Edited by Kristin M.S. Bezio and George R. Goethals
Chapter 5: Crusading for citizenship: how the mid-twentieth-century quest for African American voting rights emphasized plurality over populism
This chapter examines one of the most popular—not populist—movements in recent history: the American civil rights movement. This movement is celebrated for its adherence to non-violent resistance and direct-action protest. Popular and academic interest in these strategies, however, often overshadows the sustained quest for black voting rights. This chapter contends that the quest for voting rights during the American civil rights movement pushed Washington toward the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 and that this movement and the realization of the VRA were pluralist, rather than populist. Segregationist oligarchies all but ensured that race and class in the South would prohibit broad-based, interracial political coalitions. While the movement stood in direct contrast to the types of elitism that populists often target, African Americans’ quest for a more liberal democracy sought to upend the types of racist populism and elitism that characterized much of Jim Crow segregation.
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