moment.
In 1962, James Meredith became a civil rights hero when he enrolled as the first African American student at the University of Mississippi. Four years later, he would make the news again when he reentered Mississippi, on foot. His plan was to walk from Memphis to Jackson, leading a "March Against Fear" that would promote black voter registration and defy the entrenched racism of the region. But on the march's second day, he was shot by a mysterious gunman, a moment captured in a harrowing and now iconic photograph.
What followed was one of the central dramas of the civil rights era. With Meredith in the hospital, the leading figures of the civil rights movement flew to Mississippi to carry on his effort. They quickly found themselves confronting southern law enforcement officials, local activists, and one another. In the span of only three weeks, Martin Luther King, Jr., narrowly escaped a vicious mob attack; protesters were teargassed by state police; Lyndon Johnson refused to intervene; and the charismatic young activist Stokely Carmichael first led the chant that would define a new kind of civil rights movement: Black Power.
Aram Goudsouzian's Down to the Crossroads is the story of the last great march of the King era, and the first great showdown of the turbulent years that followed. Depicting rural demonstrators' courage and the impassioned debates among movement leaders, Goudsouzian reveals the legacy of an event that would both integrate African Americans into the political system and inspire even bolder protests against it. Full of drama and contemporary resonances, this book is civil rights history at its best.
In such films as Lilies of the Field, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Poitier's middle-class, mannered, virtuous screen persona contradicted prevailing film stereotypes of blacks as half-wits, comic servants, or oversexed threats. His screen image and public support of nonviolent integration assuaged the fears of a broad political center, and by 1968, Poitier was voted America's favorite movie star.
Through careful readings of every Poitier film, Goudsouzian shows that Poitier's characters often made sacrifices for the good of whites and rarely displayed sexuality. As the only black leading man during the civil rights era, Poitier chose roles and public positions that negotiated the struggle for dignity. By 1970, times had changed and Poitier was the target of a backlash from film critics and black radicals, as the new heroes of "blaxploitation" movies reversed the Poitier model.
In the 1970s, Poitier shifted his considerable talents toward directing, starring in, and producing popular movies that employed many African Americans, both on and off screen. After a long hiatus, he returned to starring roles in the late 1980s. More recently, the film industry has reappraised his career, and Poitier has received numerous honors recognizing his multi-faceted work for black equality in Hollywood. As this biography affirms, Poitier remains one of American popular culture's foremost symbols of the possibilities for and limits of racial equality.