“Everything Changed, but Ain’t Nothing Changed” Recovering a Generation of Southern Activists for Economic Justice

Martin Luther King, photographed by Walter Albertin, courtesy of the New York World Telegram & Sun Collection at the Library of Congress.

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“Everything Changed, but Ain’t Nothing Changed” Recovering a Generation of Southern Activists for Economic Justice

by Sarah C. Thuesen
Southern Cultures, Vol. 14, No. 3: Civil Rights

"'I took her to see the movie Norma Rae so that she could try to get some perspective on what kind of role she was playing. I think she appreciated seeing that and could see how the city would like to get rid of her because she had a whole lot more power than she imagined.'"

The passing of forty years since the tragic death of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. has prompted many Americans to look back at the late 1960s and take stock of where we are today. In 2001 the Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) made the complexities of that collective reckoning the centerpiece of “The Long Civil Rights Movement: The South Since the 1960s” (LCRM), a study of the post-1960s South, emphasizing school desegregation, economic justice, gender equality, gay liberation, and other social justice struggles. As SOHP director Jacquelyn Dowd Hall argued at the inception of this project, public memory often distorts the history of the Civil Rights Movement by suggesting that it reached its resolution by the late 1960s. This version of the past not only obscures the Movement’s more radical aims but also ignores an entire generation of activists who sought to protect and extend the legacies of the 1960s. Their stories are essential for reckoning with the region’s past and shaping its future.