The Civil Rights Movement: Sites for Students and Researchers

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By Cassandra Kvenild, Reference Librarian, University of Wyoming. From the January/February 2008 edition of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association Newsletter

The Supreme Court's Brown versus Board of Education decision turned 50 in 2004. Over the next several years, many of the perennially popular research topics of the Civil Rights Movement will celebrate equally momentous anniversaries. Media attention and scholarly interest increase with each significant anniversary.

Fortunately for librarians and researchers, the events, people, and places of the Civil Rights Movement are well represented online. Web sites include an excellent array of primary source materials, including papers, laws, photographs, oral histories, and speeches. These digitized collections will interest researchers of any age group or scholastic level. The digital files offer a great opportunity to listen to Martin Luther King's most galvanizing speeches in his own voice, to read Malcolm X's letters to his mother, and to look at photographs of the freedom riders. In addition to primary source documents, many federal sites provide in-depth data, history and government documents from the Civil Rights Movement. The museums dedicated to civil rights provide outstanding study guides, biographical information, and photographs online.

The sources below offer excellent resources for students and researchers. In many cases, the owning institutions, including Columbia University, Stanford University, Washington State University, the University of Mississippi, New York Public Library and the Library of Congress, generously share primary documents that would otherwise not be available. When in-depth biographical or historical information is called for, it is still a good idea to supplement web sites with more thorough book length treatments from the print collection of your library.

Digital Collections of Primary Sources

African-American Odyssey. A digital treasure chest from the Library of Congress, this section of the American Memory project includes highlights from LOC's vast African-American collections, the Frederick Douglass papers, history and digitized memorabilia about Jackie Robinson, slave narratives from the Federal Writer’s Project, pamphlets written by African-Americans from 1824-1909, and a collection of books and pamphlets about the early history of slavery and the courts. The amazing digital collections are accessible by subject, keyword and author. Make the African American Odyssey your starting point for primary source research.

Civil Rights Documentation Project. This project from the University of Mississippi includes an excellent oral history bibliography and Civil Rights timeline. Transcripts and some audio files of the oral histories are provided. The interviews are indexed by subject, interviewee and collection/archive.

Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive. An excellent collection of photographs, manuscripts, and oral histories from the University of Southern Mississippi Libraries. The content covers events of national importance that occurred in Mississippi. With recent grant funding, another 1,000 photographs and manuscripts will be added to the online collection. African American History. Provides a collection of primary texts including the writings of famous black leaders such as W.E.B. Dubois and Marcus Garvey, decisions from famous court cases, and copies of the Fugitive Slave Act, the Jim Crow laws, and state black codes. Photographs and biographies of historical figures are available, as well as a glossary, timelines and articles.

Historical Publications of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Since 1957, this federal Commission has published information on race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Documents are searchable by title, date, subject, and SUDOC numbers.

New York Public Library Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. A wealth of information from the Schomburg's extensive collection. The online exhibitions and Digital Schomburg collection are especially impressive. Read memoirs of 19th century African-American women, or view photographs of African-American Civil War soldiers.

Civil Rights Oral History Interviews. Provided by Washington State University and the Spokane Spokesman-Review, this site focuses on Washington state residents with ties to the Civil Rights Movement. Includes an interview with Flip Schulke, who photographed James Meredith's first day at the University of Mississippi, and other interviews with participants in the movement.

Famous People, Events, and Places

Brown versus Board of Education. Sponsored by the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research, this is the starting place for Brown v. Board research. Includes the text of the Brown decision, audio interviews with Cheryl Brown Henderson and others, and research and activity guides for students. Provides links to the Brown Foundation and to the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.

Greensboro Sit-ins: Launch of a Civil Rights Movement. Audio clips, photographs and articles about the famous Greensboro Sit-ins. A full slate of archived multimedia material provided by the Greensboro News & Record, including a strong collection of newspaper articles and interviews.

The Malcolm X Project at Columbia University. Aims to provide a comprehensive biography of Malcolm X and multimedia research aids to accompany study of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The resources on this site are quite good, and the project is currently active, so more multimedia resources should be added soon.

Malcolm X: A Research Site. The most thorough treatment of Malcolm X on the web, this site offers extensive bibliographies, webliographies, letters, photographs, speeches, study guides and a family tree.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project. Complete citation information for all of King's published works, audio clips, famous quotes, plus his biography, chronology, and historical background.

We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement. A National Register of Historic Places travel itinerary covering locations throughout the U.S. of importance to the Civil Rights Movement. Includes a brief history of the era and the places, but the highlight is the interactive map of important places in the fight for civil rights.

Government Documents

FBI—Freedom of Information Act. Access the formerly classified FBI files of Civil Rights figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and the Ku Klux Klan. Searchable and indexed by name and subject. There is a great deal of information here, including 948 pages under the heading Mississippi Burning, about the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi.

US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Offers an excellent frequently asked questions page, as well as committee and task force reports. A great place to begin when researching federal civil rights policy.

History and Museums

National Civil Rights Musuem. The museum offers online exhibits and a gallery of photographs of the struggle for civil rights. Visitors can read about the annual Freedom Awards. Past recipients include Former President Bill Clinton and Bono.

Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. A fascinating look into a long history of stereotypes and racism. Images of memorabilia are accompanied by insightful, thought-provoking essays. Topics range from the well-known "mammy caricature" to the new board game "Ghettopoloy". The outrageous and offensive memorabilia coupled with the thoughtful perspective offered by the Ferris State University faculty and staff offers a unique way to engage students with civil rights issues.

The King Center. Offers detailed information about the King Center and its resources on Martin Luther King, Jr. Biographies, audio clips, chronologies and more are provided for Dr. King and Coretta Scott King.

Civil Rights Memorial. This beautifully designed site provides details about the memorial as well as an outstanding interactive timeline of the years 1954-1968.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Access the Research Resources where you’ll find a searchable database of manuscripts and oral histories. Educators’ resources are provided, as well as multimedia exhibits.