“We Want Our Freedom”: Rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement (2002)

W. Stuart Towns., Praeger Publishers, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881.

In the decades following the Civil War, white southerners created a system of racial segregation designed to perpetuate white supremacy, guarantee white leadership, and keep black southerners “in their place.”  This collection of speeches examines the conditions that made a Civil Rights Movement necessary, ranging from early supporters of civil rights for African Americans to defenders of segregation.

In the 1950s and 1960s a significant revolution in southern culture occurred.  By 1965 southern blacks had achieved first-class citizenship under the laws of the land, in spite of the oratorical tirades and the ugly violence of southern white supremacy demagogues.  The rhetoric of the activists created an environment in which the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally leveled the playing field.

Introductory comments and biographical sketches of the speakers set the historical stage for each speech.

Comments from  book reviewers:

“If not for this anthology, many of the speeches in this collection might never again have seen the light of day. This important compilation deserves careful attention from public address scholars, historians, and students of the civil rights movement.”  — The Southern Communication Journal 68 (Summer 2003), 358.

“In We Want Our Freedom, Stuart Towns has assembled a broad range of speeches that reflect both the passion and the determination of black activists and their white allies during the Civil Rights years. . . . Although its obvious appeal is to students of rhetoric, We Want Our Freedom will also be of great benefit to those readers interested in the black freedom struggle of the 1950s and 1960s.” — John Dittmer, Crandall Professor of History, DePauw University

“In this excellent anthology, W. Stuart Towns has collected some of the most representative and important speeches of the civil rights movement. . . . Towns’ artful selection and arrangement of the speeches enable them to tell a powerful story. . . . Many of the events of the 1950s and 1960s come alive in the words of these speeches. . . . The important compilation deserves careful attention from public address scholars, historians, and students of the civil rights movement.”  — William D. Harpine, The University of Akron, in The Southern Communication Journal  Vol. 68, Summer 2003.

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: “The Whites Have Absolute Control of the State Government, and We Intend at Any and All Hazards to Retain It”:  Why There Had to Be a Civil Rights Movement  (Speeches by James C. Harper, Benjamin R. Tillman, Wade Hampton, James Mathews Griggs)
  • Chapter Two:  The River of Change:  Beginning to Question the Racist System, 1920s to 1940s (Speeches by James Weldon Johnson, A Philip Randolph, Thurgood Marshall, W.E.B. DuBois)
  • Chapter Three:  Black Southerners Challenge the System, the 1950s:  The Movement Begins (Speeches by: John Hope Franklin, Martin Luther King, Jr. [2], Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, Daisy Bates, Medgar Evers)
  • Chapter Four:  The Movement Hits Full Stride:  The 1960s (Speeches by: James M. Lawson, Jr., Martin Luther King, Jr. [3], Diane Nash, Medgar Evers, Roy Wilkins, John R. Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Aaron henry, Stokely Carmichael)
  • Chapter Five:  “Betrayers of Their Race”:  Southern White Liberals  (Speechs by: Clark Foreman, Sarah Patton Boyle, Lillian Smith, Anne Braden)
  • Chapter Six:  “There Always Has to Be a Faubus”:  White Resistance and the Rhetoric of Fear (Speeches by” James O. Eastland, Thomas Pickens Brady, Orval E. Faubus, J. P. Coleman)
  • Index

An excellent resource for courses in black studies, southern history, the civil rights movement, and southern and American rhetoric and public address history and criticism.