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Such an approach, Sugrue argues, was inappropriate for the North. For one thing, Northern whites were persuaded that so long as they avoided explicitly segregationist laws, their consciences were clean. For another, racial progress in the North was so slow that more dramatic steps were required than nonviolent protest or high-minded sermons.


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Sugrue says that only through actions threatening the privileges of whites — boycotts, demonstrations, community control of schools — could blacks narrow the disparities. He spends a disproportionate amount of time writing about Marxist extremists and crackpot demagogues, devoting a dozen pages, for example, to the Revolutionary Action Movement, a violence-spouting Maoist sect.

Movement North | Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective

In addition, Sugrue pays insufficient attention to the price the Northern civil rights movement paid for its refusal to take morality seriously. Once blacks used the language of empowerment and self-determination, whites were free to do so as well: those Boston Irish-American parents resisting busing appealed to the same themes of community autonomy and rejection of outsiders that black activists did in demanding control of their schools.

Lacking a moral compass, more than a handful of Northern civil rights workers became hustlers if not downright criminals. Most important of all, by insisting that everything was a struggle for power, Northern activists all too often treated whites as enemies to be fought rather than allies to be cultivated. Justified or not, black power produced a white backlash.


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  • To advance in American society, any minority needs allies. The strategies Sugrue so admires were incapable of producing them.

    Unite and fight. Hearts and minds. Freedom now. Spaces will separate tags.

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