March 17: David Chappell, U.S. Civil Rights Movement

“Waking from the Dream pt. I:   Martin Luther King’s Last Victory”

Exaggerated accounts of urban violence after Martin Luther King’s assassination have long obscured national reactions of far greater significance.   Most important was the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which had been hopelessly stalled in Congress since 1966.   Both opponents and supporters of the Act said its passage was a response to King’s murder.  The Act banned discrimination in rentals, sales, and financing of private housing.   Though many at the time saw this as more radical than the previous Civil Rights laws of 1964 and 1965, the 1968 Act  has been almost completely forgotten.   Properly understood, however, it represents the Nation’s most significant response to King’s death, and the last serious response to the civil rights movement that King has come to symbolize.   It also defines the post-King era, when his legatees struggled on to eradicate the most intractable and fundamental forms of racial deprivation and degradation.

Professor Chappell, the Rothbaum Professor of Modern American History, is a scholar of the American civil rights struggle. His books include A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow and Inside Agitators: White Southerners in the Civil Rights Movement. With the help of a year-long grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, he is now finishing Waking from the Dream: The Battle over Martin Luther King’s Legacy and is at work on another book tentatively titled The Mind of the Segregationist, 1945-1965Inside Agitators received a Gustavus Myers Award for Outstanding Book on Human Rights in North America and the Atlantic Monthly described A Stone of Hope as “one of the three or four most important books on civil rights.” In addition to the NEH, his work has received support from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. He offers courses on the history of the civil rights struggle, liberalism and race, religion, immigration and ethnicity, and cultural and intellectual history. Professor Chappell received his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester.

The Washington History Seminar, a joint venture of the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, meets at 4 p.m. in the 6th Floor Moynihan Boardroom at the Wilson Center in the Ronald Reagan Building, 13th and Pennsylvania, NW, Federal Triangle Metro Stop. Reservations are requested because of limited seating: WHS@wilsoncenter.org

The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations for its support.

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