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I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle
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I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle

4.32 of 5 stars 4.32  ·  rating details  ·  607 ratings  ·  44 reviews
This momentous work offers a groundbreaking history of the early civil rights movement in the South with new material that situates the book in the context of subsequent movement literature.
Paperback, 552 pages
Published March 16th 2007 by University of California Press (first published May 10th 1995)
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"In the minds of untold numbers of Americans, for example, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was the civil rights movement. Thought it up, led it, produced its victories, became its sole martyr. Schoolchildren- including Black schoolchildren- are taught this."
-Fred Powledge

Charles Payne's 'I've Got the Light of Freedom' reconstructs a history that holds a more accurate depiction of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He devotes his book to the working class people who were mostly
Mikey B.
Page 273 (my book)
Residents of the Delta may have seen the civil rights movement as a sign that God was stirring.

Page 124
For SNCC [Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee], the Kennedy administration increasingly came to symbolize a callous and cynical preference for political expediency over law and common decency. At Herbert Lee’s funeral, his wife came up to Bob Moses and Chuck McDew [both of SNCC] and shouted at them “You killed my husband! You killed my husband!” She was saying what they
In light of the NAACP's 100th anniversary, I thought it was important to write a quick review of this important book, which in essence describes the decades of work by NAACP and other civil rights organizations in setting the foundation for the Mississippi Freedom Movement. That movement animated so many people's courage and animus: dispossessed sharecroppers in the Delta region fearful an attempt to vote would threaten their livelihood; college kids from white suburbia set upon contributing to ...more
This is an excellent book. It focuses is on the community organizing tradition – as opposed to the more high profile community mobilization tradition of King and others – and its importance to the civil rights movement. It's centered around Greenwood, Mississippi and the role that SNCC (though others such as CORE, SCLC, and the NAACP) played, in the face of repression (both violent and not) from whites and what was at first reluctance from black locals (though many SNCC organizers were Southerne ...more
Feb 09, 2008 stephanie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to stephanie by: minnite, k-jay.
my favorite part of this book is its reliance on primary source material and its willingness to include it in the text. it's really quite brilliant and points out a lot of ways that the civil rights movement of the 60s was more than what we know of from our basic history classes. there's also the element of incorporating what the movement meant to people that you don't necessarily think of - union workers, etc.

it's grand in its ambition and scope, and i'm happy to say, it's basically successful
Thomas D.
Civil Rights History, if it's true to its calling, is poignant and eerie, recalling a time in our nation's history that was, in many ways, incredibly subtle, nuanced and haunting. History, by its very nature, is contextual, a product of a unique space and time, all with its own peculiar dynamics. Charles Payne's book may well go down as the most sensitive, honest, sagacious, complex and comprehensive analysis of the Movement period that has ever been written. Payne manages to pull all of this of ...more
Payne, Charles M., I?ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle, Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1995, pp. 525 (with notes, index, and bibliographic essay). In I?ve Got the Light of Freedom, Charles M. Payne scrutinizes the Black freedom struggle in Mississippi in the early 1960s. Payne places the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at the center of his examination of activities in of the struggle in Mississippi. ...more
Leland Wright
20 August 2014

This book is a superb history of the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi through the early oppression/resistance of the 50s to the transfiguration of Black politics in the late 60s. It tells the stories of the many people in Mississippi and the US who put their all into what became a significant shifting of race relations in the state and beyond it. Payne includes everything possible that is relevant; as he writes in the beginning, the goal of history shouldn't be to try to constr
To my mind, one of the best books in the enormous field of civil rights history. It has the unfortunate, distinct "gender" chapter. But Payne's primary research, historiographical framework, and final chapter, "The Rough Draft of History," on media and the narrativizing of the Movement, make this a stellar book.
I cant even articulate how much this book means to me. As a young organizer, it helped shape and develop me more than any training or workshop ever has or will!
Thorough, compelling, amazing account of grassroots organizing in Mississippi. Starts in the 1940s and carries through well after the 1960s upsurge. Just great.
Thomas S Flowers
one of the best, most detailed books regarding the civil rights movement as told from activists young and old who've we never even heard of. Payne focuses on Mississippi, mostly in the rural delta town of Greenwood and tells the history from their perspective, that is, from the bottom up. the story gets a little sad toward the end, as most history stories go, when the spirit fades and the times change into something new, when this happens we begin to feel nostalgic for how things were. In readin ...more
This is an extraordinary book - although probably not everyone's cup of tea. It's about the Civil Rights movement and the rise and fall of SNCC in Mississippi. But it's about so much more than that. Rather than highlighting the 'famous' people, it showcases the amazing black Mississippians who had the courage to go to register to vote time after time knowing they risked getting beaten and worse. The book begins in the forties and introduces us to the people in the South - many of whom where retu ...more
Jul 13, 2008 Suzy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Suzy by: Dan Berger
This book helped me understand that my ideas about a slow, movement-building approach to organizing, and the best of what I learned from my activist mentors in my 20s, is not just a valid way of doing activism, it's really the smartest way in the long run. I had always felt uneasy about the way so many groups these days are focused on how to most quickly get to "winnable goals" while compromising their relationships with people in the communities directly affected by the issues they're working o ...more
I've Got the Light of Freedom is a book about organizing, for organizers. It chronicles SNCC and the Mississippi Freedom movement from its beginnings to ends, especially highlighting the individual organizers and families that put the movement together and sustained it.

The book is great because it analyzes the movement from a variety of perspectives, including understanding the strategies, tactics, gender dynamics, white/black organizing dynamics, local/rural dynamics, mentorship and leadership
Nick Martin
I've learned more from this book on organizing & building power than from any other. I look to it for inspiration when I'm feeling discouraged and for lessons when I'm out of ideas. The most incredible part about this book is that it starts decades before the civil rights movement as we know it began - showing how the groundwork was laid for a powerful social movement years and years before SNCC came into Mississippi. Must read for anyone doing basebuilding / community organizing work.
This is a wonderful book, filled with moving oral histories and stories from a wide range of African American civil rights activists in Mississippi. Payne interweaves these primary sources with a most illuminating analysis. This book profoundly changed my understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. It's long, but well worth the read!
Jose Palafox
Simply one of the best books I have read on the Civil Rights Movement.

This work really brings to life the observation that Marx makes in his 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: people make choices, they make his/herstory sometimes under circumstances not of their choosing. It is in Payne's approach to this dialectic between structure and agency that really make his book really stand out from the others.

As someone whose affiliated discipline was Sociology (with a concentration on Social Movement
One of the best books on the Mississippi freedom movement.
David Leonard
Book was a game changer for me
Not only fabulous historically, but this is a history most Americans sorely need to read. While documenting the best of human nature as embodied by the people in the movement, it reminds us of our fallibility as well and the necessity to live beloved community every day while striving for its existence universally. Progressive movements will not get anywhere if we do not build trust and understanding amongst ourselves.
Brilliantly written. Such a fantastic book. It is exactly the book that I want to use to teach the Civil Rights Movement, and also far too long to assign in an undergraduate class as a whole book. Encourages readers and students to think about the CRM in terms of the organizing tradition that developed the capacities of everyday people, instead of the mobilizing tradition that relied on the speeches of powerful men.
I read parts of this book as an undergrad and was inspired by the work of SNCC and Ella Baker's organizing during the CRM.
Now, I'm using it to teach about social movements and community initiatives, and am still as inspired.
A great read when you're thinking about how to bring about change - really reminding us that it's possible!
May 09, 2007 Bri rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: historians
Shelves: americanhistory
The Civil Rights Movement was not all about churches, MLKjr, and the occasional white martyr. Learn about the community organizing tradition that the above listed people inherited. There were a lot more women and working class people involved than you might believe. Lots of oral histories and testimonies. Easy to read and thoughtful.
Although it can read like a laundry list at times, this book is an excellent introduction to the Civil Rights movement in general, and Mississippi's unique role in it, in particular.

The story is one of declention. By the time one gets to the end, the thought of a revolution for rights seems like a pathetic and idiotic dream.
Wish I had read this when I was 15! A harrowing and enlightening history on the generations of "ordinary, flawed, everyday" people who made the freedom movement possible. Complex, penetrating analysis and riveting storytelling. It is especially noteworthy for its recognition of the central role women played in the struggle.
A brilliant work on so many levels. Captures the pulse and feel of the civil rights movement in Mississippi at its height, the deep wisdom, creativity and ingeunity of the "organizing tradition" along with the challenges and contradictions. Payne is both subtle analyst and great story teller.
Seth D Michaels
Really fantastic - highly recommend to anyone who works in politics, community outreach, etc etc. In-depth look at the nuts and bolts of the civil rights movement in the Delta region of Mississippi, particularly the local people who worked with SNCC. Thought-provoking and well-reported.
beautiful account of the work done in Mississippi during the civil rights movement. you get true feeling for the hard, everyday work and ordinary people who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to ensure everyone could vote and have equal rights
Recommended to Christien. The organizing struggle in 1960s Mississippi, told from the ground up. An impressive and moving tale of commitment in the face of almost unbelievable terror and oppression, particularly when seen close up.
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Charles M. Payne is the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, where he is also an affiliate of the Urban Education Institute.
More about Charles M. Payne...
So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools Teach Freedom: Education for Liberation in the African-American Tradition Getting What We Ask for: The Ambiguity of Success and Failure in Urban Education Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Struggles in America Debating the Civil Rights Movement, 1945 1968

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