Civil Rights Movement

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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.


Research Basics

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!)

Using LexisNexis


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.

Probably the most valuable research tool for Civil Rights in Academic is the Landmark Cases form in the US Legal Tab. Here, you can see the actual Supreme Court cases for various landmark civil rights cases.

Searching archives of newspapers can also be interesting and informative. You can use the drop-down bar on the PowerSearch 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 PowerSearch. 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

Related Wiki Articles

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