Activism and Advocacy in the United States: African American Civil Rights Movement examines the civil rights movement in the United States and the change agents who brought it to life. Students will analyze how the movement evolved and continues to evolve with time, the tools used to propel the movement, and the methods employed (such as grassroots organizing, campaigns, television, radio, newspaper, and digital media). There will be three topical sessions. Each convening will examine a different topic: (1) the historical manifestation of the need for a movement, (2) how the movement began, (3) the issues still faced today. Sessions will be led by experts in the field. 

Students who participate in this co-curricular program will learn how activists and advocates mobilized public support to build momentum and how modern movements are constructed and implemented. Students will also learn how to identify actors, tools, places and strategies for effective activism and advocacy. 

This co-curricular program will primarily focus on the African American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It will examine the causes that led to the need for the movement and residual movements of today. The sessions will illustrate American socio-political activism as a prominent form of protest in an effort to seek change. 

For each convening, a list of supplemental readings, film, site visits, and/or exhibitions will be provided. Students participating in the program are encouraged to utilize these resources in order to prepare for each session, or to continue their exploration of the topic thereafter.  For each session, students should prepare five questions to ask the presenter during the discussion.

Students who attend every session will be eligible to apply for a leadership retreat to visit some of the most prominent Civil Rights institutions in Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery, Alabama. To apply, students will complete a short personal statement and submit a paper (described below). Selection will be based on criteria pertaining to participation in the class, personal statement, and the submitted paper. A committee of NYU DC staff members will select the students who will participate in the retreat.

Kay Wright Lewis

Dr. Kay Wright Lewis, Ph. D.

Slave Ship

“America’s Original Sin”
Session One - February 21, 2020 - 1:30 - 3:00pm - Reading Room
Speaker's Biography: Dr. Kay Wright Lewis, PhD

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are documents directly associated with the creation of the United States. Both present a problem in trying to reconcile values maintained in the language used in those excerpts and “America’s original sin” of slavery, which lead to civil war.   

While the documents have a specific purpose, the impassioned language in the preamble stating “all men are created equal,” with “unalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” defy the reality of the time in which those words were penned. The Declaration of Independence was written by a slave owner and adopted by the 13 colonies which, at the time, condoned slavery. 

This session will examine the foundation of a nation, created by a compromise on the institution of slavery, that still has implications in modern society. For many Founding Fathers, it was believed that in order to hold the colonies together, the compromise was a necessary evil that would eventually die of its own accord. However, they indoctrinated into law rights of slave owners, counting enslaved people as three-fifths of a free person, setting the stage for a long-fraught battle for equality.

George Derek Musgrove

Dr. George Derek Musgrove, PhD (NYU '05)

Dog Attack at Civil Rights March Selma

"Progress and Empowerment"
Session Two - February 28, 2020 1:30 - 3:00pm - Reading Room
Speaker's Biography: Dr. George Derek Musgrove, PhD

The African American civil rights movement in the United States is a long period of social and political activity that sought to obtain civil and legal equality for all Americans regardless of skin color. Over the course of several decades, the movement achieved major civil rights victories, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. These legal and legislative milestones include Brown v. Board of Education and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Alongside the African American movement, the Chicano and Native American movements found allies in each other to work for a common cause. 

During this period, and still today, grassroots movements across the United States addressed legacies of slavery and racism that persisted in American culture and society. From the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks, progressive advocacy groups formed, including The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), The National Urban League (NUL), and, more recently, #BlackLivesMatter. Today, these groups are confronting issues such as mass incarceration, police brutality, and other social inequalities. 

In this session, students will learn about the civil rights movement, its leaders, and the impact it had on building equality for African Americans in society. Students will learn the tribulations and hard truths associated with overcoming an era of Jim Crow Laws, as well as the successful tactics and principles implemented in order to do so.

Ted Johnson

Theodore (Ted) Johnson, JD

Mass Incarceration

"The Injustice that Remains"
Session Three - March 6, 2020 - 12:00 - 1:30pm - Reading Room
Speaker's Biography: Theodore (Ted) Johnson

In the 1960s, civil rights for African Americans progressed, but the tradition of racial inferiority remained. In the decades to follow, an era of racial bias and continued abuse of power created a new criminal justice system that greatly disenfranchised and still disenfranchises the black community today. Mass incarceration in the United States has had devastating consequences for people of color then and ever since. Statistically, today, one in three men of color will go to jail or prison in his lifetime. 

It has been argued that an honest discussion of mass incarceration is not possible without addressing racism in the United States. And, many scholars contend that the criminal justice system has become the modern-day successor to slavery and segregation. Because of forced sentencing and methods of policing, mass incarceration has debilitated the African American community’s social and economic growth since the civil rights movement.

After the movement of the ‘60s, undertones of racial rhetoric began to surface in politics. In the era of mass incarceration that followed, the composition of prisoners in the United States changed dramatically. In the 1950s, prisons were composed of a majority white population. By the 1990s, the population flipped to be majority black. The false narrative used in campaigns founded on myths, lies, and stereotypes about people of color has had damaging effects, to say the least. In this session, students will learn what action is being taken today to undo the significant encroachment on the freedoms of racial and ethnic minorities and how they can join the fight against these injustices. 

Speakers Biography: Theodore (Ted) Johnson

Spring Retreat: April 24-26, 2020

Students who attend every session will be eligible to apply for a leadership retreat to visit some of the most prominent Civil Rights institutions in Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery, Alabama.

To apply, students will complete a short personal statement and submit a paper.

APPLICATION Deadline: Friday, March 13th by 5:00 pm 

Students who participate in all sessions of this co-curricular program will receive a certificate of achievement: Leadership in Activism & Advocacy Award, presented by The John Brademas Center of New York University.

Students who attend all 3 sessions and submit an application for the leadership retreat will receive 100 excursion points. Students will receive 25 excursion points for each session they attend (but do not attend them all). 

Fall 2019 Seminars - Pilot Program

Feminism of the early 1960’s and 70s to the MeToo movement of today;

Date: Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Stonewall/Gay Rights movement of the 1970’s and and the injustices that remain today;

Date: Tuesday, October 8, 2019

African American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s and the injustices that remain today;

Date: Tuesday, October 22, 2019