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)

Student comments on the 2017/2018 seminar:

I could not recommend this seminar enough. In my experience, this course helps first-year students transition to university life by teaching students how to properly write and cite an essay, how to engage with and analyze complex materials, and how to form an argument — necessary skills within any degree. This class pushed me to improve my public speaking abilities within a small and supportive group of students. The course content is also shockingly relevant and my peers and I found ourselves discussing the material outside the class many times.

The Long Civil Rights Seminar was one of the more captivating courses I took in first year. The close interaction between the professor and other students eased my transition from high school. Taking this seminar not only strengthened my writing ability and oral presentation skills, but it engaged me to learn about the civil rights movement in an interesting perspective. I would definitely take this course again if I could.

This course is a fantastic way to learn about history in a new and exciting way. The class activities and roll-play involved allow students to fully immerse themselves in historical events. It’s a fun way to learn about interesting topics. I strongly suggest for everyone to take this class, you’ll definitely enjoy it!

I had an amazing experience in the seminar course! I found it to be a great transition between high school and university. In the course, not only was the content really interesting but the assignments helped me to improve my writing ability – a skill that is vital to my degree.