UCL Institute of the Americas


AMER0073: We Shall Overcome: The American Civil Rights Movement

***NOT RUNNING IN 2023/24***


Module leader: Dr Zoe Hyman

Credits: tbc

Term: tbc


The African American civil rights movement was the most significant social movement of the twentieth century.  Far from being confined to a couple of tumultuous decades in the middle of the twentieth century, the movement was rooted in a longer black freedom struggle, influenced by global events, and had considerable impact upon other movements for freedom and equality in the United States and abroad.  And rather than being one single civil rights movement, there were a number of movements, a coalition of activists, leaders and organisations, and innumerable individual and group experiences.  Students will place African American civil rights in this longer and broader history in order to understand the social, cultural, political and the economic changes that brought about the long death of Jim Crow.

This course traces the history of the civil rights movement through early challenges to Jim Crow, Supreme Court decisions, black grassroots activism, and violent white resistance, to the remarkable legislative achievements that, by the mid-1960s, had accomplished the initial goals of the movement.  We will then turn to the evolution of the struggle from civil rights to black power, urban violence, and increased rioting in the latter half of the 1960s, considering why the concepts of interracialism and non-violence were increasingly challenged.  By taking the civil rights movement out of the confines of the American South, we will also examine challenges to racism and segregation in the North and West before assessing the borrowed forms of activism that were widely used across the UK in the 1960s.  The module will conclude with a critical assessment of the memory, legacy and representation of the civil rights era.  

Throughout the module students will engage with historiographical debates about the periodisation, success, and memory of the movement; explore the well-known individuals and events that dominated the media coverage of the movement as well as lesser-known struggles and grassroots activists; consider how civil rights intersected with US foreign policy, global events, and other social movements for racial, ethnic, gender and sexual equality; assess the relationship was between activist leaders and the White House; and evaluate the links between twentieth- and twenty-first century struggles for equality.

Assessment pattern


NOTE: Assessment forms may change from one academic year to another. Please consult with the Teaching Administration Team