Let’s begin with the title of the book: On the Road to Freedom. Road here can be interpreted in two ways. The first, concretely, so to speak: asphalt: protesters demonstrating on city streets demanding their civil rights. The second, metaphorically and in a policy-making sense: making progress (pace media coverage, debates, and so on) on the road to civil rights, to freedom.
And so first the title: On the Road to Freedom. The book establishes and demonstrates first and foremost, in general: how history emerges from specific identifiable places: ordinary places; neighborhoods; and communities (the "place" as the ground–in the two basic senses of the word–(1) as the material floor of history (where people live their everyday lives) and (2) history as grounded in abstraction, the place forming the foundation of history in a philosophical sense (as when philosophers use foundations to ground concepts). And second, in particular, the book also establishes and demonstrates how the Civil Rights Movement emerged from specific places like Selma and Birmingham in Alabama, Memphis, Baltimore, Charleston, and Marion in Georgia.
The book argues first of all that the civil rights struggle did not happen in a historical vacuum (or pop up suddenly with the1954 Supreme Court ordering an end to segregated schools), but is very much a confluence of road struggles tied concretely to places. And so the book is also not only a guidance to specific places, but is also a guidance to understanding the significance of place. In the book, the crucial sense of concrete places grounded in history cannot be overemphasized enough. And then the book travels to places where the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement marched over bridges, sat in lunch counters, gathered in churches, where they spoke, taught, were arrested, and where they lost their lives. A few of these pioneers are well inscribed in the memory of American history: Rosa Parks; Marian Anderson; and Martin Luther King.
Primarily, the book focuses on the South and that intense period of civil rights struggle during the decades of the 1940, 1950s, and 1960s. And also primarily, this is very much a book about freedom–the idea and pursuit of it–not only from slavery itself but also from the unique history of slavery in the United States, a history so ugly, so painful but yet fundamental, the author argues, that even after over two hundred years later in the 21st century we still haven’t fully come to grips with it: We still haven’t completely dealt with the collective trauma and social neurosis in its wake.
And now we get to the book’s subtitle: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail. Secondarily and finally, the book can also be used as a travel planning tool. Those interested in visiting Civil Rights historical sites–both concrete, like say, Selma, or cyberspaces–the book provides guidance about places to go: Sites and maps are clearly marked and placed in historical context. And as for cyberspaces, there are of course numerous websites in the book.
Please join me in welcoming Charlie Cobb Jr. to the Firedoglake book salon.
(One note about style: Civil Rights Movement and Civil Rights historical places; but civil rights struggle. The first is a specific historical movement. The second, well, general usage that can refer to the historical movement itself, or to generic civil rights struggles of other US groups for any cause or specific issue. As an example: Hispanic US citizens can be engaged in a civil rights struggle against the abuses of US immigration policy[ies].)
(About the Author: In 1961, Award-winning journalist Charles E. Cobb Jr. left Howard University to work for SNCC (Students for a National Coordinating Committee) in the Mississippi Delta. He originated the "Freedom School" proposal that became a crucial part of the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project. A founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists, Cobb has reported for NPR (National Public Radio), PBS’s (Public Broadcasting Service‘s), Frontline, National Geographic, and WHUR Radio in Washington DC. A writer for All-Africa.com, the best newswire online service for mostly political news about Africa, he is the author of Radical Equations with civil-rights organizer and educator Robert P. Moses.)