Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s represented the apex of a centuries-long struggle to overcome America's legacy of racial discrimination. During this defining period in the nation's history, what initially began as a modest effort to dismantle "Jim Crow" laws in the segregationist South quickly developed into a massive popular movement with a wide range of social, political, and economic goals. Though victories often came at a tremendous price, and at times proved elusive, adherents to this Movement eventually succeeded in reforming many of the formal and informal mechanisms underlying African-American oppression. Since it touched virtually every aspect of American life, the Civil Rights Movement is an ideal subject for scholars in almost any field. Whether you're a student of law, political science, history, economics, cultural studies, literature, or any other social science, there's an aspect of the Movement that's ripe for your research.
Fortunately, when researching the Civil Rights Movement you'll discover a tremendous amount of resources available on the subject. In fact, there is so much information that it could easily be a little overwhelming. So, before you begin, it's important to devise a strategy for success and not a recipe for frustration. Take a few minutes to brainstorm about your topic and clarify exactly what it is you want to learn. Remember, focus is the key to effective research!
Though your particular needs will vary, you may want to consider researching subjects in one or more of the following categories:
- Individuals: Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. DuBois, A. Phillip Randolph, Malcolm X, Julian Bond, James Meredith, Emmitt Till, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Jesse Jackson, Bayard Rustin, Stokely Carmichael, Ella Baker, Medgar Evars, etc.
- Legislation and Court Cases: Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Equal Employment Opportunity Act, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education,etc.
- Events: Birmingham Bus Boycott, Freedom Summer, March on Washington, Freedom Rides, etc.
- Policies and Concepts: Affirmative Action, Segregation, Integration, Discrimination in Employment, Discrimination in Housing, etc.
- Organizations: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), etc.
- Government Entities: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Department of Justice, etc.
Once you've clearly defined your topic, all that's left is to construct your search criteria. The following sections will guide you through that process in various LexisNexis products: showing you how to find the material that is of interest to you (and how to avoid the material that isn't!)
A great place to begin your research of the Civil Rights Movement is in LexisNexis Academic: a tremendous resource with access to national and international news publications, academic journals, legal reviews, and more. You can use the drop-down bar on the search page to select one or more of these sources to search in, or simply leave it to the default and look in them all. If you want to look in a specific source, such as The New York Times, you can do that too! A similar drop-down allows you to narrow your search to a specific time period, which can be particularly helpful if you are especially interested in either historical or contemporary material on your topic. If the publication date doesn't matter to you, or you simply want to cast as wide a net as possible, select the option to search all available dates.
While choosing where you research is important, the most critical part of your search criteria is defining exactly what it is you're looking for. If you're researching something relatively obscure, such as a lesser known civil rights figure or organization, using one term may provide a sufficiently targeted result. However, if you're interested in a broader topic, a single term strategy should probably be avoided. A simple search for "Martin Luther King" or "NAACP", for example, will yield thousands of results! So be sure to think about ways you can combine terms to refine your search.
The simplest way to do this in Academic is by using Boolean operators in Easy Search. Through Boolean searching you can combine terms in a wide variety of ways: constructing a search that is tailor made to fit your needs. The three most common and useful Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT:
- AND: Combining terms using "AND" is a great way to narrow your Civil Rights search criteria since many of the terms you may be interested in would produce too many results if used individually. For example, if you wanted to find material exploring Malcolm X's views on non-violence, running a search for just "Malcolm X" or "non-violence" would identify hundreds if not thousands of resources, most of which would not address your subject specifically. However, searching for "Malcolm X AND non-violence" will cut down on some of that extraneous material by showing you only those resources which contain both of your terms.
- OR: The "OR" operator can also be a valuable search tool when researching the Civil Rights Movement. If you're interested in multiple perspectives on a subject the "OR" command can help you find the material you want in a single search. For example, if you'd like information addressing either Malcolm X's or Elijah Muhammad's views on non-violence, the "OR" operator offers that flexibility. The "OR" operator can also be a tremendous help when searching for subjects that can be expressed in different ways. Sometimes this might be as simple as accommodating differences in spelling or punctuation, such as "non-violence" or "nonviolence," other times it might be something more significant. For example, "discrimination in housing" is sometimes referred to as "redlining," so if you were interested in that subject you might want to run a search that looked for either of those terms. Some other topics and their alternative expressions are "school integration" and "school busing;" "non-violence" and "passive resistance;" "segregation" and "Jim Crow;" and "racism," "racial discrimination," and "prejudice." So before running a search, think about the different language that might be used to describe your topic and how you might use the "OR" operator to get the most out of your research.
- NOT: Finally, the "NOT" operator can also be a great addition to refining any search. Remember, sometimes defining what you don't want to find is as important as clarifying what you do! For example, when searching for information on Martin Luther King, you may not be interested to material related to the federal holiday established in his name. Depending on what sources you're investigating, you might want to limit you search to "Martin Luther King NOT holiday."
In addition to Boolean searching, LexisNexis also offers you the option of using the Power Search function to conduct research through index terms. This is a great way of narrowing your search criteria and can be used in conjunction with Boolean searching. Some index terms you might consider using when researching the Civil Rights Movement include:
- Civil Rights
- Race & Racism
- Racial Discrimination in Employment
- Human Rights & Civil Liberties Law
- African Americans
- Voters & Voting
- Affirmative Action
Another great source for Civil Rights research is LexisNexis Congressional which offers access to Congressional Hearings, House and Senate documents and reports, legislative histories, Congressional Research Service reports and more. As in Academic, you can search in as few or as many of these sources as you wish: simply select or deselect the source type you want by clicking the box next to it. Again, you can also restrict your search according to date via a drop-down bar or simply select the "all available dates" option to search without limits.
- REMEMBER: While narrowing your search by date can be an effective strategy, you should always bear in mind that the wheels of government at times move slowly. For example, if you wanted to find historical information on the Congressional response to Martin Luther King's 1968 assassination, you might be tempted to restrict your search to the late 1960s. However, if you did, you'd miss out on the House Select Committee on Assassinations' 13 volume investigation into the event: a report that wasn't complete until 1979! So, if you're unsure when your desired material might be published, be flexible and look at a broader range of dates.
In terms of creating the content of your search, Congressional--like Academic--offers you the option of searching with Boolean operators. If you have multiple terms you want to connect this way, place each term in a separate dialogue box and use the drop-down bar to choose the operators you want to use. As you do this, you will notice that Congressional also offers you the option of limiting where it searches for your particular terms: looking as broadly as the full text document or as narrowly as the title (or any thing in between!) By choosing your desired range from the drop-down menu, you can refine your search to best suit your needs.
In addition to basic Boolean searching, Congressional also allows you to construct search criteria using index terms. To add this element to your search, simply click on the blue "index terms" link on the search page and start making your selections. Some index terms you might consider using when researching the Civil Rights Movement include:
- Civil rights
- Voting rights
- Racial discrimination
- Discrimination in education
- Discrimination in employment
- Discrimination in housing
- Discrimination in public facilities
- Black Panthers
- Black nationalism
- Black Americans
- Abolitionist movement
- Commission on Civil Rights
- Department of Justice
- Civil Rights Division, Justice Dept.
Another fantastic resource for Civil Rights Movement research is the UPA microfilm collection. Whether you want to read Martin Luther King's FBI file or leaf through the papers of the NAACP, this archive of primary historical documents is a must-see for any serious Civil Rights scholar. The extensive user-guides offer detailed information of the contents of each collection, so you'll always be able to find what you're looking for. Just a few of the great Civil Rights Movement resources in UPA include:
- Department of Justice Classified Subject Files on Civil Rights, 1914-1949
- President Truman's Committee on Civil Rights
- Civil Rights During the Kennedy Administration Part 1 and Part 2
- Civil Rights During the Johnson Administration, 1963-1969 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5
- Civil Rights During the Nixon Administration, 1969-1974
- Congress of Racial Equality Papers, 1959-1976
- Martin Luther King, Jr. FBI File Part 1 and Part 2
- Records of the Southern Leadership Conference, 1954-1970 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
- Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States: Brown v. Board of Education
- FBI Files on Black Extremist Organizations
- Papers of A. Philip Randolph
- Bayard Rustin Papers
- Papers of the NAACP: The Voting Rights Campaign, 1916-1950
- Papers of the NAACP: The Campaign against Residential Segregation, 1914-1955
- Papers of the NAACP: The Scottsboro Case, 1931-1950
- Papers of the NAACP: The NAACP and Labor, 1956-1965
- Papers of the NAACP: White Resistance and Reprisals, 1956-1965
- Papers of the NAACP: The Anti-Lynching Campaign Investigative Files 1912-1953 and Legislative and Publicity Files 1916-1955
- Papers of the NAACP: Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System 1910-1939 and 1940-1955
- Papers of the NAACP: The Campaign for Educational Equality 1913-1940, 1940-1950, 1951-1955, and 1956-1965
- And Many More!
Note: Don't be intimidated by microfilm! It may look foreboding, but if you know how to use the fast forward and rewind buttons on your remote control, you can use a microfilm machine. And don't worry about being stuck in the library all day, many universities have microfilm machines that allow you to make photocopies with ease. So take the plunge and learn a new skill, the resources you find will make it completely worth the effort!
As you have seen, LexisNexis is a remarkable research tool for any scholar of the Civil Rights Movement. Whether you're looking for contemporary news coverage, historical manuscripts or anything in between, there's a LexisNexis product that can help you find it. However, there is no reason why your research has to stop there! The internet also has an immense variety of resources on this subject, just a few of which include:
- www.voicesofcivilrights.org: A remarkable oral history archive of the Civil Rights Movement. Developed and maintained as a joint venture between the Library of Congress, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the AARP, this website makes history come alive through the first-hand accounts of the people who lived it. Reading these personal narratives will help humanize the Movement and may just provide the perfect quote for your next research paper.
- www.stanford.edu/group/King/mlkpapers: Homepage of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. A great resource for King related materials, this website includes audio clips from key sermons, full text speeches, and a "King Encyclopedia" with more than a 100 articles.
- www.columbia.edu/cu/ccbh/mxp: Homepage of The Malcolm X Project at Columbia University, an initiative aimed at "gathering and illuminating" new research on the life and works of Malcolm X. This remarkable multimedia resource contains a wealth of biographical information, video interviews with friends and scholars, archival footage, audio clips from key speeches, FBI documents, video lectures, and much more. A definitive site for anyone interested in this influential American figure.
- plato.stanford.edu: The Civil Rights entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a tremendous online resource produced by the Philosophy Department of Stanford University. This article provides a robust but accessible overview of Civil Rights from a philosophical, ethical, moral, and legal perspective. Includes a discussion of key historical events and legal cases and also contains a great bibliography for further research.
- topics.law.cornell.edu: An informative and succinct overview of Civil Rights legislation published by the Legal Information Institute of Cornell University Law School. Discusses seminal pieces of Civil Rights law from the 13th Amendment through the Reconstruction Era and on to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Includes links to full text legal statutes as well as recent and historical Civil Rights decisions by the Supreme Court and U.S. Court of Appeals.
- www.usccr.gov: Homepage of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This site allows you to explore contemporary issues in this field and provides access to recent government documents on topics such as school desegregation and voting rights. Includes links to full text PDFs of Commission reports and related Congressional reports and testimony.
Note: Many of the strategies for constructing a search in LexisNexis (such as using Boolean operators) are also effective methods for finding online materials using your favorite search engine! If you don't discover what you're looking for among the websites listed here, run your own internet search and see what turns up. You might be surprised at what you can find.