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I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle Paperback – January 15, 1997

ISBN-13: 978-0520207066 ISBN-10: 0520207068

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 506 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (January 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520207068
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520207066
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,597,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Not a comprehensive history of the civil rights movement in Mississippi, this thoughtful study instead analyzes the legacy of community organizing there. Payne, who teaches African American studies, sociology and urban affairs at Northwestern University, notes that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), though grounded in youthful energy, gained much from the "congealed experience" of older leaders, such as Ella Baker and Septima Clark. Concentrating on the delta city of Greenwood, he offers useful profiles of local activists, showing that many came from families with traditions of social involvement or defiance. He also explores the disproportionate number of female volunteers, the older black generation's complex interactions with whites and the decline of organizing as the 1960s proceeded. And he notes that, despite an ideology of unity, black activists lost the capacity to work together. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Payne (African American studies, Northwestern Univ.) presents an illuminating examination of the Civil Rights movement at the local level, in this case Greenwood, Mississippi, in the 1960s. As Payne deftly grafts Greenwood's struggle onto the larger movement, he challenges several widely accepted conclusions, such as overemphasizing a core cadre of male leaders while overlooking the important contributions of women and youth and the belief that the black church was an early leader in the movement. Much of Payne's information is culled from oral interviews with actual movement participants. The result is an important history of the Civil Rights movement at the grass-roots level that is reminiscent of Robert Norrell's Reaping the Whirlwind: The Civil Rights Movement in Tuskegee (Knopf, 1985). The excellent bibliographic essay is essential reading. Recommended for any library that collects Civil Rights materials.
Jonathan Jeffrey, Western Kentucky Univ., Bowling Green
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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For these reasons, and many more, this is clearly the best of many excellent books on the civil rights movement.
F.L.M.
I've read the book a few times with students and never fail to be personally engaged and to have invigorating classes with students.
Peter H Shulman
This book takes a piece of a well-publicized narrative, holds it up to a lens, and brings a sense of personability to it.
Carrie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By F.L.M. on June 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
I agree with the earlier reviews but I'd like to provide some details about this book's strengths.
First, Payne places the people who made the Mississippi movement at the center the story. He tells the story of both the original local leaders who made it possible for the civil rights movement to happen in Mississippi and the activists who followed their lead in the 1960s.
Second, he extends the time span of the civil rights movement, showing that it would not have been possible without the "organizing tradition" referred to in the subtitle. Payne expertly traces the relationships and linkages between different generations of heroic troublemakers in Mississippi.
Third, he shows that the original radicals, and I mean those who wanted to change Mississippi from its roots, were those who had already challenged the system to achieve personal gain. "Bourgeois" blacks in Mississippi weren't uniformly complacent or fearful. Wisely, Payne does not use this fact to justify any notion of a "talented tenth" that ought to lead the masses.
Fourth, the chapter on Ella Baker is a stunning and riveting account of one heroic troublemaker who didn't receive enough recognition for her efforts.
Fifth, when Payne writes about what we typically consider the civil rights movement, he places you in the midst of the activists and makes you feel their exhileration, exhaustion, frustration, fear, and courage. Scholarly books never have this quality. At the same time, he does this in a historical context and with a critical eye which absolutely illuminate the raw material in a way that first-person and journalistic treatments rarely approach.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Peter H Shulman on November 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
I'd pair the book with a more nationally-oriented one, such as the Taylor Branch trilogy, which give a better sense of national politics, but Payne's book is both profound and profoundly moving in its depiction of local communities and Ella Baker's "Organizing Tradition", which turns a number of assumptions about the movement on their head. I've read the book a few times with students and never fail to be personally engaged and to have invigorating classes with students. Great, great stuff!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 16, 1998
Format: Hardcover
The real history of the civil rights movement. Who really made the difference in a day to day way on the front lines. Not only that, a description of how to organize from a working class, feminist perspective in the context of the African-American freedom struggle. A must read for anyone who is trying to build the movement we need today to make a world free of oppression.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 31, 1998
Format: Paperback
This is an informative and moving narrative of the struggle to complete the unfinished business of the American Revolution of 1776. History from the bottom up-focusing on the smaller, lesser known, and ordinary actors that were able to display extraordinary courage. Courage defined as not the absence of fear but the ability to act inspite of reasonable and papable fear. The book is about their heroism and the organizing tradition which both nurtured and sustained their vision and tenacity. This is the book to truly understand and appreciate the movement and it's influence on social reform across a wide spectrum of American society. I know because I am a Mississippian. I was there. I was a SNCC organizer and agree with Mr. Payne that fully understanding SNCC and the organizing tradition is the key to a full appreciation of the scope of what the movement continues to suggest about the possibility for social change in the U.S.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
Two years ago the author taught a short course at my college on the Mississippi civil rights movemement. He used this book, and I've been recommending it to people ever since. His style and content are both amazing, and I feel really lucky to have had an opportunity to read this book in a course structured around it. _I've Got the Light of Freedom_ offers a new perspective on the way history is taught and remembered. Organizing and people's history are emphasized in what happens to be one of the best movement books out there. It's everything scholarly writing should be. Kudos to Charles Payne.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Karim Walker on May 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
As a history major, I have various interests. One of my favorite things to study is the civil rights movement. Of all the books that I have seen, few match the caliber of this book. It takes the state of Mississippi (which may be the book's greatest irony)and shows how powerful a grassroots movement such as the civil rights movement can be with the proper forms of leadership. I urge anyone who is interested in learning about the civil rights movement should start with this book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By James Marshall on November 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
Not only does Charles Payne give a clear look at the Mississippi civil rights movement from a bottom-up historical perspective but more particularly he examines the movement in Greenwood in depth and in great detail.

He provides a clear picture not just of the local families who were active there, the McGhees, Greenes, and numerous others but also the individual SNCC and COFO people such as Sam Block, Willie Peacock, and Jimmy Travis. Furthermore, he ties the student civil rights movement into the local population on the ground and the church people who together with the movement activists were able to create an extensive network of activists as rarely existed in the deep South.

Additionally, and very importantly, Payne records the close ties between the active movement people from the 1960's and the local movement people from the 1950's, Amzie Moore, Richard West, Louie Redd, W. J. Bishop, Aaron Henry, Charles Golden, and others.

In short what appears in the published studies of the Mississippi movement is episodic and fragmented and in most cases fails to tie the 1940's and 1950's together with the student movement of the 1960's. Payne's study provides those connections with the local people and in examining Greenwood specifically gives us an in-depth study of the Mississippi movement for the whole period.

This thereby provides the reader with a paradigm of what can used to understand the civil rights movement as a whole, not a strung together series of events which seems to be the result of the top-down studies that have been written to date.
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