Instructor: Professor Pamela J. Walker

Hundreds of people converged on the street, marching with placards held high.  They chanted in unison demanding that those standing by hear their voices.  They were met with jeers from the crowd, and ultimately, confronted by a line of police there to keep order. 

This could be a scene in the early 20th Century, as suffragettes marched in the streets, demanding the vote for women.  It could also describe the labour movement of the early 20th century, when men and women took to the streets, demanding fair wages, safe working conditions, an end to child labour.  It could describe civil rights activists marching across the bridge in Selma Alabama, where they were brutally assaulted and attacked. It could also describe a contemporary scene in Toronto, New York, or Chicago, where Black Lives Matter activists are demanding an end to state-sponsored violence against black citizens.

This course begins in the early twentieth century when urbanization, industrialization, and massive waves of immigration were transforming American life.  Immigrants, suffragettes, and labour activists all converged in Greenwich Village, New York joining artists and bohemians.  In Greenwich Village, activists and artists – men and women, immigrant and native-born American, black and white — forged new alliances, pushed boundaries, debated and discussed ideas of gender, race, class, and sexuality, and in so doing, redefined what it meant to be an American in the 20th century.

What inspires people to take to the street, to engage in protest, to break laws, in an effort to transform society?

In the first half of this course, students will learn about this historical period and then participate in a role-playing simulation in which they must determine what social changes are most important as well as how one can or should realize these goals.

The radical ideas of equality and justice, and the tactics of non-violence and protest – practiced by suffragettes and labour activists – informed and inspired protest movements during the 20th century.

In the second half of the course, we shift to the 1960s, and explore the generation of young people who brought race segregation to an end by defying its laws and conventions. They challenged southern law by sitting at lunch counters, seeking admission to all white public universities and sitting side by side with white students on inter-state buses. They faced mob violence, jail and even death.

At each class meeting, students will debate the assigned readings and engage the key historical concepts and methods. Students will submit frequent short essays throughout the year that will progressively develop their analytical skills and writing abilities. Each term, they will submit a longer research essay that will allow them to pursue their own interests in this subject.

This seminar is designed to help students to attain excellent skills in critical reading, research, writing and oral argument. These are the skills fundamental to success in university and are important transferable skills required in many professional careers.

Texts will include:

Timothy Tyson The Blood of Emmett Till (2017)

Danielle McGuire The Dark End of the Street (2010)