Monday’s conference on Civil Rights in the USA, hosted in Conway Hall home to London’s Ethical Society, was a challenging and yet stimulating event. To begin the day we had Northumbria’s Professor Tony Bader, author of FDR: The First Hundred Days and Chairman of the Kennedy Memorial Trust, presenting his thesis on the far ranging causes and effects of the death of Emmett Till. Badger looked at the conflict that was created when young African American from the unsegregated Chicago was killed in supremacist Mississippi in 1955. Badger went on to look at how the revolution in media after the Second World War helped to shape the Civil Rights Movement, demonstrating how the movement used the image of Till’s mutilated body to galvanise anti-segregationist sentiment across the country. Badger ended by addressing the continuing disputes in interpretations of events in the USA, leaving us with a quote from one US commentator that the polio ridden Emmett Tile was “a rapist in the making”.

Following on was Dr Sinead McEneaney from St Mary’s University, London. Dr McEneaney shared her critical assessment of the Presidency of John F. Kennedy. Asserting that in many ways Kennedy was little different to predecessor Eisenhower, only reacting when it was politically convenient or absolutely necessary as far as the Civil Rights issue was concerned. Looking at his development both in the Senate and in the White House Dr McEneaney charted for us the slowly changing position of Kennedy across the 50s and 60s.

Ending the day was Dr Anne-Marie Angelo from Sussex University and Professor Brian Ward from Northumbria University tackling the ever controversial issue of Black Power throughout the 60s and into the early 70s.  Dr Angelo looked at how the socioeconomic situation in the ghettos caused rioting and the rise of Black Power in the mid to late 60s. Dr Angelo identified police brutality, consumer exploitation by white businesses and continuing racial discrimination in the housing market as all being causes for a rise in social unrest in the ghettos. By contrast Professor Ward looked into the effects of one particular movement, the Black Panther Party. Ward presented a compelling argument as to why the Black Panthers did not deserve their reputation as “gun toting radicals”, but should be seen more accurately as a party of socialism reflecting the classing struggle intrinsic within the struggle for racial equality. Ward argued that the Black Panthers were a legalistic movement based on principles of equality and pride, which also espoused principles of self-defence just as earlier Civil Rights activists like David Walker and Marcus Garvey had done.

written by Bart Konechni