NEH Summer Institute 2017

NEH 2017 Summer Institute for College and University Faculty: What Happened to the Civil Rights Movement?

“What Happened to the Civil Rights Movement?” will explore the African-American struggle for freedom and civil rights within the broad context of twentieth century American history, considering the roots of the Civil Rights Movement, the process of racial change, and the nature of its achievements and legacies.  Organized around new and recent scholarship, the institute aims to work with college teachers in identifying major themes, questions, and approaches to the history of the largely southern-based Civil Rights Movement and the broader struggles that moved to the forefront in the 1960s around urban conditions, poverty, criminal justice, access to housing, and school segregation. A major goal of the institute is to work collaboratively in developing curriculum and teaching strategies for incorporating this history into American history courses and related areas of instruction.

The institute will be held at the Hutchens Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, June 26 to July 22, 2017, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center. Waldo E. Martin Jr. (University of California, Berkeley) and Patricia Sullivan (University of South Carolina) will manage and direct the institute program. Participating faculty include Blair Kelley, Cornel West, Dick Lehr, Martha Noonan, Margaret Burnham, James Forman Jr., Lewis Steel, Susan Ashmore and Leon Litwack. 

Deadline for applications is March 1, 2017


The institute program is informed by the work and interests of Waldo Martin and Patricia Sullivan in collaboration with institute faculty, and through their experience of working with college teachers since 1997. This is the twelfth institute that they have co-directed; all have focused on topics relating to African American Struggles for Freedom and Civil Rights since Emancipation.  Waldo Martin is the Alexander F. & May T. Morrison Professor of American History & Citizenship at the University of California, Berkeley. He has written widely on African American life, thought, and culture, with a particular focus on the connections between cultural practices and political struggle. Most recently, he coauthored Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party.  Patricia Sullivan is Professor of History at the University of South Carolina.  Her work has focused on the nature and consequences of racial segregation during the twentieth century United States and the vision, activism and alliances that contributed to the emergence and ultimate triumph of an organized movement for civil rights. Her most recent publication is Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement.

The readings and discussions for this institute are organized into four overlapping periods: the formative years of Jim Crow and the Great Migration; the era of the New Deal, World War II, and early Cold War; the peak years of the Civil Rights/Black Power Movements; and “post-Civil Rights” America.

The program highlights scholarship that contributes to a flexible framework for considering how the experiences of successive generations, from the end of Reconstruction onward, illuminate the ways racial ideologies functioned and evolved across time and space – and how strategies of resistance, community building and protest interacted to challenge a racial caste system and create a sustained “movement” for civil rights. Such a broad historical context demonstrates how these efforts, many of which stretched across a lifetime, reflected the shifting demographic contours of race and the gradual evolution of a fragile political coalition responsive to the emergence of civil rights and racial justice as issues of national consequence.

During the final week, the program will sketch out broad themes and questions regarding developments in the aftermath of the peak years of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. We will discuss the broad changes secured by the movement, the deeper structures of racial divisions and inequities it exposed, and evolving forms of resistance and protest during an era of political realignment, deindustrialization, and the growth of mass incarceration.

Outline Program of Study

The institute program is organized chronologically and topically. Through a review of recent scholarship along with primary source material, documentary films and other teaching resources, participants will establish a historical context and theoretical framework for considering African American struggles for freedom, citizenship rights and racial justice as part of a broader historical process of social, economic, political and cultural change during the twentieth century.  Throughout the course of the program -- with formal sessions, group meetings, and individual discussions -- attention will be focused on identifying resources and developing tools and strategies for engaging students in this history.

We will meet Monday through Friday, with formal meetings ending at 3:00 on at least two days each week. Participants will have time later in the day to work on curriculum projects, meet individually and collectively with visiting faculty and project directors, and take advantage of library resources at Harvard.  In most sessions, a visiting faculty member will make a short presentation regarding the topic and relevant questions.  The major focus of each meeting will be on facilitating a discussion in response to the selected readings and the evolving themes, questions and issue identified during the course of the institute regarding content as well as curriculum development, teaching challenges, and relevant resources.   

Prior to the institute, we will ask participants to send syllabi, lesson plans, and lists of resources that they currently use in teaching courses relating to the topic of the institute, and a short statement of what they plan to achieve during the four week long program. Based on this information, we will create tentative groups to work collaboratively to develop curriculum plans, resource guides and/or other types of instructional aids. Waldo Martin and Patricia Sullivan will work with participants to help solidify these groups during the first week of the program.

Introduction to the Institute. On Monday morning, the first formal session of the institute will begin with individual introductions. Waldo Martin and Patricia Sullivan will sketch out their vision and plans for the program and participants will be encouraged to talk about their expectations. During this first session we will begin the conversation about the issues, questions, and concerns that participants bring to the institute.

WEEK ONE: The program will begin with a discussion of “Interpretations of the Civil Rights Movement.” The readings represent a variety of perspectives, including former activists and scholars, and also represent different moments in time.  They should facilitate a broader discussion of the perspectives that participants bring to the program, and help to identify questions and issues that will guide our discussions during the course of the program.

Over the next several days, sessions will focus on black life and resistance with the rise and institutionalization of Jim Crow in the South, the civil rights leadership of Boston journalist William Monroe Trotter that crystalized in response to “The Birth of a Nation,” and the consequences of African migration to the urban north. Blair Kelley will lead a discussion of her work on street care boycotts at the turn of the century, and on “the meaning of failure” in the long struggle against segregation. Kelley and Annie Volk will discuss their experiences on the “Behind the Veil Project,” and the uses of this oral history collection in teaching about black life and struggle in the Jim Crow South.  Dick Lehr, professor of Journalism, will discuss his work on William Monroe Trotter, and the Boston based protests that arose in response D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film, “The Birth of a Nation,” and introduce documentary film based on his book. The final session of the week will consider patterns of race relations in the urban north and early NAACP activity around housing and criminal justice, the rise of Marcus Garvey, and the role of the black press in the incipient struggle for civil rights.

By the end of the week, participants should aim to have identified the curriculum project they plan to work on during the course of the program.

WEEK TWO: Sessions this week consider the formative period of the Depression, New Deal and World War II, the beginning of what Nikhal Pal Singh has referred to as the “long civil rights era” --an era that culminates with the passage of Civil Rights/Great Society legislation. Sessions will explore how, during a time of heightened democratic activism and shifting political coalitions, African American challenges to segregation and racial inequities became part of a broader democratic movement, fueled by a rapidly growing labor movement and the rise of radical and progressive politics. These developments transformed the national Democratic Party and made it a primary arena in the evolving civil rights struggle.

Patricia Sullivan will lead a session of the concept of “the long civil rights era,” based on  selections from Nikhal Pal Singh’s Black is a Country and scholarship that explores black civil rights activism on a local level during the 1930s and 1940s. Specific readings focus on the formative years of civil rights leader Ella Baker’s political development in Harlem during the 1930s, and on the ways in which Southern whites and blacks responded to the openings created by the Depression and the New Deal to challenge the economic and political culture of the Jim Crow South, and initiate an interracial movement to remove barriers to voting and expand political democracy in the region. 

A session on black youth and the movement will focus on the history and activism of the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC), founded in Richmond Virginia in 1939 by college students working to organize tobacco workers. SNYC established a regional headquarters in Birmingham, its base of activism through the 1940s. Former SNYC members Esther Jackson and Dorothy Burnham will join us. During the session, Martin will work with the group to create a historical framework for considering the role of student activism in struggles for black freedom. 

A day-long session on World War II will begin with Leon Litwack and a discussion of his current research on the black South during World War II, drawing from the vast collection of primary source material he has uncovered regarding black life in the South and the experiences of black soldiers in the Armed Forces during the war years. This discussion will continue during a curriculum workshop with Litwack and Patrica Sullivan. Drawing on her research, Sullivan will focus attention on the broader context of interracial unionism, black political activism and national developments, considering the role of the NAACP and other organizations in elevating civil rights as an issue of national consequence by the 1940s.

A day devoted to the life and activism of W.E.B. Du Bois, will include a session on DuBois’s speech at the Southern Youth legislature in Columbia, SC as a pivotal postwar moment. Another session will consider the broad scope of Du Bois’s life and work, and how it helps inform an understanding of black freedom struggles from the late nineteenth century until the early 1960s. On the following day, we will visit Great Barrington, MA, Du Bois’s birthplace and a place he returned to throughout his life. Du Bois’s early life and history has been preserved through the restoration of the home site and documented in public exhibitions. .

“Black Cultural Politics in the Postwar Era” is organized around a discussion of major themes in Waldo Martin’s book of essays, No Coward Soldiers: Black Cultural Politics in Postwar America. The group will identify and discuss cultural representations – visual art, film, music, and clothing – that can be used to illuminate developments in black political consciousness and activism in the aftermath of World War II.

A major feature of the institute program is an ongoing exploration of the interaction between culture and politics, within and across racial boundaries, as it relates to black consciousness, black protest and community activism. Peter Guralnick, noted biographer of Sam Cooke and author of Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom will examine how developments in popular culture, music and mass communications interfaced with the growing political challenge to racial barriers in the 1950s and 1960s

WEEK THREE: The peak years of the Civil Rights/Black Power era, from 1954 to the late 1960s, will be the focus of this week’s discussions. The week begins with a session on Brown v. Board of Education and the making of the movement. Waldo Martin’s Brown v. Board of Education: A Brief History with Documents and Patricia Sullivan’s close research of the NAACP’s litigation campaign combine to provide a fresh approach to the Brown decision -- its history, consequences, and legacies.  Participants will consider resources and approaches for introducing students to this history as part of long-term legal and social movement, as well as focusing on the court ruling and its impact, drawing from Waldo Martin’s book and other resources.

The 1954 Brown decision was followed a year later by the Montgomery bus boycott and the emergence of Martin Luther King Jr. This period was also marked by the murder of Emmett Till, the rise of Massive Resistance, and national indifference to widespread defiance of the court’s ruling.  Participants will consider the broader trends and political forces that reinforced Southern Massive Resistance – including the Cold War culture of the 1950s and the racial attitudes of many liberals.  We will pay particular attention to the generation of African American activists and writers who emerged on the national scene during this period. In addition to King, they include individuals such as James Baldwin, Malcolm X, who became minister of Harlem’s Temple Seven in 1954, and Lorraine Hansberry, whose play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” premiered on Broadway in 1959.

The institute will devote a full day to the student movement that began with the sit-ins in 1960, which led to the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and ignited direct mass action protests throughout the South. Former SNCC activist Martha Noonan will participate in a discussion of the evolving goals, tactics and strategies of the student protests, and their interactions with the broader social, political and cultural forces that brought a national reckoning on racial injustice and inequality. A discussion of the scholarship and literature documenting the student movement will be followed by a curriculum workshop on primary documents and visual resources for teaching this history. Martha Noonan will lead a second curriculum workshop, organized around the book she co-edited, Hands on the Freedom Plough: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC. . It includes the stories of fifty-two women – northern and southern, young and old, urban and rural, black, white and Latina – who participated on the front lines of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Waldo Martin and Margaret Burnham (Northeastern University Law School; former SNCC activist) will engage in a comparative exploration of student actives in from the 1930s to the 1960s. Among the topics to be considered is the impact of Cold War anticommunism on the trajectory of the movement in general and youth activism in particular.

Two sessions will consider 1964 as a pivotal year. We are working to make arrangements to hold a session on the history, politics and consequences of the 1964 Civil Rights Act at the JFK library. Another will consider the significance of the 1964 Harlem race riot, less than two weeks after the passage of the Civil Rights Act – the first major urban riot of the period.

Cornel West will lead a discussion of his book, The Radical King, which frames the life and legacy of King from the perspective of his later years. The discussion will consider how we teach about King, and strategies for introducing students to King in all of his complexity. King’s focus on poverty and the structural manifestations of racism during his final years helps to frame our discussion going forward.

WEEK FOUR:  The final week of the institute will explore the changes secured by the Civil Rights/Black Movements, the racial divisions and inequities that endured, and the dynamics of racial change in an era of deindustrialization, political realignment, and major period of black cultural production. During the final week, time is scheduled for individuals and groups to discuss the projects that they have worked on during the course of the program. 

Susan Ashmore, professor of history at Emory University at Oxford and author of Carry it On: The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, 1964-1972, will lead a discussion on the impact of the Voting Rights Act and the War on Poverty on black politics and leadership in the South, and a survey of the scholarship and primary source material in this subject area.  

Lewis Steel, who has been a civil rights lawyer since 1964, will participate in two sessions. The first will focus on the campaign for northern school desegregation from 1963 to 1968 – an effort that he participated in as a young lawyer, working with legendary NAACP civil rights lawyer Robert Carter. Steel’s article, “Nine Men Who Wear Black and Think White,” published in the New York Times Magazine in 1968 offers a powerful critique of the Warren Court in terms of school desegregation.  During an afternoon session, Steel will lead a discussion on major trends in race and civil rights litigation and law since the 1960s, and the impact of selected Supreme Court decisions

Clark Johnson, director of the docu-drama Boycott, will lead a discussion on the Montgomery bus boycott and its relevance to the “Black Lives Matter” moment. Recently, Johnson has been speaking at colleges about the “Boycott” film and the contemporary relevance of this history. The response has been powerful. He will discuss student reactions to the film as part of an ongoing discussion about ways to engage students in this history.

During the afternoon session, Johnson will screen “The Birth of Hip Hop,” which focuses on the Bronx in the 1970s. Clark Johnson and Waldo Martin will lead a discussion of the film and of Hip Hop as a creative and defiant response to the urban blight of the “post-Civil Rights” era. This session will be held in the Hip-Hop Archive and Research Institute of the Hutchens Center.

James Forman Jr.’s article, “Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow,” offers one of the most thoughtful assessments and analysis of the rise of mass incarceration, its causes, significance, and consequences. Forman, a professor of law at Yale, will lead a discussion based on the article, and on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Forman is currently completing a book on African American attitudes towards crime and punishment in the age of mass incarceration.

Margaret Burnham, Professor of Law and founding director of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern Law School, will lead the final formal session of the program. For the past ten years, she has been working with law students to investigate unsolved cases terror and violence targeting civil rights activists in the South during the Jim Crow era.  Over the years, the project has amassed a body of evidence exposing the nature and extent of anti-civil rights violence and developed a range of policy approaches, including criminal prosecutions, truth and reconciliation proceedings, and legislative remedies. The work of the CRRJ project draws attention to a largely under-studied aspect of the Civil Rights Movement and provides a context for considering anti-civil rights violence today.

During the final session, the group will participate in an open-ended discussion of the institute and revisit the discussion we had on the first day about “interpretations of the Civil Rights Movement.” We will consider plans and ideas for ongoing discussions, possible collaborations in the future, and ways to share the experience of the institute, drawing on examples of alumni from past programs.         

Academic Resources: The library has extensive holdings in the area of African American history, including the microfilmed collection of the NAACP Papers, Tuskegee Institute newspaper clipping file, and resources of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, as well as newspapers, periodicals and government documents. There are a number of relevant archival collections housed at Harvard, particularly at the Schlesinger Library.

Housing: Housing accommodations will be offered and Harvard University. Details regarding facilities and cost will be posted as soon as those arrangements are finalized.

Status of participant at Harvard: NEH Summer Institute participants will be appointed as visiting fellows of the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute, providing them with full access to the Harvard libraries and computer facilities, free admission to the museums at Harvard, and all other privileges afforded to visiting scholars and faculty.

Clark Johnson

actor and director; directing credits include "Boycott" and several episodes of "The Wire"; acting credits include "The Wire", "Homicide: A Life in the Streets"


Please review the eligibility criteria for participation in NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes at

NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes for College and University Teachers are offered by the National Endowment for the Humanities to provide college and university faculty members an opportunity to enrich and revitalize their understanding of significant humanities ideas, texts, and topics. Adjunct faculty, community college faculty and first time participants are encouraged to apply.

Application Materials

The application will be online and will open on January 1st 2017. Please check back then for the link to the application.  A complete application consists of the following items:

  • the completed application cover sheet (one copy to be included in your application package, and one sent separately to the NEH through their link below)
  • a detailed résumé, curriculum vitae, or brief biography
  • application essay as outlined below
  • Two letters of recommendation

The Application Cover Sheet

The application cover sheet must be filled out online at this address:

Please follow the prompts.  Before you click the “submit” button, print out the cover sheet and add it to your application package.  Then click “submit.”  At this point you will be asked if you want to fill out a cover sheet for another project.  If you do, follow the prompts to select the other project and repeat the process.

Do not use the same cover sheet for different projects.  You must submit a separate cover sheet online for each project to which you are applying in order to generate a unique tracking number for each application.  


Please include a detailed résumé, curriculum vitae, or brief biography (not to exceed five pages).


The two referees may be from inside or outside the applicant’s home institution.  They should be familiar with the applicant’s professional accomplishments or promise, teaching and/or research interests, and ability to contribute to and benefit from participation in the seminar or institute. 

The letter should be sent by the referee directly to the address listed below.

The Application Essay

The application essay should be no more than four double spaced pages.  Be sure to do the following:

  • Address your interests, academic and personal, in the subject to be studied
  • Include a statement of what you want to accomplish by participating
  • Elaborate on the relationship between institute activities and your responsibilities for teaching and curricular development
  • Address how the institute will further your professional development:

Submission of Applications and Notification Procedure

Three copies of you completed application must be postmarked no later than March 1, 2017 and sent to:


NEH Summer Institute

Hutchins Center

Harvard University

104 Mt. Auburn Street, Fl. 3R

Cambridge, MA 02138


Successful applicants will be notified of their selection on Friday, March 31, 2017, and they will have until Friday, April 7 to accept or decline the offer.  

Equal Opportunity Statement

Endowment programs do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or age.  For further information, write to the Equal Opportunity Officer, National Endowment for the Humanities, 400 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024.  TDD:  202/606-8282 (this is a special telephone device for the Deaf).

You are here