Note: Vanderbilt University history professor Devin Fergus, whose comments led off last Sunday's forum at the Hayti Heritage Center, will be Barry and my guest on the Shooting the Bull radio show tonight, 7:30pm, WXDU 88.7 FM (streaming at wxdu.org). We'll talk about his new book "Liberalism, Black Power, and the Making of American Politics," and his forthcoming work on the inequities that impoverished Americans face through high costs of financial services, loans and insurance products.
Last Sunday's forum at the Hayti Heritage Center focused on community activism in Durham, as told through the lens of those who'd been at ground zero during efforts like the founding of Malcolm X Liberation University, or the ambitious Soul City "new town" effort in Warren County, or the Joan Little murder case.
All three of these events stand at the center of Vanderbilt University history professor Devin Fergus' new book examining the interplay of liberalism and Black Power in the 1960s and 1970s. And the presence of principals in all three events gave them an opportunity to reflect on Fergus' arguments, their own Durham and regional history -- and to share their own concerns of what today's activist messages and missions should be.
If one thing was clear, it was that the passions of those who fought for civil rights, access to education, justice, and economic opportunity for minorities four decades ago still feel passionately about what matters to them today.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Durham was home to many key players in the civil rights movement, from Duke Law graduate Karen Bethea Shields (who defended Joan Little in her Beaufort Co. murder case) to Howard Fuller (active in MXLU's founding and the local head of Operation Breakthrough in the 1960s) to the late Soul City founder Floyd McKissick (whose daughter, Dr. Charmaine McKissick Melton, spoke at the forum).
St. Joseph's Historic Foundation director Dianne Pledger argued in her opening remarks to the forum that this was no accident, with Durham's post-Civil War founding as an industrial and manufacturing center freeing it from some of landholders' biases and existing social structures that impaired progress for African-Americans in other cities.