UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me round" -- the Southwest Georgia freedom movement and the politics of empowerment Harrison, Alisa


In the early 1960s, African-American residents of southwest Georgia cooperated with organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to launch a freedom movement that would attempt to battle white supremacy and bring all Americans closer to their country's democratic ideals. Movement participants tried to overcome the fear ingrained in them by daily life in the Jim Crow South, and to reconstruct American society from within. Working within a tradition of black insurgency, participants attempted to understand the origins of the intimidation and powerlessness that they often felt, and to form a strong community based on mutual respect, equality, and trust. Black women played fundamental roles in shaping this movement and African-American resistance patterns more generally, and struggles such as the southwest Georgia movement reveal the ways in which black people have identified themselves as American citizens, equated citizenship with political participation, and reinterpreted American democratic traditions along more just and inclusive lines. This thesis begins with a narrative of the movement. It then moves on to discuss SNCC's efforts to build community solidarity and empower African-American residents of southwest Georgia, and to consider the notion that SNCC owed its success to the activism of local women and girls. Next, it proposes that in the southwest Georgia movement there was no clear distinction between public and private space and work, and it suggests that activism in the movement emerged from traditional African-American patterns of family and community organization. Finally, this thesis asserts that the mass jail-ins for which the movement became famous redefined and empowered the movement community. This analysis reconsiders the analytical categories with which scholars generally study social movements. Instead of employing a linear narrative structure that emphasizes formal political activity and specific tactical victories, this thesis suggests that political participation takes diverse forms and it highlights the cycles of community building and individual empowerment that characterize grassroots organizing. It underscores the sheer difficulty of initiating and sustaining a mass struggle, and argues that the prerequisite to forming an insurgent movement is the ability of individuals to envision alternative social and cultural possibilities.

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