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I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle 2nd Edition

5.0 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520251762
ISBN-10: 0520251768
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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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 552 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 2nd edition (March 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520251768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520251762
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #196,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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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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Format: Paperback
Page 273 (my book)
Residents of the Delta may have seen the civil rights movement as a sign that God was stirring.

Page 124
For SNCC [Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee], the Kennedy administration increasingly came to symbolize a callous and cynical preference for political expediency over law and common decency. At Herbert Lee’s funeral, his wife came up to Bob Moses and Chuck McDew [both of SNCC] and shouted at them “You killed my husband! You killed my husband!” She was saying what they already felt. The lives the government couldn’t find legal grounds for protecting – not in the Constitution, not on the Fourteenth Amendment, not in the Civil Rights Act of 1957 or 1960 -were lives that SNCC workers felt personally responsible for.

Page 321 Ella Baker
“until the killing of black mothers’ sons is as important as the killing of white mothers’ sons, we must keep on.”

This is a thoroughly engaging account of this remarkable period in American history. We come to admire the stolid black folks of Mississippi who stood up to their oppressors and fought, sometimes physically, for their rights. Their right to vote, their right to walk down a street, go to a store, a restaurant; to be treated as a human being. Their right to a decent paying job - to be a full citizen.

What is superlative in this book are the stories of native black Mississippians’ in their struggle for racial equality. We are given many passionate and harrowing examples. This book deals with the people at the bottom – how they were motivated, became members of NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and the newly formed SNCC.
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