A More Beautiful and Terrible History

ebook The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History

By Jeanne Theoharis

cover image of A More Beautiful and Terrible History

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A look at the centrality of the civil rights history to American politics and national identity—and the fable that has grown around that movement

From the author of the best-selling The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks comes “a bracing corrective to a national mythology” (New York Times) around the civil rights movement
The civil rights movement has become national legend, lauded by presidents from Reagan to Obama to Trump, as proof of the power of American democracy. This fable, featuring dreamy heroes and accidental heroines like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, anchors the movement firmly to the past, whitewashes the forces that stood in its way, and diminishes its scope.
Award-winning historian Jeanne Theoharis dissects this national myth-making, teasing apart the accepted stories to show them in a strikingly different light. She makes us reckon with the fact that far from being acceptable, passive or unified, the civil rights movement was unpopular, disruptive, and courageously persevering. Activists embraced an expansive vision of justice, which a majority of Americans opposed and which the federal government feared.
Her challenge of this fable reveals the immense barriers and repression activists faced. She explores the diversity of people who led the movement, especially women and young people; the work and disruption it took, including the public demonization of ‘rebels;’ and the role of the media and “polite racism” in maintaining injustice.
A More Beautiful and Terrible History will change our historical frame, revealing the richness of our civil rights legacy, the uncomfortable mirror it holds to the nation, and the crucial work that remains to be done.
A More Beautiful and Terrible History