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I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle, With a New Preface
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I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle, With a New Preface

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  1,287 ratings  ·  61 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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Oct 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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 peopl
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!”
Spicy T AKA Mr. Tea
A friend recommended this to me and she was right: it's a really important work of oral history and a history of civil rights organizing, among groups like SNCC, COFO during the 1960s, and the NAACP in the 1950s.

What was so stark to me, was that a simple, and non-radical idea, the idea of people being able to cast votes for whom they wanted to represent them, was held as such a radical and destructive idea by the white south (and north, for that matter). Payne did extensive work to uncover the
Craig Werner
Jun 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As much as any single book, I've Got the Light of Freedom sounded the keynote for "the new Civil Rights history." Part of its importance is that Payne forced the issue of label: from the perspective of the "local people" at the center of the Movement in Mississippi (and throughout the South in the first half of the Sixties), it was clear that, while they supported the drive for "equal rights," the more basic struggle was for freedom, understood as fundamental changes in the nature of everyday ex ...more
Apr 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Bottom up, local history that reaches back to the roots, gives credit where it is due, includes women like Ella Baker, Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer but also Laura McGhee, and goes beyond SNCC. Payne's interviews allow his work to stick with the struggle after the media leaves and tell us the story from before they got there. If Payne quotes people, then he doesn't "correct" their speech, which I appreciate because there are subtle layers of meaning that get lost otherwise. When I first starte ...more
Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Useful and detailed descriptions of the organizing model developed through experimentation, especially in Greenwood. Thought that some of the later chapters on the dissolution of SNCC could have benefited from a clearer "who benefits" analysis rather than generalizations about "community." Thanks Virginia for the recommendation!
Apr 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Thomas Rush
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
David Leonard
Jul 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Book was a game changer for me
Apr 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-u-s-history
Thorough, compelling, amazing account of grassroots organizing in Mississippi. Starts in the 1940s and carries through well after the 1960s upsurge. Just great.
Jul 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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!
Nov 16, 2012 rated it liked it
would suggest reading chapters 3 & 8 only if you're crunched for time.
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Payne seeks to illustrate the slow build organizing style of the Mississippi Freedom movement over the course of nearly thirty years that altered the racial power relations of Mississippi. Payne argued that it make its most headway in the early 1960s as the organizers built upon earlier traditions of activism that challenged the racial regime of terror and order. Beginning with descriptions of lynchings of the 1930s, he notes that public executions of black people in Mississippi began to change ...more
Wow! So fantastic to read a detailed, bottom-up analysis of the civil rights movement from the 1950s through early 1960s in Mississippi. I particularly loved reading about Ella Baker’s organizing style, and comparing that to work I’ve been involved with or witnessed. She’s awesome, and I aspire to do more to follow her tradition. I also hope to read more about her specifically.

More generally, reading this book made me realize how little I knew about the civil rights movement. The discussions of
Jake Ross
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book revealed to me the bravery and determination of the individual organizers who made a sustained movement possible. An incredible account of the power of every person to transform themselves and society.

As an organizer, I found new life in these pages. It is a book I am sure I will return to again and again.
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Charles Payne's book is one of the best books on Civil Rights Organizing at the local level. Should be read by historians and activist alike.
Jason Han
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
One of the best books I've ever read/bought in my life.
May 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An INCREDIBLE book. A must-read for ANYONE who wants to be part of building a more humane and just world.
Doris Raines
Oct 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Garrett Strain
Jun 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wow, this book blew me away. The most grounded and detailed look at civil rights organizing in the south I've ever read. The majority of Payne's book is dedicated to laying out what he calls SNCC's "Community Organizing Tradition." Unlike so many academics who write about community organizing in purely theoretical terms, Payne gives detailed, on-the-ground accounts of SNCC's voter registration drives in several rural towns – most importantly, Greenwood, Mississippi. He chronicles the day-to-day ...more
Feb 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
You can learn a lot about what some very small groups of twenty-somethings were up to in the 1960s, if you’re so inclined. Students for a Democratic Society and its offshoots and the LSD evangelists in the counterculture have dozens of monographs and memoirs dedicated to them as representative figures of their generation. There’s a growing literature on the conservative movement emerging out of the Goldwater campaign. To me, the most interesting of these small groups that have gotten so much his ...more
Sep 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-books, 2012
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
Thomas Flowers
Jan 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Sep 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
"I've Got the Light of Freedom" by Charles M. Payne is a masterpiece. It is an in-depth, exhaustively researched portrait of the Mississippi Freedom Movement. It explores individual people and their roles in organizing and uniting their communities. Most chapters look at a specific concept that is coupled with stories of actual people and the organizations they participated in. The book focuses on Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council, COFO, the Freedom Democratic Party, the Child Development ...more
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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.