The Struggle for Black Equality 1954-1980 Questions and Answers
by Harvard Sitkoff

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Please analyze The Struggle for Black Equality 1954-1980 by Harvard Sitkoff. This is a study guide question posted by eNotes Editorial. Your literary analysis may touch on a variety of topics, including (but not limited to) discussions of the author’s style, the use of symbols or motifs, or the broader historical or literary context in which the work was written.

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Besides being a straightforward history book, The Struggle for Black Equality 1954–1980 by Harvard Sitkoff also offers insights that are minimally known to the general American public. In one section of the book, Sitkoff presents details about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement that are contrary to the polished mainstream image of the historical figure and that particular period in American history. One example is the fact that King became increasingly involved in economic reform in the United States.

The march in Washington DC is known today by Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech. However, the event was originally organized to be more expansive than using the Lincoln Memorial as a staging ground. The plan was to conduct sit-ins on the White House lawn, inside of Congress, and on other federal landmarks. Martin Luther King was also planning to emphasize economic reform more in his speech. A concerned Kennedy administration asked King and other organizers of the event to tone down their prepared speeches and actions.

Another section of Sitkoff's book details how King was one of the first major political figures of any race or platform to publicly criticize modern American capitalism and brand the Vietnam War as an imperialist operation. This shows King and other figures, such as Malcolm X, as thinking outside of the civil rights movement and looking toward universal, structural issues.

Today, their historical significance and image are narrowed to black equality and civil rights issues. The book shows that leaders from the movement believed in structural change rather than simply being accepted into the status quo, although they certainly were passionate about the cause of equality within the system and were at the forefront of the movement. To drive this point home, the author emphasizes how the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. occurred after he had organized the Poor People's Campaign (PPC). One of the major issues the PPC tried to address was the government's overspending on military budgets whilst eliminating or decreasing funding for social programs. The PPC also advocated for universal basic income.

King also viewed the military operations in Southeast Asia as a way to gain more territory due to oil and rubber resources in the region, not just as a means to combat the expansion of Communism. The book covers African American issues in general and also devotes sections to urban issues, both of which are framed within the systemic bigotry of the white majority in power.

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dnova03 | Student

When looking at The Struggle for Black Equality one wonders- which event is directly responsible for the events after it? The author does a great job presenting events and weaving a tapestry of how they lead into other events. The tone is consistent- urgent and business like. He presents what happened without his point of view.

The author educates and draw light into this struggle. The general outline of the book is: failure of the NAACP, propaganda again the struggle, the life expectancy and then into other events. From Little Rock to examining the readiness for the continued fight the tone is fast paced and we are exposed to how each event effects the other.

We go on to talk about Rosa Parks who gave rise to Martin Luther King. The author answers the question of how his charisma propelled this fight. This is fast paced narrative of the author peppering notable people and placing them like puzzle pieces into a complete picture.

We continue on to the Negro Revolution and how two philosophies of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X ultimately diverged. This also happened as the frustration of the change makers grows. Frustrations with bureaucracy and with the KKK alike. The authors peppers in quotes like "We need a Mau Mau. If they don't want to deal with Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, then we'll give them something else to deal with 185." This quote perfectly expresses the frustration of these change makers. Paths divulged because MLK worked behind the scenes and Malcolm X spoke out.

The book culminates with a slow trickle of success with the passage of Johnson bill. Then we come to a breathing point on page 197 with this quote from the author: "But the struggle to gain this elementary right of citizenship left indelible scars and open sore that festered until they poisoned the movement. We close with the thought that the Black movement did not come at the expense of the white but the expanse of the economy.